We all have those players who stick with us. Some of them are Hall of Fame caliber players who demand space in our memories. Others of those players make a fatal mistake or play so poorly that they etch themselves into our recollections. Then there are the players who aren’t historically great or historically bad, but just have something that made you like them when they were playing which you hold onto in the years that followed. Brian Daubach is one of those players for me.
In his first game as a member of the Boston Red Sox in 1999, Daubach went 2-for-5 with a double, triple and two RBI. For a 27-year-old player who had been released the previous winter following a 10-game audition with the Marlins, it was a promising and surprising start.
Over the next four years, Daubach would ascend to cult hero status in Boston and be a standout player along with guys like Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez. Well, at least to me. Daubach’s ascension in Boston coincided with some of my formative baseball years and in my mind at the time, he was this great player who didn’t get the respect he deserved.
Daubach’s time with Boston also came right before Moneyball pushed sabermetrics into the mainstream and years before the majority of baseball analysis moved beyond just looking at ERAs and batting averages.
So how does Daubach’s career with the Red Sox stand up when we look back with a more analytical lens and don’t rely on my childhood memories?
In that first season in Boston (1999), Daubach finished fourth in the American League in Rookie of the Year voting after slugging 21 home runs and slashing .294/.360/.562 in 420 plate appearances. He was worth 2.1 wins above replacement that season, which means he met the threshold of a starter, according to Baseball-Reference. He also produced a wRC+ of 130 and OPS+ of 127 and smashed 33 doubles. Then there was this epic moment in the 1999 American League Division Series.
He continued on a similar path over the next three seasons, ultimately slashing .266/.342/.492 with 84 home runs, 117 doubles and an OPS+ of 111 during four relatively full seasons with Boston. He got to those totals despite regressing pretty heavily in 2000 when he had an 89 OPS+ across a career-high 539 plate appearances.
Daubach’s bat-to-ball work was obviously his biggest strength. He had solid pop and although he was never a 35-40 home run threat, he clearly found gaps and the stands frequently enough.
It’s when we begin to look at other aspects of the game that it becomes evident why Daubach never became more than a solid starter. Although he was a good hitter, he was not one to take walks all that often. He had an 8.6 percent walk rate in 1999, which fell to eight percent in 2000 and although it rose slightly from there, it only reached a peak of 11.2 percent between 1999 and 2002.
Daubach didn’t walk often because he was never afraid to let it fly. Such an approach was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Daubach was able to put balls in play and rack up extra base hits while producing above league average offensive value. However, on the other hand, he often came up empty. Daubach had a greater than 20 percent strikeout rate in every season between 1999 and 2002 and in seven of his eight MLB seasons overall. Daubach also led the Red Sox in strikeouts twice between 1999 and 2002 and had more than 100 strikeouts three times.
In addition to a proclivity for strikeouts, Daubach was never the best in the field. He played plenty of positions for the Red Sox, including first base, third base, left field and right field, but he was a far below average defender, producing negative marks in defensive WAR every year from 1999 to 2002. The trend continued from 2003 to 2005 when he bounced between the White Sox, Red Sox and Mets before calling it a career.
So where does that leave us when it comes to the question posed a few paragraphs ago? How does Daubach’s four-year run with the Red Sox between 1999 and 2002 (we’ll be ignoring the 30 games he played in Boston in 2004) stand up under a more exacting microscope? The answer is mixed. Daubach’s skill as a hitter still looks pretty good in retrospect, even if he could have walked a bit more often and struck out less. Conversely, his glove drags down his overall body of work. However, while his defense is a clear smudge on his record, I think his work at the plate makes it fair to categorize Daubach’s time with Boston as good, regardless of whether you’re weighing it with sentiment or statistics.