This week the theme across SB Nation is underdogs and underrated players and underappareciated players, and really and adjective that you can think of that starts with “under.” For us at OTM, we are going to use this chance to look back at the four championship rosters and discuss three underrated players from those championship runs. Now, it should be noted that this is an inherently subjective exercise. I think we (collectively, as a sports-watching society) have a tendency to view underrated as an objective measure, but it relies on both our personal perceptions of a players abilities and/or contributions as well as our personal perceptions of how they are rated by the community at large. I say that because some of the players in this series may just be players that I was underrating, and I’m just trying to get ahead of that.
We start things off today by looking at the 2004 squad, which was a tougher task than I was expecting to be honest. My thought was that the players from the less recent teams would be easier to underrate, both because time clouds judgement and also we simply didn’t value players the same way in 2004 as we do now. However, with this team specifically, it’s the most famous Red Sox roster ever. Everyone is a hero, so it’s kind of hard to be underrated. That said, I have my three players below.
My general thesis around this series is that most of the underrated players on these teams are going to be role players and relievers, because regulars generally get the shine, particularly when a team goes all the way to the championship. I don’t think Bellhorn was or is totally underrated, and I think this is where the personal perceptions of talent come in. When I think back to 2004, I don’t remember Bellhorn as being that great of a contributor. I think there are a couple of reasons for that. For one thing, for whatever reason I have more vivid memories of him in 2005, when he was very much not good. So when I think back to his Red Sox career, I think back to him being, well, not good.
The other part goes back to what I was talking about before with how we value players. Bellhorn struck out. A lot. It was frustrating. In fact, in 2004 he led all of baseball in strikeouts. Given the way we, and me specifically as a 13-year-old, thought about the game then, that’s a major red flag. Today, we would be able to look past it given what else he provided, and that was solid pop and a lot of walks. Even with the strikeouts, he hit .264/.373/.444 for a 107 OPS+ while playing an up-the-middle position. He wasn’t a star on the roster. He didn’t make an iconic play. He wasn’t on the team long enough to really establish himself in Boston. But he was very good as a nearly-everyday player in 2004, and that deserves more appreciation, if not from Red Sox fans as a whole at least certainly from me.
This is where things start to get tough, because really I don’t know that underrated is where Timlin falls into things. He’s probably more in the underappreciated category, and that has not a ton to do with him. Timlin is a two-time champion with the Red Sox, but at least when I think about the righty I think more about his role on the 2007 roster. That’s a little weird, I think, because he was a major part of 2004, which was also the more famous team. I think I feel like he’s underappreciated for two reasons. One, there were just too many stars on that pitching staff that it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. You had a rotation with Pedro Martínez and Curt Schilling, plus hometown heroes in Tim Wakefield and Derek Lowe. You were pitching behind Keith Foulke in the bullpen, who was money in the bright spotlight of the closer roles. It’s always easy to overlook a setup man.
And then for me personally, I don’t think I appreciate just how much of a workhorse Timlin was. That goes for 2004 and really just his Red Sox career as a whole. He was the guy in the bullpen who Terry Francona could turn to in the sixth seven or eighth pretty much every single game he needed to. That’s a very valuable thing. In 2004 specifically, he pitched in 76 games in the regular season and then 11 more in the postseason. He wasn’t particularly dominant in that playoff run, which is probably why he’s a little underappreciated, but every team needs their workhorses out of the bullpen to get through a marathon season, and Timlin was very much that horse.
Alright, so this one feels weird to me, too, and honestly I think it speaks more to the fact that, really, no one from this team was underrated than Nomar himself. That said, I was a little surprised when I saw the numbers that year. Granted, it was only in 38 games and 169 plate appearances, but Garciaparra did hit .321/.367/.500 for a 118 OPS+ before he got traded. Then, when he did get traded he brought back Orlando Cabrera, who was huge for Boston in the second half, and Doug Mientkiewicz.
Garciaparra, for 2004 specifically, is most remembered for the sulking that eventually led to the trade, and that’s valid enough. But again it is not an easy task finding underappreciated and/or underrated players from the most famous and appreciated team in franchise history, and when he did play Nomar was at least better than I had remembered.