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.
After going through the 2004 team yesterday, we move on to the 2007 champions here on Tuesday. I mentioned that yesterday’s was extremely difficult considering that 2004 was just an inherently appreciated roster, moreso than any in team history. I figured this one was going to be easier because, for my money, 2007 is wildly underappreciated as a whole. Depending on how much stock you put into the sign-stealing stuff from 2018 (after the report, probably not much) there’s an argument for this being the best championship team. They were a juggernaut. To my surprise, though, I had some trouble finding underappareciated players from this run. This team was just loaded with star power. If we were doing entire Red Sox careers, J.D. Drew would be an easy inclusion here, but his grand slam in the ALCS took him out of that discussion in my opinion. As it turns out, all three of the players I ended up choosing here were on the pitching side.
Matsuzaka is remembered much more for his disappointments than his triumphs, and for fair enough reasons. The pitcher, who starred for Japan in the World Baseball Classic shortly before being signed, came to the States with massive hype and just didn’t live up to that, and not just because the much-ballyhooed “gyroball” was not a real thing, apparently. I know just speaking for myself, when I look back at Matsuzaka’s career, I think of him having one good season with the Red Sox. That was in 2008, when he pitched to a 2.90 ERA, and even that was largely kept afloat thanks to some batted ball luck.
He was actually pretty solid in 2007, though. The righty ended up pitching to a 4.40 ERA, which comes out to eight percent better than league-average by ERA+, and did so over 34 starts and 204 innings. He then made four solid enough starts in the postseason, including ones in which he picked up a win in Game Seven of the ALCS as well as a W in Game Three of the World Series. Matsuzaka, at least from where I’m sitting, doesn’t really get the credit he probably deserves for being a very solid starter and, more importantly, always being there to take the mound that season. That he had such massive expectations in that first season probably clouds our perception of him on this championship roster, never mind the fact that he was pitching behind Cy Young candidate Josh Beckett. But a championship takes an entire team effort, and Matsuzaka was a significant part of that.
I think part of being an underappreciated player, especially on a team that wins a championship and then inherently gets all of that attention, is that you serve a role that is often underppreciated. Non-closer relievers certainly fall into that category, and especially if you are in a more specialized role. That certainly counts for lefty specialists, which is where Lopez falls. This was a tough one for me, because I think part of the reason I almost didn’t include him is one that he’s also underappreciated. His highest-profile appearance of that 2007 season was probably Game Three of the ALCS when he came in for the eleventh inning of a tie game with two on and one out. He failed miserably, giving up two singles, throwing a wild pitch and issuing an intentional walk before he was removed without having recorded an out. It was eventually a seven-run inning (Lopez was charged with three of them) and Cleveland won the game.
Despite that rocky outing, though. Lopez was a big part of the bullpen that season in a specialized role. The southpaw appeared in 61 games over the course of the 2007 season after being acquired for virtually nothing (the Red Sox traded a player to be named later who eventually ended up being Ryan Cameron to get him) and pitched to a very good 3.10 ERA. Boston had a very deep bullpen that season including a devastating 1-2 punch with Jonathan Papelbon and Hideki Okajima in the eighth and ninth. After them, at least in terms of number of appearances, nobody had more trust from Terry Francona then Lopez.
I think this one may fall into the category of just me underrating a player. I won’t put words in anyone else’s mouth, but for some reason I personally do not remember Delcarmen being this good. Like, at all. I followed the 2007 team extremely closely — I was 16 at the time, which was the sweet spot of me watching and appreciating the game — but for some reason I just remember Delcarmen as a middling pitching. Again, this is a total me problem and clearly an issue with my memory, because he was also fantastic in the 2008 season as well.
I think part of the reason for these inaccurate memories is similar to Lopez above in that Delcarmen struggled a bit in the postseason, allowing at least a run in three of his six appearances and recording as many as three outs only once. But in the regular season, he was dynamite. Delcarmen started the year in Pawtucket but was up permanently by mid-June and ridden hard the rest of the way. The then 25-year-old was called upon for 44 appearances in the majors with 44 innings as well, pitching to an outstanding 2.05 ERA with big-time peripherals as well. Delcarmen is kind of that classic reliever story with a couple of good seasons under his belt before flaming out, but one of those good seasons came for a champion.