This week the theme across SB Nation is underdogs and underrated players and underappreciated 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.
The 2013 Boston Red Sox were a team of underrated players. Sure, the roster featured established stars like David Ortiz, Jon Lester and Dustin Pedroia, but many of the that 2013 team’s other standout players surpassed expectations. In all fairness, those expectations weren’t particularly high. After going 69-93 and winding up in last place in the AL East in 2012, many of the moves the Red Sox made in the offseason before 2013 seemed more muted than aggressive.
However, then GM Ben Cherington hit the jackpot with move after move and that’s why players like Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and Koji Uehara are household names throughout New England. The players I’ll be highlighting below are far from unknown players to Red Sox fans, but they may have missed a bit of the limelight.
Honorable Mentions: Daniel Nava, Brandon Workman, Xander Bogaerts
It may seem insane to include Victorino on a list of underrated players from the 2013 team, especially since his grand slam in game six of the ALCS ultimately punched Boston’s ticket to the World Series. However, I still feel like Victorino’s 2013 campaign isn’t appreciated it as much as it should be.
Victorino came to Boston with two All-Star appearances and a pair of Gold Gloves to his name, but just like the Red Sox, he didn’t have a particularly impressive 2012 campaign. The long-time Philadelphia Phillie was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers midway through the season and he struggled at both spots, posting a 91 OPS+ and 2.9 combined bWAR. Considering he was on the wrong side of 30 at the time, it seemed like Victorino was no longer going to play to an All-Star level.
Luckily for the Red Sox, that wasn’t the case, at least in 2013. Victorino ended up more than doubling his bWAR total from 2012 in 2013, finishing second on the entire Red Sox roster with a mark of 6.0. Somehow, despite his previous accomplishments, that marked a career-high for Victorinio, who smashed 15 home runs, stole 21 bases, led the AL in hit by pitches (18) and was a revelation on defense.
Victorino only slashed .216/.333/.314 in the playoffs, but he hit that grand slam and the Red Sox would have been a lot worse off without his contributions during the regular season.
If there was one underrated positional group for the 2013 team, it was the bullpen. We all remember David Ortiz and Victorino bashing critical home runs during the ALCS and the beards of Napoli and Gomes, but the bullpen’s performance really carried the Red Sox at times. Uehara rightfully got a ton of the credit, but Junichi Tazawa deserves some of it as well.
Tazawa established himself with the 2012 team, providing a silver lining for an otherwise dismal year. He had a 1.43 ERA, 1.82 FIP and 296 ERA+ across 44 innings. After such a showing, he seemed poised to take over a larger role.
He certainly did just that in 2013, serving as the setup man to Uehara. He frequently held down the seventh and eighth innings while bridging the gap to the Red Sox’s star closer. He pitched in 71 games (68 1⁄3 innings) and produced a 131 ERA+, 3.16 ERA and 3.22 FIP. Tazawa exhibited some pretty solid control as well, walking only 12 batters all season compared with 72 strikeouts.
He was even better in the playoffs, amassing six holds and a 1.23 ERA across 7 1⁄3 innings, while allowing one free pass and striking out six. Far from letting the crushing pressure of the playoffs get to him, Tazawa showed a degree of unflappability. For example. with the Red Sox clinging to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning of game three of the ALCS in Detroit, Tazawa struck out Miguel Cabrera with one out and runners on first and third before Uehara took over to close out a 1-0 victory. Tazawa could have easily let the game get away from him, as he had allowed a single to the previous batter, but his strikeout was the third-most important play of the game based on weighted win probability added. Tazawa didn’t make the last out very often in 2013, but getting outs in the eighth inning is an important step as well.
Speaking of underrated relievers, the Red Sox got an incredible return on investment by acquiring Craig Breslow in 2012. The left-hander was sent to Boston by the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Matt Albers and Scott Podsednik. He was a journeyman reliever, pitching with six teams between 2005 and 2012, including a 2006 run with the Red Sox themselves.
Despite moving from town to town, Breslow was a relatively solid reliever, albeit one who was not utilized all that frequently. Between 2005 and 2011, he produced a 138 ERA+ across 279 innings pitched. When Arizona traded him to Boston, he was in the midst of a relatively solid year, with a 2.70 ERA through 43 1⁄3 innings. He matched that ERA in his 20 innings with Boston.
Even with such a background, what Breslow did in 2013 was still a surprise. He pitched in 61 games (59 2⁄3 innings) and was sensational with such a workload. He posted a career-low 1.81 ERA and even if he got a little lucky (3.60 FIP), his 229 ERA+ was a personal best as well. Breslow’s success was even more impressive because he didn’t miss a lot of bats. In fact, he averaged just five strikeouts per nine innings.
When the playoffs rolled around, Breslow kept right on going, although he did struggle a bit in the World Series. Across the entire playoff run, he threw to a 2.45 ERA across 7 1⁄3 innings, while recording four holds and one blown save. Like Tazawa, Breslow wasn’t usually on the mound when the final out was recorded, but he was a critical driver on the path to victories. Breslow was never able to recapture that 2013 magic again, but, to be fair, it took five more years before the Red Sox were able to do so as a team.