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Reviewing our preseason superlatives

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We could’ve done better.

Boston Red Sox v Miami Marlins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

If you’ve been with us since the very beginning of this unprecedented — side note: 2020 is for sure the year with the most uses of the word unprecedented in human history — season, well first of all that’s pretty wild. Even I thought about taking off for a bit. More pertinent to our discussion today is that you may remember our preseason superlative polls. This is something we do every year, but it was even harder to predict than usual this season given both the uncertainty on this roster and the aforementioned unprecedentedness (most times that word has been used, too, with a count of one) of the season.

We still tried, though, and we didn’t do so hot! Pretty much all of these are clearly subjective so even in the wrap-up there will be disagreements, but here’s how things break down in my mind. If you want a reminder on how things shook out, the wrap-up post from before the season is here and I’ll link the individual posts below as well.

MVP

Community Prediction: Xander Bogaerts

This seemed like a fairly easy choice before the season. Bogaerts got 48 percent of the vote, and five of nine staff members put their vote on Bogaerts as well. I was among them, and I thought he was pretty clearly the best player on the team. For whatever it may be worth, I still believe that last part to be true and he was damn good this season. By wRC+, Bogaerts was 30 percent better than league-average, the third straight season he’s reached that mark all while playing a premium position. He was outstanding, but he’s not my MVP. There were two other players to get staff votes, and they each also got at least ten percent of the community vote. Those players were Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez. They were not the team MVP either.

Instead, my winner here is Alex Verdugo, who got exactly one (1) vote from the community and none from the staff. He exceeded all expectations, though, quickly working his way into the leadoff spot, thriving there, and convincing everyone that he need not be platooned. He actually finished the season with a bit of a cold streak and finished the year with a 126 wRC+, four points lower than Bogaerts. Verdugo also didn’t finish ahead of the team’s shortstop on the fWAR leaderboard, either. There’s certainly a fair argument for Bogaerts to get this fake award. That said, Verdugo was the engine driving this team when everything else was going horribly for so long. It’s hard to ignore that, and in a smaller sample I think it’s fair to lean a bit more on narrative and consistency compared to the full season, where I treat MVP as best player.

Real Winner: Alex Verdugo

Best Pitcher

Community Prediction: Eduardo Rodriguez

So, obviously this one didn’t work out, as Rodriguez was ruled out for the 2020 season after complications following his recovery from COVID-19. It’s still unclear how much he’ll be able to get ready for 2021. The team says he’ll have a normal offseason, but he hasn’t done anything for months and was just cleared to start walking, so a normal workload this winter seems absurd to me. But, yeah, this vote was just bad timing. Second place, for what it’s worth, was Nathan Eovaldi. The staff vote, which came after the Rodriguez news, included five votes for Eovaldi, two for Brandon Workman, and two (including one from yours truly) for Matt Barnes.

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The four votes for the relievers can be tossed aside. Big yikes to myself on that one. Eovaldi, though, is firmly in the discussion. Really, it’s between him Martín Pérez. The latter didn’t get a single vote from the community. As I type this sentence, I’m still not really sure what the answer is. Eovaldi was better on a per-start basis, and I’m certainly more comfortable in him than Pérez moving forward. That said, this season was such a drag with starting pitchers that couldn’t even make it through three innings. Pérez made every start and was at least competent in pretty much all of them. I’m giving this one to him, though I won’t argue hard at all if you think Eovaldi deserves it.

Real Winner: Martín Pérez

Defensive Wizard

Community Prediction: Jackie Bradley Jr.

This was easily the biggest blowout vote among the community members, with Bradley getting 75 percent of the votes. On staff, he got nine of ten votes, with Jake Devereaux being the only one to break up the unanimity. His vote went for Verdugo. My write-up for this section of the wrap up was, in its entirety, “wyd Jake?” Well, he may have been right. Verdugo was outstanding in right field, moved over to left field when needed and did well there as well. I think there’s a better chance than we think they give him a shot in center field next season if Bradley does end up leaving. Verdugo was outstanding defensively in 2020 wherever he played.

All that said, I still go Bradley for this one. He’s Jackie Bradley Jr. No knock on Verdugo’s defense, which again was better than I expected and something to look forward to for years to come. But, again, he’s Jackie Bradley Jr. I stand by my “wyd Jake.”

Real Winner: Jackie Bradley Jr.

Biggest Surprise

Community Prediction: Nathan Eovaldi

This is obviously where the subjectivity comes in. Eovaldi was the community choice here, while only Andrew Benintendi got more than one vote from staff, with nine different players being mentioned. Those players were: Benintendi, Eovaldi, Austin Brice (that was me; again, yikes), Bobby Dalbec, Verdugo, Pérez, José Peraza, Colten Brewer and Michael Chavis. Remember, this is strictly in the positive sense, so players that were surprisingly bad need not be considered. (Give it a minute on that one.)

Anyway, yeah, this totally depends on your definition of surprise and your expectations coming into the year. I think Eovaldi had to be near-Cy Young caliber to be a real surprise given the hype coming into the year. He was good, but not that good. I think Dalbec is a solid option here. I also think Tanner Houck is a legitimate choice even with only three starts. Phillips Valdez deserves a whole lot of love here as well. But ultimately I have to go with Pérez, who I was almost impossibly low on coming into the year.

Real Winner: Martín Pérez

Biggest Disappointment

Community Prediction: Nathan Eovaldi

This was easily my favorite part of this year’s entire series. Not thinking about disappointments, of course. We got plenty of that in baseball and out of it. But the fact that the biggest surprise and biggest disappointment were the same player in our community vote is awesome. I think it’s pretty neat that Eovaldi, to me at least, finished as neither a surprise nor a disappointment as well. Fitting, that.

Anyway, this is another subjective one. There were eight players named by staff in this one, with three votes going on Workman and then one each for: Martinez, Ryan Brasier, Devers, Barnes, Rodriguez, Christian Vázquez, and Pérez. There’s no explanation needed here. Martinez is the obvious answer, and a very handsome writer was correct with his vote.

Real Winner: J.D. Martinez

Unsung Heroes

Community Prediction: Darwinzon Hernandez

This is always my favorite one to think about because it is comically subjective with everyone having a different definition of who even fits here. There are so many options! I’m legitimately fascinated to hear what other people think of when they think of underappreciated players. Relievers are always popular picks, which explains the Hernandez selection. Not a bad vote, but ultimately incorrect given how much time he ended up missing. As a staff, there were eight players selected again, with two each for Hernandez and Marcus Walden (one of those was me, and again I say yikes), and then one each for Vázquez, Pérez, Peraza, Moreland, Bradley and Verdugo.

There’s a million different directions you can go in here, but I came down to three names, none of whom got a vote from staff or were even options in the community poll. The first is Yairo Muñoz, who immediately made his presence known and made a great case for a bench role next year, bringing a ton of energy onto a lethargic roster. He is not my pick. The second is Kevin Plawecki, who not only provided steady defense in the backup role but also produced with the bat every time he got a chance. Again, though, not my pick.

My pick is Phillips Valdez. He was clearly the biggest bright spot of the offseason scrap-heap pitching acquisitions. I’m not sure how much I believe in what he did looking long-term — there’s plenty of time for that discussion in the next few months — but the results this year were undeniable. On a pitching staff that was a constant sieve for runs, he provided a steady hand when no one else could. If it’s possible to have a hero for this season, it’s Valdez.

Real Winner: Phillips Valdez