As we continue to go deeper and deeper into this lockout, there becomes fewer novel concepts to talk about with respect to today’s era of the Red Sox, so we increasingly have to move our scope out towards the past. This, of course, is not a bad thing. Who doesn’t like reminiscing? So, for today’s roundtable, the staff was tasked to select who they felt was the most underappreciated player from their time watching the Red Sox.
I feel like I could answer this question a bunch of different ways but I’ll go with Jason Bay here. Replacing Manny Ramirez is certainly a tall order, but Bay managed to be a very productive player in 200 career games for the Red Sox. From the deadline in 2008 through 2009, Bay hit .274 with 41 doubles, 45 home runs, 156 runs batted in, and a .915 OPS. In his only full season with the Red Sox (2009), Bay was an All-Star, Silver Slugger, and finished seventh in voting for MVP.
There have been a lot of underappreciated Sox over the years but I’m going to pick someone who was not just overlooked but actively mocked: J.D. Drew. Yes, he had large metaphorical shoes to fill from No. 7 Trot “the original Dirt Dog” Nixon, but Drew averaged an .824 OPS in his five years in Boston while accumulating 11.3 bWAR. In his standout 2009 campaign, Drew slashed .279/.392/.522 with 24 home runs, 30 doubles, and was worth 4.4 bWAR, 6th on the team. Drew was part of the back-to-back-to-back-to-back home run barrage against the Yankees. He had his grand slam against Fausto Carmona. Was he the greatest player on the team? No. But he never got the attention he deserved.
The first shirsey I ever owned was a Hideki Okajima one. He wasn’t a closer so he didn’t get the credit he deserve for being a lights out reliever, but he was a key piece of the red sox bullpen for a few years and a huge part of that 2007 World Series run. For whatever reason, I was drawn to the setup man, and I don’t know why I decided to make that my first shirsey over other guys but I’ll always remember Okajima fondly and I think he gets lost in the great World Series bullpens of the Red Sox.
In my opinion, the most underappreciated Red Sox player in my life has been Nomar Garciaparra. Although he was beloved by fans during his tenure in Boston, he is not widely regarded as one of the staples of the franchise at the turn of the 21st century, which he is. He had stats to match Jeter in the late 90s and early 2000s before his injuries, and he contributed so much to the ‘03 team that led to the chemistry build of the ‘04 championship team.
This graph depicts Derek Jeter and Garciaparra’s wOBA marks in their careers. As you can see, Garciaparra was generally on the same level, batting-wise, as Jeter before his injuries, and he had much better defense to show for it as well. Many fans, ones of the younger generation (my generation) specifically, regard Garciaparra as important due to the fact that he was traded in 2004 which led to Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz, two critical members of the championship team, joining the Sox.
In his time, Garciaparra was unbelievable. He is without a doubt one of the best Red Sox shortstops of all time, and all in all is underappreciated by most when he should be heralded by fans.
I am going to go on record that, as old as I am, I probably can’t speak to the most underappreciated player of literally all time. So let’s just narrow it down to my years as a fan.
Anyhow this is a tricky question because to be underappreciated you have to be good enough to be underappreciated, and if you are good enough to be underappreciated some people are naturally going to have appreciated you. I expect a good number of people to read this roundtable and say “[insert player’s name here] is underappreciated? You’re crazy! I love him!”
That being said, I do not think we have a problem appreciating guys who do a little of this, little of that. I’d say we overappreciate these players. The year we were all up in arms about Daniel Nava not making the All-Star team comes to mind. Our problem is taking guys for granted, not underappreciating them.
Which means I’m gonna just Do It and say Manny Ramirez is the most underappreciated Red Sox of my lifetime, mostly because people thought he was all natural talent combined with sloth when, in fact, he was natural talent combined with an insane work ethic. We did him dirty in the end like we always do, but it doesn’t change the fact he’s the best Red Sox hitter since Ted Williams. He’s better than Nomar (who’s a great candidate for this award, but he was certainly appreciated plenty at his peak), better than Papi, better than Mookie, better than even Yaz. None of his dopey outfield plays, weirdo off-field nonsense or alleged-to-confirmed extracurricular medicinal excursions change that. There’s a decent chance he’s the best Sox hitter you’ll ever have seen.
A look back at Mike Timlin’s time with the Red Sox through a more analytical lens might paint him a little less dominantly than it seemed he was in the early 2000s, but the right-hander was one of the most important pieces of the Red Sox’s bullpen from 2003 to 2008. He certainly started to fade in the back half of that stretch, but he was comfortably better than league average based on ERA- in every year he was in Boston except 2008 and he put in absolute work, pitching in 394 games and 409 innings across those six seasons. It’s time he got his flowers.
The most underappreciated Red Sox player since I’ve been watching them is without a doubt Rick Porcello. People talk about Porcello like he was a fringe big leaguer who dragged down the team’s ERA and was singlehandedly responsible for the pitching staff’s failures. Frankly, he gets a raw deal. We discuss his 2016 Cy Young year only to say how Justin Verlander was robbed. How many people know that Porcello actually had a better ERA+ than Verlander that season?
During the five seasons he was in Boston, from 2015-2019, only Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke threw more innings than Porcello’s 964. He won 73 games over that timespan behind only Scherzer, Greinke, and Jon Lester. Did he have some terrible starts? Absolutely. But, when he was on, he was a throwback pitcher who dominated with guile and command. When I remember Porcello my memory will always bring me back to the summer of 2018 where on August 3rd he dominated the Yankees so masterfully. He needed just 86 pitches to complete the job while allowing just one hit. Porcello was a dude and people need to remember this.
I’ve been writing about the Red Sox to some degree since 2017. In that time, I would say the most underappreciated player I’ve seen is 2017 Drew Pomeranz. He, like the Red Sox, got off to a rather poor start that year. I distinctly remember the game against the Athletics on May 20 when he got chewed out by John Farrell for wanting to go deeper into his start.
To that point, Pomeranz had pitched decently, but he needed 97 pitches to get through just four innings. Farrell pulled him as a result of that high pitch count, and the Red Sox would go on to fall to the A’s 8-3, dropping them to 21-21 on the season.
Following that start, Pomerenz’s ERA on the year sat at 4.97. The left-hander turned things around from there, though, as he posted a 2.85 ERA and 3.67 FIP to go along with 129 strikeouts to 53 walks over his final 24 starts (135 2/3 innings) of the year.
For all the attention Chris Sale and David Price received in 2017, Pomerenz helped stabilize that Red Sox rotation that helped the team win its second straight American League East title. He was unable to carry that momentum into the postseason that year or the 2018 campaign, but I still appreciate the career year (3.9 bWAR) Pomeranz put together in 2017.
I don’t think I’m going to make a lot of friends with this one, but who needs friends? I’m going with Adrián González. I don’t think he was a net positive in the clubhouse, so I will to some degree concede on that point, but I also think he too often gets conflated with the other contracts in Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford they were trying to climb out from under in that trade. González was included in the deal because he was good, not because the Red Sox needed to offload an underperforming player. Obviously the trade was good and I’m not saying they should have kept him, but González was legitimately great in his full season in Boston.