by Phoenix Desertsong, Red Sox Crazy Fanatic
Unlike fellow Red Sox top prospect Triston Casas, Bobby Dalbec may be close to his Major League debut. In 2019, Dalbec did plenty of damage at Double-A Portland in the Atlantic League. His first 30 game stint was encouraging, hitting 7 home runs without embarrassing himself. Dalbec will be 25 in June 2020, so very soon the Red Sox will want to see what they really have in their top prospect. Like Casas, Dalbec has immense raw power, rated a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Also Like Casas, Dalbec has a below average hit tool, meaning he doesn't really hit for average. Unlike Casas, he may never develop into more than a .250 hitter at the MLB level.
However, Dalbec has other things going for him. Dalbec has much more advanced plate discipline and tons of walks at Double-A. He has also been trimming his strikeout rate Which is another good sign. The only troubling thing so far is he walked very little on his promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket. That can partially be explained away by Dalbec potentially trying to prove himself at the minors most advanced level. He did show the power and didn't strike out more than he did at Portland.
The other plus with Dalbec perhaps is what will make him a much better real life player than may be ever reflected in his card prices. Casas may be a passable third baseman with his above average arm, but his future is likely as a slightly better than average first baseman on defense. On the other hand, Dalbec projects to be a better than average fielder with an excellent arm at the hot corner. Because he is likely much more versatile on defense, the Red Sox may be happy to just have him for his fielding ability and take any power he offers as a binus.
Obviously, Dalbec looks to be a nice useful player. But being on the doorstep of the major leagues with really only raw power, walk, and nice fielding skills to his credit, is there much potential for the hobby to embrace him?
Bobby Dalbec's key rookie card is 2016 Bowman Chrome Draft. While his auto is popular, it still sells for less than that of Single-A slugger Triston Casas. Is Dalbec undervalued, especially being so close to the majors? Or are hobby prospectors more intrigued by Casas' ceiling? Both have plenty of prospect hype, but Dalbec can likely help very soon at the MLB level. Considering you can find his base Chrome - and even the refractor - very recently in the dollar bin, he could be a nice player to hoard and flip very soon if that's what you'd like to do.
The big question is Dalbec ready for regular MLB duty. Many prospect evaluators Believe he has more room to grow. His Autos aren't super cheap, and there still is some prospect hype baked into thatorice. A lot has to do with how the Red Sox front office handles him. The red sox may not be the team he starts for in the near future, as the Red Sox may need to evaluate whether Dalbec is better off as a trade chip as they try to creatively rework their roster.
Of course, staying with the Red Sox may be good for his future, but if he can become a starter somewhere else and succeed, that’s even better for both Dalbec and his rookie cards. In any case, Dalbec seems to be very close to Major League action. Whether he becomes a backup corner infielder, a second-division starter (that is, for a below-average team), or an all-star is all up to how he fares once thrown into the MLB fire. His base Chrome would be my choice, although his auto is still cheap enough that if you believe he can carry his power, arm, and glove to a starting job somewhere, it’s worth a look.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Big Huge Red Sox Crazy Fan
Triston Casas is the type of baseball prospect that hobby prospectors salivate over. Many scouts believe that the Red Sox top prospect could develop into a middle of the batting order hitter. His Raw Power scouting grade from FanGraphs is a 70 with 80 potential - 80 being the top grade. His current in-game power grade is a 35 with a 65 potential.
As for results, his 137 wRC+ mostly at A-ball is fine, and just turning 20 and graduated to High-A ball, he still projects as at least an average Major League player. The big question with him is if his hit tool - ability to hit for average - will rise from the current 25 to the potential 50. The good news is he doesn’t strike-out a ton for a young power hitter and he does take some walks, so his profile is actually pretty good.
His key rookie card is the 2018 Bowman Chrome Draft Auto. The last raw one that sold on eBay was mid October 2019 for $49.99 plus $3.50 shipping. We’ll call it a $50 to $55 card. The cheapest you’ll find on eBay the night of this writing is $60.
There are a couple of other Bowman Chrome Draft autos of Casas that are selling, however, that include the Class of 2018 auto (the refractor numbered to 250) and the Draft Night auto (refractors numbered to 99 and gold refractors numbered to 50). These are attractive targets because there are simply so few of them. The class of 2018 refractor auto you can find for about $40 plus shipping. The draft night auto you’ll be lucky to find for $85 - that comp is already graded PSA 10.
As a collector, I actually favor the serial numbered autos, but my opinion is that the refractors of the 2018 Bowman Chrome Draft auto are the best investment for ROI. That’s because it’s his official 1st Bowman card and the card with the biggest market. That being said, having already graded copies of extremely limited edition cards is a nice “go for broke” strategy. If you want to play it safe, there’s the non-auto 2018 Bowman Chrome Draft which you can find in high grade for $15-20.
Personally, I’d play it safe with Casas for the time being. Yes, he is the #1 Red Sox prospect, but he just hit .254 at A-ball. Yes, his batting eye is decent and he made noise when he did make contact. I need to see more progress before I would invest in his future, outside of maybe some raw Chrome 1st Bowman cards or colored parallels of his base Bowman Draft card.
All of these points about buying and selling sports cards are just my own informed opinions. They should NOT be taken as professional investment advice. Always do your own research, as the card market can shift drastically without much notice. Remember, this is a hobby, so you must be prepared to be stuck holding any cards you collect.
Transparency notice: As of this writing, I currently own no Triston Casas cards, but may purchase some Chrome base cards or colored parallels purely for Personal Collection purposes.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Red Sox Fanatic
Brandon Workman has enjoyed a stellar career year for the Boston Red Sox. He’s been such a fantastic relief pitcher, in fact, that he’s become the Red Sox closer. His strikeout rate is off the charts and he’s allowed just one home run in 66 ⅓ innings! Perhaps even more incredible is despite seemingly unsustainable BABIP and HR/9 marks - and a high walk rate - Workman’s incredible season isn’t just a mirage.
It’s time to turn to my favorite statistical analysis tool for baseball: StatCast. Just look at these numbers:
Barrel Rate: 0.8% (Top 1% of league)
Expected Batting Average: .174 (Top 2% of league)
Expected Slugging Percentage: .237 (Top 1% of league)
Actual wOBA: .209 (Top 1% of league)
Expected wOBA: .256 (Top 5% of league)
Expected wOBA on contact: .311 (Top 5% of league)
Hard Hit Percentage: 28.9% (Top 6% of league)
Strikeout Rate: 35.5% (Top 4% of league)
(Note that all numbers are as of 9/16/2019)
The only bad number that StatCast spits out? His walk rate, 15.5%, which ranks in the bottom 1% of the league. Workman is simply not allowing much hard contact and he’s striking guys out, both things you really want a pitcher to do.
According to FanGraphs, the fielding-independent pitching metrics suggest that even with that high walk rate and miniscule HR allowed rate, his FIP is 2.52 and his expected FIP - which uses an average HR/9 rate - is 3.44. Obviously, those are all acceptable numbers for a closer. Overall, FanGraphs rates Workman as earning 1.9 WAR. Not bad for a guy that the ZiPs projection system saw as a barely above replacement-level middle reliever.
But Wait, It Gets Better for Brandon Workman!
By Baseball-Reference’s WAR, which instead uses Runs Allowed per 9 innings, and not the FIP metric, Workman has been worth 2.8 WAR to the Red Sox in 2019. When you realize that Workman has been worth 2.9 WAR in his entire career including 2019, you realize what an incredible breakout this has been.
So, what’s changed about Workman? Here’s a guy who had a decent rookie season back for the eventual 2013 World Champion Red Sox as a relief pitcher. Then, he had a brutal 2014 season as a starter, after which he missed all of 2015 and 2016 (except for a few brutal rehab appearances in the minors in ‘16) with arm injuries. But, Workman bounced back nicely in 2017, pitching excellently for Pawtucket and pitching pretty well between AAA and MLB in both 2017 and 2018.
In 2013 and 2014, Workman had a sinking fastball and a change-up in addition to his four-seam fastball, cutter, and curveball. After arm troubles, when he returned to full health in 2017, those sinker and change-up were taken out of his repertoire. But he has the same three pitches in 2019 that he did in 2017 and 2018. So, what’s the difference?
One obvious thing that’s different is the average fastball velocity. Workman’s four-seam fastball has averaged 92.8 MPH this year. That’s up a lot from 2018 when it was 91.2, and even higher than 2017 when it was 92.2. The added velocity is definitely a big part of it, but what’s more incredible is the spin rate.
The spin rate on Workman’s fastball is 2121 rpm, up from 2003 and 1982 the previous two years. Those increases in velocity and spin rate have led to a whiff rate of 35.9 percent, a huge jump from 18.3% in 2018 and 17.0% in 2017. That nearly doubled whiff rate has made Workman’s fastball practically unhittable, with a measly .129 batting average and .145 slugging percentage against. StatCast agrees with those numbers with .135 and .174 expected marks.
Brandon Workman Loves to Throw You a Curveball, A Lot
Interestingly, Workman only throws the four-seamer 33.1% of the time, down from 38.9% in 2018 and 51.2% in 2017. What’s replaced many of those fastballs, and a few of his cutters, is his curveball. It’s pretty much the same pitch as 2018’s curveball, although with more spin than 2017. Despite a lower whiff rate of 28.9%, batters have only hit .133 against it. While StatCast sees that as unsustainable, it still expects a batting average of merely .193. You can’t go wrong with that curve.
The most interesting part of this StatCast pitch arsenal data has to do with his cutter. Despite only throwing it 19.8% of the time, it clearly has been the culprit of many of Workman’s issued walks in 2019. His cutter has a whopping 20.4% walk rate. And if that sounds high, it should, as his cutter has never had higher than a 10% walk rate since StatCast began tracking pitches in that way. But, there are a couple of upsides to the cutter. It has a whopping whiff rate of 43.6%, and despite only having a K% of 26.5, has been an effective third pitch overall. Batters have only hit .083 against it, although StatCast expects a .178 batting average. Still, that’s pretty good - even with all the walks it’s ended up creating.
What this data tells us is that Workman has thrown the curve more than ever in 2019, and it’s helped both his fastball and cutter play up. While it’s clear that we may not be able to expect him to replicate this success going forward, it is clear that Workman has found a really nice pitch mix that works for him.
How Will Brandon Workman Do in 2020?
Workman was eligible for arbitration in 2019, and settled for a $1.15 million contract. That’s turned out to be a massive bargain for the Red Sox. Going into his final year of arbitration, Workman should easily expect a substantial pay raise. Through 9/16/19, Workman has a 9-1 win loss record with 14 saves and 15 holds. He does have 6 blown saves, though, but not all of those were as a closer. You may not think wins hold as much water as they once did, especially for a reliever, but that does look awfully nice on his baseball card.
Of course, if Workman’s agent does his homework, there’s a lot to like about Workman going forward. All of this pitch data is very easily accessible. Being credited for 9 wins and 14 saves means something, too - in fact, Workman’s WPA+ (Win Probability Added) on the season through 9/16 is 8.98. Of course, there are two components to WPA (WPA+ and WPA-) and his overall WPA is 2.18, which is still quite good. That mark isn’t far behind one of the best relievers in baseball - Josh Hader - at 2.36, and just ahead of Liam Hendricks, the solid A’s reliever, at 2.16. So, Workman has been a very valuable reliever.
The advanced stats keep working in Workman’s favor in terms of StatCast expected stats, too. His expected wOBA of .256 ranks right in between the Houston Astros’ top relievers in Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna. Also, he’s not far behind his own teammate, Darwinzon Hernandez, at .253. That’s good company. His actual wOBA, though? Get this, it’s the lowest of any pitcher with 100 Plate Appearances. Workman’s performance has literally made Workman the most dominant reliever in baseball in 2019.
Talk about an arbitration case in Workman’s favor! Even if he stumbles a bit in the last couple weeks of the season, Workman has still been incredible. Should he be the Boston Red Sox closer going into 2020? There’s absolutely no reason he shouldn’t be.
Of course, there is Darwinzon Hernandez, who Jhoulys Chacin memorably compared to his former teammate Josh Hader. As the StatCast data shows, Chacin is right. If you believe the StatCast metrics - and there’s little reason not to - the Red Sox have one of the best 8th and 9th inning combos in the game going into 2020. Not a bad setup.
Because of this, it’s possible that the Red Sox explore a contract extension with Workman this offseason. It’s also equally possible that the Red Sox lean on his good, not great past performance and go into 2020 with Workman on a one-year deal to prove he’s for real. But as we’ve broken down here in great length, Workman is definitely a changed pitcher. If he can work on reducing the walks on his cutter, he could, in fact, be the best closer in ALL of baseball. That’s pretty incredible stuff.
Is Brandon Workman the Boston Red Sox Closer of the Future? Perhaps. Brandon Workman IS the Boston Red Sox Closer of RIGHT NOW, though, for sure. That future title may go to Darwinzon Hernandez, but you never know. Workman is only 31 years old, very young for a relief pitcher. As long as he’s not overused or overworked, Workman likely has a very nice late-inning career ahead of him.
Baseball America 2019 High-A Minor League Player of the Year: Jarren Duran of the Red Sox!
by Phoenix Desertsong, Minor League Baseball Fan
Congratulations to outfielder Jarren Duran of the Boston Red Sox for being recognized as the Baseball America High-A Player of the Year! For Salem in the Carolina League, Duran hit .387/.456/.543 with 4 HR, 19 RBI, and 18 SB in 50 games. That’s good for a 191 wRC+, which is obviously quite nuts.
However, Duran actually spent most of the 2019 season at Double-A for the Portland Sea Dogs, where he hit a mere .250/.309/.325 with only 1 HR and 19 RBI. Even when you account for his 28 SB (against only 8 times caught), that’s good for only a 87 wRC+. However, despite his hiccup with the bat, Duran is a potential plus defensive outfielder, although he’s still transitioning from his original position of second base.
FanGraphs isn’t hugely big on his future potential value, giving him a 45 where 50 is a potential average Major League player. They’re high on his speed, of course, giving him a 70 out of a potential 80. But his other current and future potential values are not what you’d expect from a Player of the Year.
Hit: 40 / 55
Game Power: 30 / 40
Raw Power: 45 / 45
Speed: 70 / 70
Field: 40 / 50
Throws: 40 / 40
Future Value: 45
Of course, if Duran does become the plus defender in center field his speed and athleticism suggest, he would instantly be at least a league-average center fielder in the Majors. Saving runs in center field is extremely valuable. It should be noted that Duran was an excellent second baseman, but the Sox organization felt his athleticism was wasted at the position. The below-average arm doesn’t matter as much in center field, either.
The rest of the scouting report suggests that if he refines his baserunning instincts, he could be an easy 30 SB threat in the Majors. The question is if his hit tool develops enough to become a .300 hitter in the Majors. His plate discipline is decent enough and if he takes full advantage of his speed, the Sox have a really good player here.
It should be noted that the Steamer projection already sees Jarren Duran as a .281/.324/.402 hitter right now. Before you factor in his potential stolen bases, that’s already a 86 wRC+. Of course, that projection is heavily influenced by that Single-A outburst. But for a 23-year old with an ETA of 2022, the Sox could have a really nice late bloomer that can play both second base and center field.
What do you think of Jarren Duran as a prospect? I find it hard to get excited about a guy who dominates Single-A then stumbles so badly at Double-A. Of course, the former 7th-round draft selection Duran has his fans. Heck, he was included in the famous (infamous?) Gary Vee Direct 360 set. Unsurprisingly with the Baseball America prospect spotlight now placed on him, Jarren Duran’s cards are now listed in the $8 to $10 range.
As of this writing, the Gary Vee Direct 360 card is the only official Bowman rookie card for Duran and two minor league cards from the Salem Red Sox and New York Penn League (from his time in 2018 with the Lowell Spinners). Duran is definitely an intriguing prospect and I like his potential, but I tend to put my faith in FanGraphs scouting ratings. Could Duran blow away his ratings and ride his speed all the way to the top? He certainly could. Only time will tell.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Lifelong Red Sox Fan
The Red Sox had some pretty good players back in the 1970’s. But, one you may not have heard nearly as much about was Sonny Siebert. A starting pitcher who was better known for his years with the Cleveland Indians, Siebert was mediocre in two of his four full seasons with the Red Sox. However, he was quite good in 1970, and won 15 games with a fine 3.44 ERA. He would be much better in 1971.
The Sox acquired Siebert along with Vicente Romo and Joe Azcue for Dick Ellsworth, Ken Harrelson, and Juan Pizarro. As Red Sox trades go, this was actually a good one for Boston. Azcue and Romo were replacement level, but Harrelson and Pizzaro only had one good year for Cleveland and Ellsworth never really did much after that. Pizzaro would have another good season later with the Cubs. Of course, that means the Red Sox won this trade, because although Siebert was mediocre in 1969 and 1973, he was quite good in between.
A lot went right for Sonny Siebert in 1971. Not only did he pitch very well, winning 16 games with a 2.91 ERA, but Sonny also had a great year with the BAT. That’s right, folks. American League pitchers still had to come to bat until 1973. What’s particularly incredible about Siebert’s 1971 season with the bat is that in no other season did he come close to being that good. In 1971, he hit .266/.289/.532 with 6 HR and 15 RBI. His career marks? .173/.204/.270 with 12 HR. Crazy fluke or not, it was a really nice year for Sonny.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Lifelong Red Sox Fan
Red Sox Trivia Time! Who was the best Red Sox player in 1993 by Wins Above Replacement? If you guessed Roger Clemens, you’d be wrong. Heck, even if you’d guessed young shortstop John Valentin you still won’t be correct. It was a 37-year old starting pitcher. His name: Danny Darwin.
Along with Frank Viola and a young Aaron Sele, Danny Darwin helped pick up the Red Sox pitching staff from an unusually poor season from Roger Clemens. Yes, Clemens was about merely average in 1993. Unfortunately, despite a pretty good starting staff, Paul Quantrill kept losing games - despite actually being a pretty decent reliever for most of his career.
Also, despite Mo Vaughn having a good year, Mike Greenwell putting up one of his typically good years, and John Valentin being a very nice young player, the lineup wasn’t great. That’s with future Hall of Famer Andre Dawson at DH, being, sadly, rather mediocre. Those Red Sox finished 80-82 under Butch Hobson.
Of course, none of that was Danny Darwin’s fault.
Danny Darwin’s Career Before the Red Sox
Actually, Darwin had a very interesting career. He actually only made 371 starts in his career out of his 716 career appearances. He actually spent a good deal of his career in the bullpen and was bounced back and forth from the starting rotation and bullpen for most of his career. However, after a nice run with the Texas Rangers, he went to the Milwaukee Brewers, where he had one and a half above-average seasons before being traded to the Houston Astros. He pitched very well and returned as a free agent.
In Houston from 1986 to 1990, Darwin would be worth 13.4 WAR, 5.3 of that coming in his 1990 season when he won the NL ERA title with a 2.21 mark. Darwin started 17 games that year with 3 complete games while also finishing 14 games and saving 2 games. Still, the Astros saw fit to see him leave as a free agent. The Red Sox were only too happy to add the solid Darwin to their pitching staff.
Danny Darwin with the Red Sox
By the time he got to the Red Sox in 1991, the “Bonham Bullet” had already put together a pretty nice career as a “swingman” - a guy who worked both as a starter and a reliever. Unfortunately, Darwin’s first season with the Red Sox didn’t go so well. In 12 starts, he delivered a 5.16 ERA while dealing with shoulder problems and battling pneumonia. Fortunately for both the Red Sox and Darwin, this would not be a free agent bust.
In 1992, Darwin rebounded with one of his typical swingman seasons. He started 15 games and finished 21 more, appearing in 51 total games over the season. Overall, his efforts were worth 2.6 WAR. But where Darwin truly excelled in 1992 was in the starting rotation in the season’s second half. He pitched only one game out of the bullpen. In his 15 starts, he had a 3.50 ERA and 2 complete games. It was a precursor to his best season in the major leagues, 1993.
In 1993, Darwin started 34 games, pitching 2 complete games, 1 of them a shutout. Despite a solid 3.26 ERA and 1.068 WHIP, his 4.29 FIP was a harbinger of things to come. Darwin had a really nice season, but things would go south after that.
In the strike shortened 1994 season, the wheels fell off for Darwin. He started 13 games, and while he went 7-5, had a miserable 6.30 ERA. He was up and down and had a couple of clunkers mixed in between brilliant performances. But arm trouble led to him blowing up in June, after which he was shut down. It looked like the beginning of the end for Darwin, and it was certainly the end of Darwin’s Red Sox career.
Danny Darwin’s Last Hurrahs
After an awful 1995 season split between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers, Darwin caught on with the Pittsburgh Pirates at age 40. He actually pitched pretty well with a 3.02 ERA in 19 starts! Darwin was good enough to net relief pitcher Rich Loiselle from the Houston Astros at the trade deadline. That trade actually was a win for Pittsburgh, who got a very good rest of 1996, a solid rookie campaign as closer in 1997, and decent returns in 1998 before he forgot where the strike zone was and was never good again. Meanwhile, the Astros, who’d been happy to reacquire Darwin, watched him struggle and get released at season’s end.
But, that wasn’t the end for Darwin. He’d catch on with the White Sox in 1997, pitching 21 games, 17 of them starts. His 4.13 ERA was a bit of a mirage, but it was good enough for the Giants to acquire him along with Wilson Alvarez and Roberto Hernandez in a trade that famously didn’t work out well for the Giants. The White Sox ended up with a solid closer in Keith Foulke and a decent set-up man in Bob Howry. Darwin and Alvarez would both be mediocre, Hernandez would be fine, but Alvarez and Hernandez would end up with the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays next season.
Darwin would hang around with the Giants for 1998, getting into 33 games, 25 of them starts, and wasn’t particularly good at all. In fact, Darwin was “worth” -1.1 WAR that season. That was the end of Darwin’s playing days. However, Darwin has hung around the game and as recent as 2019 is still a minor league pitching coach.
Danny Darwin’s Career Overview
Overall, Danny Darwin was worth 39.8 WAR over 21 seasons. That includes some really awful seasons where his WAR totals were negative. He was actually significantly better as a reliever, although overall he was a decent slightly better than league-average starting pitcher when he got the call.
Starter: 371 starts, 2396 ⅓ innings, 4.04 ERA, 53 complete games, 9 shutouts, 2.2 K/BB ratio
Reliever: 345 appearances, 620 ⅓ innings, 3.06 ERA, 171 games finished, 32 saves, 2.29 K/BB ratio
The obvious knock against Darwin were his platoon splits.
Vs Right-Handed Batters: 6216 PAs,.234/.281/.361 - .641 OPS
Vs Left-Handed Batters: 6500 PAs, .277/.338/.437 - .775 OPS
In today’s analytically-driven game, Darwin probably would’ve been limited against left-handed batters and probably relieved much more than he started. It’s also possible he would’ve faced fewer batters per season, which may have saved him some of the arm trouble. Darwin was indeed “Dr. Death” on right-handed batters and more analytically-inclined deployment may have made Darwin one of the greatest swingmen of all time.
Of course, Darwin’s career was just fine as it was. He gave Red Sox fans a great 1993 effort and along with his above-average work in 1992 made that 4 year contract at least mostly worth it. He’s still in the game today passing on his extensive knowledge of pitching to younger pitchers. Here’s to a great baseball career that hasn’t even yet ended. Thanks for all your efforts, Danny!.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
The last team captain of the Boston Red Sox, Jason Varitek spent parts of 15 seasons with Boston. He made his major league debut with a base hit in his first and only major league at-bat in 1997. Varitek was acquired by the Red Sox along with pitcher Derek Lowe in the infamous trade for relief pitcher Heathcliff Slocumb. It’s not even close who won that deal, even if Lowe had never done anything. Varitek was the starting catcher in 10 different seasons for the Red Sox and only wasn’t in 2001 due to injury.
Varitek was also one of the most popular players in recent Red Sox history. He was loved by the pitching staff and anecdotally was an above-average defensive catcher. While he was a bit below average in throwing out opposing base stealers, I can say that he worked with some pitchers that were notoriously slow to the plate. The defensive metrics see him as an overall defensive negative, but a lot of those negatives came from his brutal final season in 2011. From all the years I watched him play, I’d say he was at worst perfectly average behind the dish - but above average as a pitch receiver.
Jason Varitek Was Mr. Average
While being average is really not exciting, in baseball being average is extremely valuable. If you look at Jason Varitek’s 162 game average, you’ll see that would he hit 20 HR and drove in 79 RBI in an average season. Those are solid baseball card stats, especially for a catcher. Because of his solid work behind the dish, though, those league-average offensive stats allowed him to be an above-average regular by WAR in 6 out of his 15 seasons.
2001: 1.4 WAR (in only 51 games)
2002: 2.1 WAR (132 games)
2003: 3.0 WAR (142 games)
2004: 4.0 WAR (137 games)
2005: 3.9 WAR (133 games)
2007: 2.3 WAR (131 games)
He wasn’t bad in his first full season in 1999, either, with 1.9 WAR in 144 games. But, Varitek did have some poor seasons with the bat. His rookie year of 1998 wasn’t too hot, and neither was 2000, 2002, 2006, 2008, or 2009. But with a career OPS+ of 99, you can see that on the balance, he was perfectly average offensively. The good news is that Varitek’s dWAR (WAR from Defense) is a positive 8.8 for his career. So, in fact, Varitek was ever so slightly better than average, before you count his “intangibles” such as team leadership.
Why Jason Varitek and His 2004 Season Were His Career Best
Most fans may believe 2005 was Varitek’s best year in the Major Leagues. He won the Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, and made his second American League All-Star Game roster! OK, he did deserve the Silver Slugger.with a 122 OPS+. However, 2005 was also one of Varitek’s worst defensive seasons if you believe the defensive metrics from Total Zone and Defensive Runs Saved. Still, his overall contributions were worthy of an All-Star appearance and were worth 3.9 WAR to the Red Sox.
Of course, in 2004, the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years! Best season ever!
OK, that’s not why, but yes, Varitek was a big part of the Red Sox success that season. Despite no accolades, he was worth a career-high 4.0 WAR to the regular season 2004 Sox. He also hit a career high .296 and a career high on-base percentage of .390. His offensive contributions amounted to a 121 OPS+. Defensively, Varitek was 3 runs above average by Total Zone’s metrics and perfectly average by DRS.
In the postseason, Varitek was OK in the Division Series. But, he was a major contributor in the classic ALCS against the Yankees. While Varitek was a non-factor in the World Series, it didn’t matter.
Speaking of the postseason, in 2007, Varitek’s bat didn’t show up in the Division Series, but it did in the League Championship against the Indians and in the World Series versus the Rockies. So, Varitek really did help the Sox win their 2nd ring in 4 years.
Jason Varitek’s Legacy
Various injuries and trouble in his personal life did affect Varitek’s on-field performance at times. But, Varitek was loved by his teammates and is anecdotally one of the more underrated catchers of his era. In fact, I can’t think of another catcher that was as consistently league-average as Varitek.
The only ones better I can think of offensively are Jorge Posada, Ivan Rodriguez, and Mike Piazza. “Pudge” and Piazza are Hall of Famers and Posada has a case for a plaque. “Pudge” was easily the best defensively of his era. Joe Mauer was obviously great early in his career, too, which started towards the end of Tek’s own career.
Sure, Tek isn’t a Hall of Famer. But, he did have a very nice peak and hit better than you’d expect from your typical catcher.The defensive metrics also mostly show that Varitek was in fact a very good catcher on defense. We don’t have pitch framing metrics for that time period, but I can almost guarantee he would’ve been among the league leaders. In fact, had Varitek not played in the same era as Pudge Rodriguez, it’s likely he’d be remembered as one of the best of his era without question, behind only Jorge Posada.
It’s an old baseball saying that great teams are great up the middle. So, it’s no surprise that the Red Sox and Yankees had two of the best catchers in the game during their respective eras. Sure, Varitek didn’t come close to Hall of Fame standards. But, he was at least the #3 or #4 overall catcher in the American League in his peak years. Catchers like Tek don’t come along everyday, and you’d be hard-pressed to ever expect another one to come along.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
Christopher Trotman Nixon, better known as “Trot,” was a first-round selection of the Boston Red Sox. Despite how highly Nixon was regarded, his first few seasons in the minor leagues weren’t all that exciting. Nixon did get called up to the Major Leagues in 1996, and got 2 hits in 4 at-bats. His 1997 season at AAA Pawtucket was merely OK, although he did hit 20 HR and steal 11 bases.
But, it wasn’t until 1998 when he broke out at AAA in a big way, hitting .310/.400/.513 with 23 HR and stealing 26 bases. Trot was rewarded with a cuppa coffee in 1998 and didn’t do much to impress. The 1999 season, however, his true rookie season, would be a very good one.
As 1999 was the first season in which I personally began to watch MLB on a regular basis, Trot Nixon was a young star that I enjoyed watching play. In 126 games, Nixon hit .270/.357/.472 with 15 HR, 51 RBI, and stole 3 bases. Those Red Sox teams didn’t really run, after all. Also, despite 7 errors, Nixon flashed the leather with defense worth 15 runs above average thanks to his above-average range.
Trot finished only 9th in Rookie of the Year voting, although it was a pretty stacked year in 1999. His own teammate, Brian Daubach, in his own first full season finished 4th. It was also Carlos Lee’s rookie year, although he didn’t outperform Trot, although Chris Singleton, who finished 6th in voting, actually did. The winner that year was Carlos Beltran, which was honestly a smart decision, especially considering the career Beltran would have.
Trot Nixon’s Solid Numbers and 2003 Career Year
Because of various injuries, Trot Nixon never would display his once above-average speed in the major leagues. So, while he was once thought as a 20 HR/20 SB threat, that never came to be. What did come to be was that Trot translated his spectacular plate discipline and above-average power to above-average major league performance. Injuries would also limit his range in the field, but he’d still be an above-average defender overall for the most part until the tail end of his career.
However, from 1999 to 2005, Trot was never a below-average player. Keep in mind that 2 WAR is a roughly average regular in the major leagues playing a full season.
1999: 2.9 WAR in 124 games
2000: 2,5 WAR in 123 games
2001: 3.8 WAR in 148 games
2002: 2.9 WAR in 152 games
2003: 5.1 WAR in 134 games
2004: 0.9 WAR in 48 games
2005: 3.4 WAR in 123 games
Trot’s best year was 2003, a year that many expected the Red Sox to make the World Series. Of course, Aaron Boone made sure that didn’t happen… But Trot posted a career best slash line of .306/.396/.578 for a 152 wRC+ with 28 HR and 87 RBI. Those results were partially fueled by a slightly high .334 BABIP, but he did have a truly good year. He also hit very well in the playoffs and may have been the ALCS MVP that year had the Red Sox not been eliminated.
Nixon wasn’t a below average player until 2006, when he posted only 1.1 WAR in 114 games. Injuries finally caught up to him and he was never the same player again. He was truly awful after leaving the Red Sox for the Indians in 2007. and didn’t fare too well in 2008 with the Mets, either.
Trot Nixon’s Ability to Drive in Runs
There were a couple of knocks against Trot Nixon that limited his overall numbers. Firstly, he was dreadful against left-handed pitching (.630 career OPS vs LHP, ..872 career OPS vs RHP). The other major knock against him was that in the “clutch” it seemed like Trot was more likely to draw a walk rather than get a big hit. This may sound like a silly knock in today’s game where walks are much more highly valued. But, it is true that in high leverage situations, Trot hit just .256/.348/.433. That’s compared to .290/.380/.480 in medium leverage plate appearances and .270/.359/.466 in low-leverage PA’s.
However, I argue Trot was much more “clutch” than some commentators suggest. After all, Trot had 223 RBi in 864 plate appearances and 711 at-bats. That means Trot had an RBI for every 3.87 plate appearances and an RBI for every 3.19 at-bats. Those ratios are pretty spectacular. So, he made the hits he did get count! Trot was also an extremely good hitter in the 8th inning, with a career .879 OPS in that inning.
The reason he has a poor reputation in the clutch? He was below average in the 9th inning, hitting merely .220/.332/.390 (.722 OPS), and he hit a dreadful .200/.304/.300 (.604 OPS) in extra innings. Those things being said, not all of those 9th inning plate appearances were high leverage situations and 71 PA’s in extra innings is an awfully small sample size. He also has positive career marks in WPA (Win Probability Added) and WPA/LI (Win Probability Added in Late Innings). The one downside is that his “Clutch” score was negative in every season except 2004 and 2005.
So, was Trot Nixon bad in the clutch? Perhaps, as far as the leverage indexes are concerned. What I can say is that Trot helped his teammates trot across home plate in high leverage situations on a regular basis. In that way, I’ve always felt he was underrated.
Trot Nixon’s Time with the Indians & Mets, Retirement, and Career Overview
Somewhat ironically, it was Trot Nixon who played for the Indians that the Red Sox came back to beat down three games to one in the 2007 ALCS. After a lousy regular season, Nixon was actually a good contributor for the Indians in the ALCS. It was a strange feeling for him, especially when he came back to Boston, where he received a very warm welcome.
Nixon retired before the 2009 season after a subpar stint with the Mets and a failed comeback in early 2009 with the Brewers. Trot went home to Wilmington, North Carolina to spend more time with his two children. He now serves as a co-host for a high school football highlight show called “The 5th Quarter” for a local channel.
As it turned out, the Red Sox turned to J.D. Drew to replace Nixon. Somewhat ironically, Drew took Nixon’s #7 with the Sox. While it was a frustrating five years for Drew, who dealt with many nagging injuries, overall he was actually a very similar player to Nixon. Drew, of course, had a great 2007 playoffs and helped the Sox win the World Series. But, replacing the popular Nixon, he never really endeared himself to fans.
Trot Nixon wasn’t just a fan favorite for his consistent production, often underappreciated by non-Red Sox fans. He was a great teammate and his explosive temper actually endeared him to fans. Most of all, Boston fans loved him for his hustle and enthusiasm for the game. He constantly was getting his uniform dirty making great plays and hard slides on the basepaths. Trot became the inspiration for the term “Boston Dirt Dogs.”
Had Nixon been a bit better against left-handed pitching, he may have posted even better numbers; the Red Sox often spelled Nixon against lefty starters for guys like Gabe Kapler, Wily Mo Pena, and other lefty mashers. Still, from a sabermetric standpoint, Nixon was an above average player for a long time, even playing through injuries and ineffectiveness against same-side pitching.
Trot, hope you’re having a great time with your new career and with your family!
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
While not eligible for my Junk Wax Dynasty series, Rich Garces himself did in fact begin his career in the infamous era of overproduction for sports cards. Fortunately, or unfortunately, for Garces, setup men don't get much love at all in the sports card hobby. Who they do get love from are the sports fans, and that's what matters most, right?
As 1999, Garces' breakout year, was my first full year following Major League baseball and my hometown Red Sox, his remarkable performances stand out in my memory.
Rich Garces and his Early Career
Garces actually had two cups of coffee with the Minnesota Twins in 1990 and 1993. He certainly didn't embarrass himself, but the Twins never really gave him a chance. But because of his decent cuppa in 1990, Donruss, Fleer Ultra, Upper Deck, Bowman, Stadium Club, and Topps all gave him a rookie card. Topps even named him a Future Star. Despite Topps having a terrible track record with those Future Star predictions, they were actually somewhat correct in this case.
The Twins released Garces in October 1994 and he caught on with the Chicago Cubs in 1995. Remarkably, he pitched fairly well in 7 games, before being put on waivers and claimed by the Marlins. He didn't pitch so well for them. So, he would be released by the Florida team and find his way to the Red Sox.
Rich Garces and the Red Sox (1996 to 1998)
In 1996, Garces got his first real taste of the major leagues after impressing at AAA. It wasn't pretty, but he managed to post 0.4 WAR. He certainly didn't embarrass himself. The performance was good enough for the Pacific Card Company to name him one of their Gems of the Diamond for the 1997 Pacific Prisms set. Unfortunately in 1997, Garces pitched very little at the major league level and was roughly replacement level when he did. But, his spectacular results at AAA prompted the Red Sox to give him another chance.
Garces was actually not too bad in 1998 with the Red Sox. While he posted unimpressive numbers in AAA, he got his chance in MLB. He was pitching in one of the biggest years of offense that baseball has ever seen. Garces actually posted a career high 0.7 WAR with a solid 3.33 ERA in 30 games. Of course, like had happened so much already to Garces, he found himself released at the end of the season. Of course, the Sox would change their minds and resign him.
Rich Garces as a Premiere Setup Man
Garces actually spent a good chunk of the 1999 season at Triple-A being dominant. It would take the Sox a bit to realize that keeping him down was probably stupid. When he finally came up to stay, the portly Garces was already a fan favorite. He would respond with his best performance yet for a playoff bound Red Sox team.
Particularly astonishing about Garces was his ability to stifle left-handed batters even as a right-handed pitcher. Despite not having much of a fastball, Garces made a living as a relief pitcher with a sharp curve ball and splitter. That splitter would be his bread and butter pitch at his peak.
Despite his 1.55 ERA in 1999, it would not be his career year. Despite an ERA of 3.25 in 2000, Garces was actually much better, posting a 2.0 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) according to Baseball Reference in 64 games that season. Whether you believe in WAR or not, his 2.0 mark along with his 1.7 WAR in 1999 is actually a fair representation of his actual value to those Red Sox teams.
Somewhat tragically for the hobby, there were no major card releases for Garces in either 1999 or 2000. We'd have to wait for 2001 Topps and Topps Chrome to collect Garces in a mainstream release again. He did have a couple of minor league cards and a 2000 Red Sox Photocard.
The Twilight of Rich Garces' Career
For the rest of his career, Garces was a decent, if unspectacular middle reliever. Even in 2001 for the Red Sox, he wasn't quite the same, although he was worth 1.1 WAR in 62 games. After a dreadful showing in 2002, Garces was done in Major League Baseball, although he attempted a couple comebacks before retiring as a player to become an independent league pitching coach.
Thanks for the memories, El Guapo!
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
Many baseball card collectors consider the 1963 Topps #553 Rookie Stars card to be a Willie Stargell rookie card. While that is absolutely true, the legendary Pittsburgh Pirate shares his rookie card with three other outfielders. As is the case with many early rookie cards, Hall of Fame ballplayers share their cards with lesser names. But, since these guys share a Rookie Card with a Hall of Famer, why not see how their careers turned out?
Brock Davis was certainly never a star at the MLB level. In fact, he’d only get into 242 games over parts of 6 seasons, amassing a whopping 0.2 WAR over that time. He carried a decent .331 OBP in his career, but had only one home run and not much else.
Jim Gosger never had much of an MLB career, although he hung around for parts of ten seasons. His 1963 debut with the Red Sox was a dreadful 19 plate appearance cup of coffee. Gosger actually wouldn’t resurface in the Majors until 1965, when he wasn’t a star but instead a league average hitter who gave the Red Sox 1.4 WAR in only 81 games. He would be perfectly acceptable in 1966 as well, but he’d be traded midseason to the Kansas City A’s with a couple other players for three players, including Jose Tartabull, who would be awful for the ‘66 and ‘67 Red Sox. (Tartabull’s son Danny would be a decent player, though). Gosger would carve out a basically replacement level career as a reserve outfielder. He was definitely NOT a star, with a career total of 2.3 WAR!
John Hernnstein is the worst player here, amassing NEGATIVE -2.0 WAR in his short career, 239 games over parts of 5 seasons. Not much to say about him other than he hit 6 home runs in 1964 for a Phillies team that had no business playing him in 125 games.
Meanwhile, this Willie Stargell fellow would amass 57.5 WAR over 21 seasons all for Pittsburgh. He’d hit .282/.360/.529 for an .889 career OPS (147 OPS+). He also hit 475 home runs. While he was a below average defensive outfielder and first baseman according to TotalZone, Stargell was easily a Hall of Fame player.
Considering the other three guys COMBINED for 0.5 WAR, I think it’s safe to say this is a Willie Stargell rookie card with three random guys. (Although, one is a Red Sox player so it counts for my Red Sox collection, which is funny to say!)
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
In 2010, Topps created a series of cards called “Cards Your Mom Threw Out” featuring vintage Topps cards with either a new “CMT” back or the original back. These are actually fairly sought after cards by collectors, especially those with the original backs. For me, as a Red Sox fan, the Luis Aparicio CMT-138 is one that’s a nice card to have, as 1973 was not only the last hurrah for “Looie,” but also a pretty good season overall.
Aparicio came to Boston before the 1971 season for second baseman Mike Andrews and infielder Luis Alvarado. Andrews had some nice years for Boston, and would have one more good year in 1971 before fading away. Alvarado never did much of anything. 1971 was a down year for Aparicio and was actually worse than replacement level according to Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement (-0.5 WAR). He’d rebound in 1972 to be a league average shortstop (2.0 WAR). But 1973 was a nice final season for the future Hall of Fame shortstop.
In 1973, Aparicio hit only .271/.324/.309 with the bat, which wasn’t too good, but he did walk more than he struck out and added 13 stolen bases. He was only caught once, too. During the season he passed the 500 SB milestone to finish with 506 steals. Besides his value on the base paths, Aparicio was worth a whopping 11 runs above average according to TotalZone. That was after being “worth” -8 runs in 1971 and -4 runs in 1972. In his career, Aparicio would be worth 149 runs above average over 18 seasons. He won nine Gold Gloves in his career as an elite defender.
Luis Aparicio’s original 1973 Topps card is hardly a pricey one. You can find one graded PSA 8 for under $10 and one in PSA 9 for around $20 to $25. There are only 8 PSA 10 1973 Topps Aparicio cards, and those can fetch several hundred dollars. Aparicio would also have a 1974 Topps card.that are actually similarly priced, with only 4 PSA 10 copies currently graded. Luis Aparicio’s later cards with the Red Sox aren’t super expensive, but since he’s a Hall of Famer who made a living with his speed and glove, he’s worth adding to any vintage baseball card collection.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
While 1960 Topps is rightly better known for a much more valuable Red Sox rookie card in Carl Yastrzemski, another Boston rookie card also deserves attention: starting pitcher Earl Wilson. The right-handed Wilson actually didn't start off that well in his early two stints in 1959 and 1960. In fact, he returned to the minors in 1961. However, when he came back in 1962, he stayed in the Majors for quite some time.
Earl Wilson had a decent first full season in the Majors in 1962, with a 3.90 ERA in 31 games and 28 starts. Also, since pitchers still had to bat in the American League for most of his career, Wilson added 3 home runs at the plate in 1962. Throughout his career, Wilson hit .195/.265/.369 with 35 home runs, not at all shabby for a pitcher.
In his first couple of seasons, Wilson was rather wild, walking 111 in 1962 and 105 in 1963. But his control vastly improved in 1964, which was actually one of his worst seasons in the Majors. From 1959 to 1966, Wilson was worth 8.2 WAR on the mound and 3.9 WAR at the plate, with a 4.10 ERA (95 ERA+) in 156 starts and 174 total appearances.
From these numbers, it would seem Earl Wilson was a solid but unexceptional pitcher for the Red Sox. That much is true. But, as with many decent players that the Red Sox had throughout the 20th century, they traded him away before he delivered on his promise.
In mid-1966, Wilson was traded to the Detroit Tigers for utility player Don Demeter. While Demeter was a decent player in parts of 1966 and 1967 for the Red Sox, Wilson was exceptional for the rest of 1966. He'd produce 12 WAR for the Tigers over 5 seasons with a 3.51 ERA in 145 starts (149 total appearances).
Wilson's career would end in 1970 with the San Diego Padres, but he ended his career with 27.6 WAR in 11 seasons. The Red Sox would've been happy to have him from late 1966 to 1969, missing out on 3 of his best seasons in the Major Leagues. Had that trade not happened, Wilson would’ve been part of the 1967 Impossible Dream team. Who knows what he may have brought to that team’s starting rotation?
It always seemed like the Red Sox were one or two pieces away from winning championships, and Earl Wilson could've been one, just like so many others the Red Sox gave up on too soon.
by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
Most people think of Baseball Hall-of-Fame third baseman George Kell as a Detroit Tiger. That’s not surprising, as he played in parts of eight seasons with the Tigers and was a Tigers broadcaster for thirty-seven years. But, he started out with the Philadelphia A’s, and the Tigers actually traded Kell to the Boston Red Sox in 1952!
George Kell was part of a nine-player trade that involved Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky going to Detroit. After the trade, Kell hit .319/.390/.453 for the Sox in 75 games. In 1953, Kell would hit 307.383.483 and enjoy a 3 WAR season.
Unfortunately, 1953 would see Kell hit only .258/.361/.290 in 26 games for the Sox. He’d be traded to the White Sox for infielder Grady Hatton and $100,000. Hatton would finish out 1954 well with the Red Sox. Kell would have one more good season with the White Sox in 1955.
There are actually a fair amount of George Kell baseball cards out there depicting the Hall of Fame ballplayer on the Red Sox. The most valuable are graded examples of 1953 Topps #138 and 1954 Bowman #50.
George Kell’s 1953 Topps card is valued around $300 for PSA 8 (Near Mint POP 76) examples, over $600 for PSA 8.5 (Near-Mint+ POP 5), and $1,750 for PSA 9 (Mint POP 8)!
Kell's 1954 Bowman is much more affordable at around $80 for a PSA 8 (POP 84 + 7 with an Off-Center Qualifier), $115 for a PSA 8.5 (POP 3) and $475 for a PSA 9 (POP 9)! There are about the same amount of PSA 8 and PSA 8.5 of each of these cards in existence, but they are still fairly rare.
While George Kell’s legacy is as a Detroit Tiger, his short, fairly productive time with the Boston Red Sox makes his key cards quite valuable to any serious Red Sox baseball card collector.
Pedro Martinez: Baseball Hall of Famer
by Phoenix Desertsong
Is Pedro a Hall-of-Fame Pitcher? Yes!
As one who grew up watching the exploits of Pedro Martinez on the mound for the Boston Red Sox, I can tell you without a doubt that he is the greatest pitcher I have ever watched. I can quote a bunch of numbers from Baseball Reference that are pretty impressive. But there are others that will say he only had five truly elite seasons. Looking at the raw numbers, that argument could certainly be made.
Overall, over 18 seasons of Major League Baseball, Pedro accumulated 409 starts (219-100 W-L), 3154 strikeouts against 760 walks (4.15 K/BB per 9 innings) and 82.6 WAR.
Pedro's Early Career
Pedro began his MLB career with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1992. He had one start and one relief appearance. In 1993, he was given a full-time bullpen job. While he did make 2 starts, he appeared in 65 games overall, and over 107 innings, he recorded 119 strikeouts, but also collected 57 walks. All in all, Pedro was worth almost 3 WAR just as a reliever. He clearly had talent, and looked like he deserved a shot to prove himself in the starting rotation.
That chance would happen not in Los Angeles for Pedro, as he was traded to the Montreal Expos for second baseman Delino Deshields. This proved to be a steal for then General Manager Dan Duquette of Montreal. In 1994, the strike-shortened season, Pedro was a part of a pretty good Expos team, and made 23 starts with decent results. He finished with a 3.42 ERA, As a 22-year old, though, he was still a bit raw. He walked fewer batters than he had the season before, he also hit 11 batters. As it would turn out, though, it was because Pedro was never afraid to pitch inside, something that would make him a very special pitcher.
In 1995 and 1996, Pedro was a good, if not spectacular pitcher for the Expos. He was solid, but still struggled with his command a bit. Still, it was clear he had the talent to be an ace, something that in 1997 finally was realized.
The Greatest 5 Pitching Seasons on Record?
Pedro's first truly dominant season in 1997 was one of the most dominant seasons on record for any pitcher. This included 13 complete games and 4 shutouts. His baseball card stats were phenomenal: 17-8, 1.90 ERA in 241 1/3 innings with 305 strikeouts against only 67 walks (for an 8.7 WAR according to Baseball Reference.) This earned him his first of 3 Cy Young awards.
This dominant led the Boston Red Sox to trade for Pedro after that season, surrendering top pitching prospects Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. While his first season in Boston was nothing like his 1997 season, he still finished second in Cy Young voting. His numbers were definitely ace-worthy as well: 19-7, 2.89 ERA (63% below league average), 251 strikeouts to 67 walks, and was worth 6.9 WAR to Boston. He would be worth 45 WAR more to the Red Sox over the next six seasons (including an injury-plagued 2001 season). Four of those seasons may be four of the best pitching seasons (especially with the high-powered offenses of the American League) of all-time.
The next two years, 1999 and 2000, would be the two best of Pedro's career. In 1999, Pedro had a win loss record of 23-4 in 29 starts with 5 complete games. He led the league with a career high 313 strikeouts against only 37 walks, a rare feat to be sure. He was worth 9 and a half wins that year to the Red Sox (9.5 WAR). The next season in 2000, he had a record of 18-6 again in 29 starts, but an even lower ERA and 284 strikeouts against 32 walks. He won the Cy Young Award in the American League both seasons. In 2000, he had the highest WAR of his career (11.4 WAR), adding about 11 wins to his team that year.
To put a WAR of 11.4 in perspective, Babe Ruth had a 11.5 WAR in 1920 and an 11.4 WAR season in 1924, Lou Gehrig had a 11.5 WAR in 1927. The last pitcher to post a WAR total that high was Roger Clemens in 1997 with 11.8 WAR for the Blue Jays. The only other pitchers beside Walter Johnson in the 1910's and 1920's to post higher single-season WAR totals are Dwight Gooden (13 WAR in 1985), Steve Carlton (12.1 WAR in 1972), and Bob Gibson (11.7 WAR in 1968). Johnson, Gibson, and Carlton are in the Hall of Fame. For awhile, it appeared Gooden could have been, as well, were it not for his personal issues.
Pedro would have an injury-marred 2001, but still managed to start 18 games and produce a 4.9 WAR. It's very likely barring the injury he could have had yet another Cy Young Award caliber season. He would return to form in 2002, however, with a 20-4 record and a 2.26 ERA (best in the league) and a 6.2 WAR.
However, it was clear that the injury had taken its toll on his strikeout rate, as he struck out "only" 239 batters in 199 innings. His walk rate was still excellent, however, as he walked only 40 in those innings. But he would not win the Cy Young Award that year, or in fact, ever again, as he lost the crown to Barry Zito. Looking at the numbers, however, Zito was not really as good as Pedro. Zito won 3 more games and made 5 more starts. He didn't strikeout as many as Pedro (182) and walked more (78) in 229 innings (only 30 more than Pedro).
In 2003, Pedro had the last of his 5 most dominant seasons. For a second straight season, his strikeout rate fell slightly and he walked a few more batters than usual. Still he went 14-4 (a record very deceiving because he received a great deal of no-decisions that year) with 2.22 ERA in 29 starts. He did increase his WAR total, however, with a mark of 7.8 WAR. He'd never reach that mark again.
The End of Pedro's Dominance
Without a doubt, 2004 marked the end of Pedro's run of dominance. While he was still a 5 WAR pitcher, he was clearly nowhere near the ace that he once was. Curt Schilling assumed that role that year with his 7.5 WAR. Schilling won 21 games against 6 losses, and Pedro won 16 against 9 losses. While win-loss record is not always indicative of true pitching performance, in Pedro's case, he was becoming inconsistent. A 3.90 ERA was not a number you would see from Pedro. It would actually come out to be the third highest season total of his career.
After the season, the Red Sox and Pedro decided to move on, and Pedro signed a lucrative four year deal with the New York Mets. In 2005, on paper, Pedro looked great for the Mets. But for the first time since 2005, he failed to strike out at least a batter per inning, although he walked fewer batters than in 2004. He was still an ace, though aging. But in 2006, the wheels began to fall off. He only pitched 137 innings in 23 starts and had a roughly league average 4.48 ERA. He was still a "good" pitcher, but his overall dominance was clearly gone and his arm began to really bother him at that point.
2007 would be a relatively lost season for Pedro, him having only 5 starts, although he pitched fairly well in those starts. In 2008, everything fell apart for Pedro and in twenty starts was practically a replacement-level scrub (-0.5 WAR). That looked like the very end for Pedro.
However, in the later half of 2009, Pedro decided to make a comeback with the Phillies. After doing fairly well in the minors, he was called up to the big club and made it into the playoffs. While he wasn't spectacular down the stretch for the Phillies, he was certainly useful, and won his only start in the NLCS. However, the Yankees beat him in both of his starts in the World Series on their way to the World Series title. That was the end for Pedro.
Pedro Compared to Other Hall of Famers
Pedro's career 80.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) puts him in 51st place all-time. In and of itself, that's a pretty special accomplishment. This puts him on par with Robin Roberts (career 80.1 WAR) and not far off from Gaylord Perry (career 84.5 WAR) and Steve Carlton (career 84.6 WAR). As all of those pitchers are in the Hall of Fame, Pedro's in very good company.
Even if you don't buy into the WAR statistic, looking at the career numbers of Roberts, Perry, and Carlton show that they pitched many more starts than Pedro. For Pedro to be able to amass the same Career WAR as pitchers with 600+ starts in only 409 starts is very impressive. Also, take into account that a good chunk of those later starts were with him wearing down considerably. Even though he had five truly dominant seasons, he also had five or six pretty good ones, on which most teams he would be considered an ace or at least a #2 starter.
Consider that he had 5 out of this world seasons and 5 All-Star level seasons on top of that, you could say that Pedro really had 10 very good years overall. He gave his teams tons of value whenever he pitched, except for that dismal 2008 season with the Mets. Even taking his lost season and that into account, he basically produced the same value as his potential Hall-of-Fame peers in far fewer starts.
Ryan Roberts had 609 starts over 19 years. Perry had 690 starts over 22 years. Carlton had 709 starts over 24 years. Pedro generally out-performed Roberts in 200 fewer starts and did almost what Carlton and Perry did in 300 fewer starts. Baseball fans can all agree that Roberts, Carlton, and Perry were all great pitchers that belong in the Hall of Fame. While he isn't quite to the level of Bert Blyleven (89.3), Randy Johnson (96.3) or Greg Maddux (101.6), he's in the neighborhood.
So by the overall numbers overall, he was probably the fifth best pitcher of his era, if you include Roger Clemens 100+ career WAR. But no one had 5 seasons like Pedro did. No one dominated the baseball scene the way he did. Watching Pedro pitch was watching a masterpiece almost every time he took the mound.
The memories alone are probably what make us think he was the greatest of all time. As we can now see, his top seasons most certainly were among some of the greatest of all time for pitching (by WAR standards). However, he's not quite the greatest of all time. He's still worthy of being in there, and in 2015, Pedro would indeed become enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first chance.
Since retiring, Pedro continues to work with young pitchers and does commentary on baseball broadcasts for TBS.
Thanks for such an awesome career, Pedro!
Photo credits: All pictures courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
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