Thursday, April 26, 2012

All-Time Teams #4: Boston Red Sox

This is part of an ongoing series where I'm naming an all-time team for each of the current 30 MLB franchises, and using this as a vehicle to discuss their greatest eligible player who is not in the Hall of Fame.

I didn't know what to expect when I solicited input from BBA bloggers and a few others on this project. That is, I didn't know how much response I'd get—not much, really—nor how I would feel about the responses. So, I wanted to keep my options open, meaning I had no intention of considering these submissions as votes I would simply tally. Rather, I would just consider them as input.

But, when I quickly received responses from my two favorite bloggers who identify as Red Sox fans, I knew those votes would be taken quite seriously.

Adam Darowski writes for Beyond the Boxscore, but more importantly, he's the creator of the Hall of wWAR, an alternative Hall of Fame based on an intelligently devised and diligently refined statistical formula. If you're not already familiar with his work, I highly recommend you check it out. You should also follow him (@baseballtwit) on Twitter. But, since he has about three times as many followers as I, you probably already do.

Bryan O'Connor is the sole blogger behind the cleverly titled Replacement Level Baseball Blog, but I'm sure I'm not the first to say his writing is well above replacement level. I also loved Bryan's response to my request for input: "If you don't get a ton of responses to this, I don't understand what other bloggers think about in the shower."

If you're in need of material to ponder in the shower or when you're trying to get your stressed-out mind off the things that are keeping you up at night—that definitely doesn't describe me, I swear—Bryan's blog is an excellent place to start. You should also like his page on Facebook.

Franchise History
Boston Red Sox (1908- )
Boston Americans (1901-1907)

An asterisk (*) denotes a Hall of Famer.

C - Carlton Fisk* (1969, 1971-1980)
1B - Carl Yastrzemski* (1961-1983)
2B - Bobby Doerr* (1937-1944, 1946-1951)
SS - Nomar Garciaparra (1996-2004)
3B - Wade Boggs* (1982-1992)
LF - Ted Williams* (1939-1942, 1946-1960)
CF - Tris Speaker* (1907-1915)
RF - Dwight Evans (1972-1990)

Roger Clemens (1984-1996)
Cy Young* (1901-1908)
Pedro Martinez* (1998-2004)
Lefty Grove* (1934-1941)
Luis Tiant (1971-1978)

Jonathan Papelbon (2005-2011)

There were only a couple minor differences between what Adam and Bryan sent me with regard to the starting eight, rotation and closer.

Bryan had Jimmie Foxx at 1B and Yastrzemski a reserve outfielder, but I was already considering a position switch for Yaz and his 765 games played at first to fit the second-best position player in Red Sox history into the starting lineup.**

Adam had Babe Ruth in his starting rotation, but Bryan had him as a reserve, with Tiant slotted into the fifth spot in the rotation. I chose to go the latter route, essentially selecting Ruth as this team's ultra-utility player.

**I didn't grant a similar accommodation to Chipper Jones on my Braves all-time team because I didn't think his 357 games (and two seasons as starter) in left field were enough to warrant it. So, I guess somewhere in between is my unofficial cutoff.

P/OF - Babe Ruth* (1914-1919)
C - Jason Varitek (1997-2011)
1B - Jimmie Foxx* (1936-1942)
IF - Johnny Pesky (1942, 1946-1952)
SS/3B - Rico Petrocelli (1963, 1965-1976)
OF - Jim Rice* (1974-1989)
OF - Reggie Smith (1966-1973)

Smoky Joe Wood (1908-1915)
Mel Parnell (1947-1956)
Ellis Kinder (1948-1955)
Dick Radatz (1962-1966)

As close as these guys were in their thinking about the top players in Red Sox history, there was less consensus about filling out the roster. Both Adam and Bryan had Ruth, Foxx, Rice, Wood and Parnell somewhere on their teams, but beyond that the choices weren't as easy. In fact, a couple of these guys (Pesky and Radatz) appeared on neither of my contributors' 25-man teams.

Personally, I thought it was a tossup between Pesky and John Valentin for the utility infield spot. I gave Pesky the slight edge based on the fact he lost three of his early prime years to World War II. Frankly, both of them had better Red Sox careers than Hall of Famer Joe Cronin, whose best years were with the Washington Senators.

I said before I don't necessarily feel the bullpen has to be filled with true relievers, but when one of them is as dominant as Radatz was for the first three years of his career (14.3 WAR in 414 relief innings, 181 ERA+), that's hard to ignore. Yeah, he was pretty much done after that, but the remaining options (Tex Hughson, Dutch Leonard, Wes Ferrell), while solid, don't break my heart to leave off.

Terry Francona (2004-2011)

Greatest Eligible non-Hall of Famer

When I went through this exercise last year, I chose Reggie Smith as the greatest eligible Red Sox player not in the Hall. But, as I planned to revisit the project, I got to thinking about what this distinction really means. Sure, I was clear I was looking at the player's entire career when making this assessment, and that hasn't really changed. But, I also decided, when it's a really close call, that I should go with the player whose career more closely resembles that of a lifelong member of the team. Dwight Evans played his entire career, except for a final year in Baltimore, with the Red Sox. Smith only spent about half his career in Boston.

Dwight Evans baseball card (c. 1974)

Most statistics-oriented bloggers contend Evans was better than Jim Rice. I'll admit, that thought wasn't on my radar as a young baseball fan, but I've come to agree with it the more I've learned about advanced statistics. Rice in his prime was a better hitter than Evans, but that's where his advantage ends. On-base percentage, defense, base running and longevity are the reasons there's really no comparison.

But, my point isn't to claim Evans was a great player at Rice's expense. Evans was a great player, period.

Should he be a Hall of Famer? Not even close, according to the voters. After peaking at 10.4% of the vote in 1998, his second year of eligibility, he fell off the ballot by receiving just 3.6% the next year.

But, of course, I'm not willing to accept that as his final evaluation. His traditional statistics (385 HR, 1384 RBI, 2446 hits, 1470 runs, .270 BA) don't necessarily make an obvious case, although I'd love for someone to tell me what Tony Perez has on him. But, there I go again, making a comparison to a borderline Hall of Famer, which I know isn't the way to go.

As usual with the under-rated players, we have to look beyond the mainstream stats. Using WAR, my basic test is to look at a player's best 15-year span. If he's worth four WAR per year (I set that bar a little lower for non-19th century pitchers) over that time frame, he's a no-doubt Hall of Famer in my book. 3.75 and up is in the gray area. Evans averaged 3.79 from 1974-1988, the peak of his career, so he definitely falls into that category.

But still, he's worthy of much more consideration than he received when his name was on the ballot. Apparently, I'm not alone with that opinion.

I identify as a Yankees fan, so the fact that I consider "Dewey" my all-time favorite Red Sox is quite meaningful. Well, either that or it doesn't really mean much at all. I'm honestly not sure which.

Next Up: Chicago Cubs


  1. You got it almost ALL wrong

    C Tek
    1B Mo
    2B Luis Rivera
    3B Boggsie
    LF Manny
    CF Darren Lewis
    RF Darren Bragg*


    Jeff Grahe

    *Denotes the original Trot Nixon

  2. The funny thing about this comment...for as much as it seems like a total joke, I really expected somebody to wonder why Manny didn't make the team.

  3. Looks good. :)

    Smith and Evans have very close wWAR totals. Like, super close. I think picking Evans here is the way to go since it is a team distinction. I can't say Evans has a better case overall, though.

    Reggie Smith is also the best player that nobody cares enough about to fight for (for the Hall of Fame).

    I kinda like Ruth in a supersub role. :)

  4. Thanks Adam, and thanks again for your assistance.

    I was thinking, if I had chosen Wes Ferrell for the last bullpen spot, this team would have an outfielder who could pitch and a pitcher who could hit.

    Also, I should note that this team's 11 Hall of Famers is the most so far.

  5. In all seriousness, I like your picks. We might have some philosophical differences as to whether Yaz at first is cheating, but if you're willing to accept that, then he's an easy choice.

  6. Yeah, I struggled with Yaz. Bryan suggested I establish an official minimum number of games played to qualify at a position, an idea I resisted. On some level, your comment confirms he was right.

    Obviously, if I didn't slot Yaz in at 1B, he would have been a reserve outfielder, with Foxx as the starting 1B. I don't think anything else changes, since Yaz could also serve as backup 1B. I doubt if I would have decided to drop Reggie Smith for a backup 1B, especially since that would leave Yaz or Evans as the CF backup.