Let the people rejoice: For it is time for another entry into out All-Time Single-Season Teams series! What's this, you ask? Regard:
Obviously, the term "single-season" implies that we're focused on brilliance within the confines of one campaign and not, say, career value or even value across a handful of seasons in the same uniform. While this is no doubt a largely subjective undertaking, please bear that in mind before airing objections. Or not. Whatever.
Also, we're largely limiting the selections to those of modern era (i.e., from 1900 onward) in large part because the "primordial soup" days of the sport bear only the most basic resemblances to the game played today. That's more a general principle than hard-and-fast rule, though. As well, a player can appear only once on the team in question. So even those who excelled at multiple positions over the years will be assigned one spot and one spot only.
Today's team is ... the Red Sox. As one of the old-line American League franchises, the Red Sox have been around since 1901. Sure, they had that decades-spanning World Series drought, but this is still a franchise that's churned out lots of great teams and lots of great players. In other words, we have some tough choices ahead.
CATCHER - Carlton Fisk, 1977
Fisk in his age-29 season batted .315/.402/.521 (138 OPS+) with 26 homers, 75 walks, 102 RBI and 106 runs scored. He also played in 152 games in '77 and spent more than 1,300 innings behind the plate. As well, Fisk gunned down a career-best 45 percent of would-be base-stealers.
Also considered: More Fisk seasons, 2004 Jason Varitek, 1985 Rich Gedman.
FIRST BASE - Carl Yastrzemski, 1970
Yes, Yaz was a primary first baseman in 1970, which works out nicely given that his usual position, left field, is the undisputed province of the Splendid Splinter. In any event, this is no act of charity, as Yastrzemski in '70 absolutely pounded the ball: .329/.452/.592 (AL-leading 177 OPS+) with 40 homers, 128 walks, an AL-leading 125 runs scored and an AL-leading 335 total bases in 161 games played. Yaz was modestly better in his triple crown season of 1967, but he was a left fielder that year. He just edges out Jimmie Foxx in 1938, thanks in part to defensive superiority.
Also considered: Lots of Jimmie Foxx, Mo Vaughn in 1996, Adrian Gonzalez in 2011.
SECOND BASE - Dustin Pedroia, 2011
One might be inclined to go with 1944 Bobby Doerr here, and Doerr indeed had an outstanding season. However, I'm docking the Hall of Famer because the ranks of MLB were heavily thinned out by World War II that season, and there's also Pedroia's edge with the glove. As for the bat, Pedroia in 2011 batted .307/.387/.474 (131 OPS+) with 21 homers, 37 doubles and 26 stolen bases in 731 plate appearances. Yes, I'm saying Pedroia was better in 2011 than he was in his MVP season of 2008.
Also considered: More Pedroia, more Doerr, Pete Runnels in ‘58 and ‘59.
SHORTSTOP - Rico Petrocelli, 1969
Petrocelli's career year gets the nod over a number of other worthies. In '69, Petrocelli batted .297/.403/.589 (168 OPS+), while the average MLB shortstop authored a line of .247/.316/.329. Rico also chipped in 40 homers and 98 walks versus just 68 strikeouts. That's some serious pop, especially by shortstop standards.
Also considered: A handful of Nomar Garciaparra seasons, John Valentin in 1995, Johnny Pesky in ‘46, Joe Cronin in ‘38, Vern Stephens in ‘49.
THIRD BASE - Wade Boggs, 1987
The debate here is which Boggs season to choose. By '87, his glove had developed into one of the best in baseball at the hot corner, and he also put on a show of power in addition to his usual complement of offensive skills. In 147 games that year, Boggs hit .363/.461/.588 (AL-leading 174 OPS+) with 24 homers, 40 doubles, 105 walks and 324 total bases. He also won the batting title and led the majors in OBP and times on base.
Also considered: Lots more Boggs, 1901 Jimmy Collins, 1912 Larry Gardner and 2010 Adrian Beltre.
LEFT FIELD - Ted Williams, 1941
Suffice it to say, this spot belongs to Teddy Ballgame. Among many worthy seasons -- his career is pretty much a thicket of excellence -- I'm choosing '41, when the 22-year-old Williams batted .406/.553/.735 (235 OPS+) with 37 homers in 143 games. That's the last year anyone batted .400 or more, as we all know, and, yes, that .553 OBP is correct and actually happened.
To put his work in further perspective, here's a partial listing of the the categories in which Williams led all of baseball in 1941: batting average, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, home runs, runs scored, walks, WAR, times on base. He was simply sublime at the plate.
Also considered: Left field has been something of a juggernaut over the years for Boston, and while no one seriously challenged Williams (other than Williams himself in other seasons), it's still worth name-checking Yastrzemski in ‘67, Jim Rice in ‘78, Manny Ramirez in 2003 and Mike Greenwell in 1988. Oh, and Babe Ruth in 1919.
CENTER FIELD - Tris Speaker, 1912
The Grey Eagle! The great Speaker in 1912 played in 153 games, led the majors with a .464 OBP, paced the AL with 10 homers, topped the bigs with 53 doubles and also chipped in 52 stolen bases for good measure. That's of course in addition to his legendary defensive chops in center field.
Also considered: Jacoby Ellsbury in 2011, Fred Lynn in ‘75 and ‘79, Reggie Smith in ‘69-'71, Dom DiMaggio in ‘46.
RIGHT FIELD - Dwight Evans, 1981
The underrated Evans had perhaps his best season during the strike-shortened 1981 campaign. He played in every game, batted .296/.415/.522 (163 OPS+), won the home run title, led the AL in total bases and plate appearances, led the majors in walks and won his fourth Gold Glove and first Silver Slugger. While Evans wasn't a base-stealer, he did take the extra base a career-best 55 percent of the time that year. In other words, he did it all.
Also considered: More Evans, Jackie Jensen in 1958, Ted Williams in 1939 (primary right fielder as a rookie!), Harry Hooper in 1920, Earl Webb in 1931.
DESIGNATED HITTER - David Ortiz, 2006
Big Papi is on the short-short-list of best DHs of all-time, so there was never any doubt that this spot was his. In 2006, Ortiz whomped to the tune of .287/.413/.636 (161 OPS+) with 54 homers, 355 total bases, 137 RBI and 119 walks. For his troubles, he finished third in the AL MVP balloting behind Justin Morneau and Derek Jeter.
Also considered: Lots and lots of Big Papi and Manny Ramirez in 2001.
STARTING PITCHERS - 1901 Cy Young, 2000 Pedro Martinez, 1990 Roger Clemens, 1914 Dutch Leonard, 1936 Lefty Grove
Some names you may recognize! To the numbers …
Young: 33-10, 1.62 ERA, 219 ERA+, 0.97 WHIP, 158 K, 371 1/3 IP, 38 CG, 5 SHO
Martinez: 18-6, 1.74 ERA, 291 ERA+, 0.74 WHIP, 284 K, 217 IP, 7 CG, 4 SHO
Clemens: 21-6, 1.93 ERA, 211 ERA+, 1.08 WHIP, 209 K, 228 1/3 IP, 7 CG, 4 SHO
Leonard: 19-5, 0.96 ERA, 282 ERA+, 0.89 WHIP, 176 K, 224 2/3 IP, 17 CG, 7 SHO
Grove: 17-12, 2.81, 189 ERA+, 1.19 WHIP, 130 K, 253 1/3 IP, 22 CG, 6 SHO
Simply put, that's a devastating rotation. The great Young leads the way with his 1901 season. That year, Young posted the best ERA+ of his career by a wide margin, and he went the distance in 38 of his 41 starts.
When talking about Pedro's 2000 season -- truly one of the greatest single-season pitching performances in baseball history -- it's easy to exhaust the superlatives. That ERA+ of 291 is second only to Tim Keefe's 293 back in 1880. In terms of keeping runs off the board, Martinez utterly dominated the field. He of course led all of MLB with an ERA of 1.74. Second in the AL was Clemens, and his ERA (3.70) was almost two full runs higher than Pedro's mark. Mull that over for a second. The WHIP you see above is the lowest ever by a qualifier. Ever. The 2000 season was one of the best ever for offense, and Pedro was pitching as though it were 1968. Utter dominance.
As for Clemens, his best Sox season in terms of run prevention wasn't his MVP campaign of 1986. Rather, it was 1990 when he pitched to an ERA+ of 211, ranked sixth in the AL in innings pitched and logged a quality start a career-best 87 percent of the time. Leonard's 1914 ERA+ of 282 checks in right behind Pedro's in 2000 on the all-time list. So it's easy to see why he's on here. As for Grove, his age-36 season was another fine one, as he led the AL in WAR (among all players, not just pitchers) and paced MLB in ERA+ and the AL in K/BB ratio and WHIP.
Consider this corps to be in the discussion for best all-time rotation.
Also considered: 1912 Smoky Joe Wood; more Pedro, Cy, Clemens and Lefty Grove; Wes Ferrell in 1935; Luis Tiant in 1972; Bill Lee in 1973; Babe Ruth in 1916; Mel Parnell in 1949; Curt Schilling in 2004.
Papelbon in 2006 notched an ERA of 0.92 and ERA+ of 517 (!). In 68 1/3 innings, he struck out 75 against just 11 unintentional walks and allowed just three homers. Nifty! Last season Uehara gave up 10 runs in 74 1/3 innings en route to an ERA+ of 376. He also struck out 101 batters while walking just seven unintentionally. That's some serious command, to say the least.
As for Kinder, he notched an ERA+ of 225 (1.85 ERA) in 107 innings of work. He also led the majors in saves, games pitched and games finished. Of his 69 appearances, 35 lasted for more than one inning.
Also considered: A number of Dick Radatz seasons, Keith Foulke in 2004, Daniel Bard in 2010, Ellis Kinder in 1953, Derek Lowe in 2000, Bob Stanley in 1982, Bill Campbell in 1977, Tom Burgmeier in 1982.
1. Tris Speaker, 1912
2. Wade Boggs, 1987
3. Ted Williams, 1941
4. Carl Yastrzemski, 1970
5. Rico Petrocelli, 1969
6. David Ortiz, 2006
7. Dwight Evans, 1981
8. Carlton Fisk, 1977
9. Dustin Pedroia, 2011
Sure, that's a lot of lefty bats bunched together at the top, but, by all means, please do trot out your LOOGY to take on the likes of those first four hitters.
Coming Sunday: The Yankees