Boston Red Sox: The Best Seasons in Franchise History
Eighty-six-year drought notwithstanding, the Boston Red Sox have had some remarkable individual performances on both sides of the ball—something that's bound to happen when the two best hitters of all-time are part of the franchise.
To that end, I have constructed a 25-man roster with the best individual seasons at every position for the Boston Red Sox.
Catcher: Carlton Fisk, 1977
Carlton Fisk is remembered most for the ball he waved fair in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series—a perfect conclusion to arguably the greatest game of all-time.
Interestingly enough, Fisk only played 79 games in the Red Sox pennant-winning season; two years later, in the midst of a tight pennant race, Fisk came through for his team by playing in 152 games at catcher and hitting .315/.402/.521 with 26 homers and 102 RBI.
First Base: Jimmie Foxx, 1938
After being sold off as part of Connie Mack’s second payroll shedding, Jimmie Foxx adapted well to his new home at Fenway. He won his third MVP, and his first with the Sox in 1938, leading the league with an incredible 175 RBI and winning the slash stat triple crown at .349/.462/.704. The next year, he got to hit in the same lineup as a youngster named Ted Williams.
Second Base: Bobby Doerr, 1948
This was a tough one. In the old-school corner, you have Bobby Doerr, hall-of-famer and captain of the Red Sox; in the modern corner, Dustin Pedroia, who came off a rookie-of-the-year and World Championship performance to win the league MVP award. Doerr held the advantage in on-base, slugging, OPS+ and got the nod from me.
Third Base: Wade Boggs, 1987
Winner of five batting titles in six years in the 1980s, Wade Boggs added an anomalous power stroke in 1987 (though so did the rest of the league). Boggs led the league in batting and on-base percentage while putting up a career best 24 home runs and 173 OPS+. He cranked 40 doubles for the third consecutive year—a streak that would ultimately extend to seven—and began a streak of six consecutive years in which he would lead the league in intentional walks.
At the conclusion of this season, only Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, and Joe Jackson would have a higher career batting average than Boggs.
Shortstop: Nomar Garciaparra, 2000
It’s incredible that the 2000 Boston Red Sox only won 85 games: Pedro Martinez had arguably the greatest season ever by a pitcher (more on that in a bit) and Nomar Garciaparra put up the highest batting average by a shortstop since Luke Appling in 1936. Nomar won his second consecutive batting title at .372 (he hit .357 the previous season) and tacked on 51 doubles and 21 dingers to finish ninth in the MVP voting.
Left Field: Carl Yastrzemski, 1967
The Splendid Splinter will get his place in a second, but for now, let’s focus on the last triple crown in Major League history.
Carl Yastrzemski put it all together in 1967, leading the league with a .326 average, 44 homers, and 121 RBI to go along with league bests in on-base percentage (.418), slugging percentage (.622), and OPS+ (193). But to fully appreciate Yaz’s season, you have to look at his September.
With three teams within two games of Boston Sept. 1, the Boston left fielder went on an absolute tear, hitting .417 for the month with nine homers, 26 RBI, and a 1.265 OPS. Even with his efforts, Boston was tied for the division lead with Minnesota on the last day of the season—when Boston and Minnesota squared off. Yaz went 4-4 with a double and two RBI to secure the pennant and his only MVP trophy.
Center Field: Tris Speaker, 1912
The last of the 19th-century center fielders, Tris Speaker played an unusually shallow center field which allowed him to generate an exceptionally high number of outfield assists. In 1912, he tied a career high with 35.
He wasn’t too shabby with the bat either, leading the league with a .464 on-base percentage, 10 home runs, and 53 doubles while also stealing 52 bases.
Right Field: George Herman Ruth, 1919
George Ruth had spent some time as a pitcher in the mid-1910s, but after leading the league with 11 home runs in just 95 games in 1918, the Red Sox made him a full-time outfielder in 1919 with just 15 starts.
Ruth set a Major League record with 29 home runs (most recently tied by Rickie Weeks, among others) while topping the league with a .456 on-base percentage, .657 slugging percentage, 219 OPS+ and 114 RBI.
The Red Sox kept him in the outfield and never traded him anywhere, or something like that.
Designated Hitter: Ted Williams, 1941
Ted Williams would have loved the idea of a DH when he played; the greatest hitter who ever lived was a specialist in the craft. In 1941, he became the last player to ever hit .400, going 6-8 on the season’s last day to finish at .406.
In addition, he set the all-time record for on-base percentage at .552, still the American League mark. His 234 OPS+ mark that season has not since been matched, at least not by a non-perjurer.
RHP: Pedro Martinez, 2000
This is, in my opinion, the greatest season ever by a pitcher.
In the middle of the steroid era, pitching at on of the most hitter-friendly parks in the game, Pedro Martinez led the league with a microscopic 1.74 ERA over 217 innings. That came out to a 291 ERA+, which is the highest of all-time. To put that season in perspective, he had a better ERA in his losses (2.44) than any pitcher in baseball had period. He won the ERA title by two full runs over the second best ERA in the league.
He also broke a 118-year-old record for lowest WHIP in a season at 0.737 and put up a K/BB ratio of 8.875, which at the time was a record for a non-strike season.
RHP: Roger Clemens, 1990
In the Red Sox pennant-winning season of 1986, Roger Clemens won both the league MVP and Cy Young, going 24-4. In my opinion, however, he was even more dominant in 1990, going 21-6 with a 1.93 ERA (translates to a 213 ERA+) and a league-best four shutouts. He was delayed in his hunt for a third Cy Young award (for a year) by the voters’ then-worship of the almighty win, as Bob Welch had gone 27-6 for the hard-hitting A’s.
RHP: Smokey Joe Wood, 1912
In 1912, Smoky Joe Wood made 38 starts and completed 35 of them, with 10 shutouts and a league-best 34 wins. His 1.91 ERA and 1.014 WHIP both ranked second in the league to flamethrower Walter Johnson, as did his 258 strikeouts.
LHP: Lefty Grove, 1936
The only starting pitcher higher than Lefty Grove on the all-time ERA+ list is Pedro Martinez.
Grove was an absolutely dominating force in the hitter-friendly 1930s. He started with the Philadelphia A's but came to Boston as part of Connie Mack’s fire-sale (where Jimmie Foxx would later join him). Grove won his seventh (of nine) ERA titles, posting a 190 ERA+ over 253.1 innings and a league best 1.192 WHIP—his fifth such title.
RHP: Cy Young, 1903
This rotation has a combined 10 Cy Young awards—to think that the pitcher for whom the award was named stands as the number five starter!
Cy Young was at his most dominant when he transferred to the newly formed American League in 1901, but I’m going to give him recognition for 1903, when the league had strengthened significantly. The righty still went 28-9 with a 2.08 ERA while leading the league with 34 complete games, seven shutouts, and 341.2 innings pitched. When October rolled around, Young won two games to lead his Boston Americans to a 5-3 victory in the first World Series over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
C — Jason Varitek, 2004: captain of the Red Sox during World Series run
1B – David Ortiz, 2006: Hey, he once threw out Jeff Suppan from first!
2B – Dustin Pedroia, 2008: MVP led the league in runs, hits, and doubles.
3B/SS – Rico Petrocelli, 1969: only AL shortstop in history besides A-Rod with 40 HR in a season
OF – Jim Rice, 1978: only player in baseball with 400 total bases between 1960 and 1996
OF – Fred Lynn, 1979: won slash-stat triple crown at .333/.423/.637
Closer — Jonathan Papelbon, 2006: maintained ERA under 1 in rookie season
Setup — Bill Cambell, 1977: won first two Rolaids Relief Man Awards with Twins and Sox
Fireman — Dick Radatz, 1964: 16 wins and 29 saves for the 72-win Red Sox
LHP — Tom Burgmeier, 1980: 213 ERA+ in 99 innings; fifth in league with 24 saves
RHP — Keith Foulke, 2004: one run in 14 innings during magical 2004 World Series run