J.D. Martinez’s season stacks up against the best in Red Sox history
This year’s July 31 trading deadline won’t just mark the final day this season Dave Dombrowski can add a piece to this Red Sox juggernaut without said piece having to first clear waivers.
It also marks an anniversary of note. It will be 10 years since the Red Sox traded Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers.
Hard to believe it’s been that long. Manny, Pedro Martinez, and David Ortiz formed an impossibly charismatic, sometimes complicated, always compelling trio of true superstars. I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like the three of them in unison again, and certainly not playing for anything like the Curse-thwarting stakes they did then.
Manny hasn’t been with the Red Sox for a decade. Pedro left more than 13 years ago. Perhaps it was Ortiz’s staying power — he retired after a monster 2016 season — that makes their heyday feel more recent than it was. The band broke up a long time ago, but when we see them in our mind’s eye, they’re still playing together.
The anniversary of the three-team Ramirez trade — which brought dependable Jason Bay in return and probably was such a relief to Terry Francona that it’s a surprise his hair didn’t grow back — is something that popped to mind only after I saw a fascinating tweet Thursday morning.
The invaluable Boston Sports Info (@bostonsportsinf) feed, which I cite here from time to time, came up with this doozy to compare the start of Ramirez’s time with the Red Sox to current slugger J.D. Martinez’s exceptional start this year:
That is uncanny, mind-bending, and a practical carbon copy of Manny’s breathtaking start in 2001. All that’s missing for Martinez is a game-winning hit off Mariano Rivera.
I’m not ready to say Martinez is Manny without all of the sometimes amusing, often aggravating quirks and antics. But that’s exactly what he has been so far.
And that ’01 Manny imitation he has been doing might not even be his most impressive feat of similarity so far.
Do you remember Jim Rice’s 1978 season? If you’re old enough to remember, that kind of magic is not something you’d forget.
And if you missed out? Well, you’re seeing a heck of a replica being built in real time right now.
At 25 years old in 1978, Rice delivered one of the most memorable single-season performances by a hitter in recent Red Sox lore. Playing all 163 games — if you need to ask why the Red Sox played an extra game in ’78, I must ask you how you found your way to the sports section — Rice led the American League in home runs (46, the most in the AL since Harmon Killebrew hit 49 in 1969), triples (15), hits (213), RBIs (139), slugging (.600), OPS (.970), plate appearances (746), and pitchers terrorized (also 746, I believe).
He was named the American League MVP, beating Yankees lefthander Ron Guidry, who had delivered a truly transcendent season (25-3, 1.74 ERA, 248 strikeouts) in a vote that wasn’t as close as expected. Guidry was worth more WAR than Rice that season (9.6-7.6), as was Brewers lefty Mike Caldwell (8.2), who went 22-9 with a 2.36 ERA. But Guidry won the Cy Young Award and the World Series, so greedy Yankees fans can zip it. Let Red Sox fans have this.
As excellent as Rice’s season was, it doesn’t stack up to the best in Red Sox history in one measure. Based on adjusted OPS, a number that puts a percentage on how much better or worse a player’s performance was than the league average in a given year, Rice’s ’78 season (157 adjusted OPS) is tied with Wade Boggs’s 1986 season and Dwight Evans’s ’87 as the 47th best in Red Sox history.
Ted Williams had 13 seasons with a higher adjusted OPS than Rice in ’78, including six of the top seven seasons in Red Sox history. (His best was 1941, when he hit .406/.553/.735 with 37 homers and had a 235 OPS-plus, meaning he was 135 percent better than the league-average hitter. I will always envy those who got to see him.)
This is not meant to disparage Rice’s ’78 season. Rice’s awesomeness was a reason I got hooked on baseball that year, and I’ll always appreciate that season even with the brutal ending.
And as reader Christopher Bouley recently pointed out, Rice did achieve something that remains unmatched by any of the extraordinary hitters in Red Sox history.
Rice accumulated 406 total bases that season. No Red Sox player has ever surpassed 400 (walks are not counted, only hits). There have been only 29 seasons of 400-plus total bases in baseball history.
Rice’s was the first since Hank Aaron hit 400 on the nose in 1959, and the first in the American League since Joe DiMaggio compiled 418 in 1937.
There have been seven such seasons since Rice’s: three by Colorado Rockies (Larry Walker in 1997, Todd Helton in 2000-01), two by Sammy Sosa (1998, ’01), and two others in that jacked-and-pumped ’01 season (Barry Bonds, Luis Gonzalez). I’m not putting an asterisk on those numbers, but I do think the curious era in which they occurred only enhances Rice’s achievement a couple of decades earlier.
Not to meander too far beyond the point, this is where J.D. Martinez comes in.
Through 94 games in 1978, the Red Sox had won 62 and lost 32. Rice played all of those games, slashing .323/.377/.611 with 24 homers, 80 RBIs, 13 triples, and 226 total bases.
The 2018 Red Sox had played 94 games through Wednesday. They had won 65 and lost 29. Martinez had played 88 of those games, slashing .330/.393/.649 with 28 homers, 79 RBIs, just 1 triple, and 220 total bases.
Martinez has tracked on Rice’s pace for most of this season. He’s a little behind now, with a pace of 379 total bases, based on manager Alex Cora — the anti-Zimmer and a main reason this team will not buckle from exhaustion like their ’78 ancestors did — resting him at the same rate he did in the first half.
A total of 379 total bases would be the fourth most in Red Sox history, trailing only ’78 Rice, 1938 Jimmie Foxx (398), and ’77 Rice (382).
Ortiz never came close to 400 total bases, his high being 363 in 2005. Neither did Manny, who never had a season above 350.
But J.D. Martinez just might get there to that rare place, a slugger’s 400 club of a different kind. He may not be a character like Manny, a charismatic figure like Ortiz, or an intimidator like Rice. But he’s in their company, and that’s as amazing as it is exclusive.