5 best seasons by a Red Sox position player

November 30th, 2020

Given the star-studded collection of position players -- legends, really -- the Red Sox have had through the years, identifying the top five individual seasons in team history is a challenging task.

But we’ve decided to press on and do it anyway. From Ted Williams to Carl Yastrzemski to Jim Rice to David Ortiz to Mookie Betts, there are many summers of greatness to choose from.

Here is one person’s opinion -- mine -- of the top five. To spread it around, we didn’t include an individual player more than once.

1. Carl Yastrzemski, 1967
Key fact: His 12.5 WAR (Baseball Reference) is the best in a single season in team history

The Impossible Dream season of 1967 is the one that spawned generations of Red Sox fans. The engine behind it was Yaz, who was a one-man machine at the plate and in the field. The Hall of Fame left fielder won the Triple Crown by batting .326 with 44 homers and 121 RBIs. Miguel Cabrera (2012) is the only player who has won a Triple Crown since.

Yaz also led the American League in runs, hits, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+ and total bases. It was a tour de force of greatness in which Yaz continually came through in the clutch. With the Red Sox fighting to win the AL pennant and needing to win their final two regular-season games to do so, Yaz went 7-for-8.

2. Ted Williams, 1941
Key fact: Led the Majors in eight offensive categories

In truth, you could pick just about any season Williams had and it would be among the best in Red Sox history. But this one sticks out with Williams hitting .406. The 2021 season will mark the 80th anniversary of topping the .400 mark -- something nobody has done since. The batting average alone would have made it a season for the ages. Then add in the fact that Williams led the Majors in runs (135), homers (37), walks (147), on-base percentage (.553), slugging percentage (.735) and OPS+ (235) and it becomes clear that it was transformative.

Related

3. Mookie Betts, 2018
Key fact: 1.078 OPS a career high

With the Red Sox setting a franchise record with 108 wins, their leadoff man was the tone setter for six months. The 10.6 WAR by Betts that season is topped only by Yaz in 1967 for best in club history. Betts achieved his greatness with a more diverse set of skills than any player the Red Sox have ever had. He did it with elite bat control and power, blazing speed, superior range and a cannon arm in right field.

Betts won the batting title with a .346 average and also led the Majors with 129 runs and a .640 slugging percentage. In the leadoff spot for 131 games, Betts smashed 32 homers and had 80 RBIs. He also stole 30 bases, giving the Red Sox their second 30-30 man in team history; the first was Jacoby Ellsbury in 2011.

4. Jim Rice, 1978
Key fact: 406 total bases still a team record

Before getting to the numbers, it should be noted that Rice went to the post every single day. Yes, he played all 163 games, culminating with that heartbreaking loss to the Yankees in the one-game playoff. Rice also led the Majors in at-bats (677), hits (213), triples (15), homers (46), RBIs (139) and slugging percentage (.600) while hitting .315. His .970 OPS was tops in the AL. Perhaps the most striking stat of all? The 406 total bases. With brute strength and lightning-quick wrists, Rice hit the ball deep to all fields.

5. David Ortiz, 2007
Key fact: His OBP of .445 is second best in a single season in 21st century for Boston

Given how many elite seasons that Ortiz had for the Red Sox, it’s hard to pick the best one. Why did we go with 2007? Probably because Ortiz hit for his usual production while adding a career-high .332 average. Impressive, when you consider Ortiz played that season with a torn meniscus in his right knee. Pitchers were careful with Ortiz in ’07, but he resisted the temptation to expand the strike zone, leading the AL with 111 walks and a .445 on-base percentage. The centerpiece of a championship team, Ortiz ripped a career-high 52 doubles while adding 35 homers, 117 RBIs, 116 runs and a 1.066 OPS.

Honorable mentions
Williams got to the World Series for the only time in his career in 1946 on the strength of a .342/.497/.667 line with 38 homers and 123 RBIs. … Always a batting-average machine, Wade Boggs added power to his game in 1987, ripping 24 homers while hitting .363 with 108 runs, 200 hits and 40 doubles. … If Fred Lynn is most remembered for his 1975 season, his best year was ’79, when his slash line stats (.333/.423/.637) were all league leading to go with career highs in homers (39) and RBIs (122). … Nomar Garciaparra’s prime was special, and he was at his best in 2000, hitting .372 with 197 hits, 51 doubles, 21 homers and a career-best OPS+ of 156.