In 2016, the Boston Red Sox will be celebrating the careers of two of their top hitters since Ted Williams. Wade Boggs will have his number 26 retired at Fenway Park on May 26th. David Ortiz will be playing his last regular season game for the Red Sox in October 2nd. There’s a lot to be excited about this season as the Red Sox are expected to contend for a playoff spot after two consecutive last place finishes. In addition, Sox fans will have the opportunity to thank two all-time great players for their contributions to the franchise.
When the top Red Sox hitters of all-time are discussed, there’s no debate who’s #1 on the list. It’s Ted Williams and there isn’t a close second. Most baseball experts consider Williams to be in the debate for the best hitter of all-time in MLB along with Babe Ruth. Williams had a career batting average of .344 to go along with 521 home runs and 1,839 RBI’s. He has the best on base percentage in the history of baseball at .482. His career OPS was 1.116. We could go on and on about Williams, but that’s not what today’s post is about. We’re going to discuss the #2 and #3 hitters of all-time for the Red Sox. After Williams, the next five candidates include Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Wade Boggs, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz. Sure, you could make a case for other players such as Jimmie Foxx , Dwight Evans, and Nomar Garciaparra in the Top 5, but these are the five names you would hear most frequently in this debate.
So, the top six are set, but who are the top three? Williams is in. Yaz is always given consideration. Rice had some very impressive power numbers in his prime. Manny had one of the best right-handed swings in the history of baseball. We’re going to make the argument for the two players who will be getting the recognition they deserve this year, Boggs and Ortiz.
Let’s look at the statistical comparison of the Top 5 Red Sox hitters after Ted Williams
Wow! Those are some impressive numbers! Here are some things to take into consideration. Yaz and Rice both played their entire careers with the Red Sox. The other three players did not. This works for Yaz and Rice in terms of the overall HR and RBI numbers. It also can work against with the BA, OBP, and OPS numbers as those numbers dipped later in their careers. Here’s an example. Yaz has the most HR and RBI of all five players. However, his 162 game average was 22 home runs and 90 RBI. Using the same numbers, Jim Rice averaged 30 home runs and 113 RBI over 162 games. Look. We all appreciate what Yaz did over the course of his career. However, he doesn’t stack up from a pure hitting standpoint with the other players on this list. Overall play and impact? That’s a different argument. His batting average and OPS is the lowest of the five players. He had some great seasons, but also had many that did not stand out.
How about Rice? To simplify it, look what Rice did in 16 seasons compared to what Ortiz has done in 13 seasons. Ortiz wins in every category except for BA and RBI. He’ll likely pass Rice in RBI this season. When you factor in the postseason you really can’t make an argument for Rice over Ortiz. Granted, Ortiz played in an era where there were bigger numbers, but in comparison to Rice, he did more offensively.
Let’s now take a look at Wade Boggs. In 11 seasons with the Red Sox, Boggs batted .338 with a .428 OBP. The argument against Boggs compared to guys like Yaz, Rice, and Manny is that he didn’t post impressive power numbers. That’s true, but you can’t ignore how dominant of a hitter Boggs was. In a seven-year span from 1983 – 1989, Boggs won five batting titles and led league in OBP six times. He also had over 200 hits in each of those seven seasons. Lack of power? There’s more to power than home runs. Boggs had at least 40 doubles in eight of his eleven seasons in Boston. Another telling stat is that Boggs led the league in intentional walks six seasons in a row. You don’t lead the league in intentional walks that often if you aren’t the best hitter in the game. And that’s exactly what Wade Boggs was in the 1980’s. He was the best hitter in baseball. Let’s put the question this way. Which of the five players was the toughest out? The answer is easy. It was Boggs. He got on base 43% of the time he batted in a Red Sox uniform. Boggs is #2.
This brings us to Ortiz vs. Manny for #3. Manny has the edge in the batting average and OPS categories. The power numbers are basically even if you look at average per season. This post has focused a lot on regular season statistics and here’s where we need to go outside of that. If you had to ask an opposing pitcher who they would rather face in a clutch situation who would they pick? Perhaps some would pick Manny, but the overwhelming majority would take Ortiz. Another factor here is the sample size. Ortiz is going into his 14th season with the Red Sox while Manny played just eight seasons. In other words, Ortiz has been doing this for a lot longer in a Sox uniform and doing it well. If this were an argument of who was the better hitter over their entire careers, Manny would probably be your guy. Lastly, here’s the reality. If it was not for David Ortiz, the Red Sox would not have won the World Series in 2004 and 2013. And it was because of his hitting. He does nothing else. Perhaps, they may have won in 2007, but there’s no way they win without him in the other two years. He was a dominant clutch player who thrived in the big moments. It’s close, but Ortiz gets the nod at #3.
Wade Boggs and David Ortiz are going to be celebrated this season as two of the best hitters in Red Sox history. Both players made significant contributions to the Red Sox and to Major League Baseball. Boggs is already in the Hall of Fame and Ortiz should end up as the first Designated Hitter in the Hall. As Red Sox fans, we’ve had the pleasure of watching some of the all-time great hitters. Having the opportunity to recognize these two players in the same year is going to be a lot of fun.