2020 Red Sox Season Awards & Lowlights

Even in a 60-game season, the Red Sox gave us a lot to think about. While they traded their best player in the offseason for a chance at a deep future, the lack of a true rebuild at the trade deadline gave us a clear picture that Chaim Bloom believes in a good part of the core of the team. But this isn’t just about the core — I’m going to give you a broader look of the season in review, via awards and "awards."

Today, we seek some of the better moments from the season, the bright spots in the roster, and crown the moments that deserve the limelight. Of course, since there were plenty of unideal moments, we’ll go ahead and throw them in as well because why not.

Platinum Glove: Jackie Bradley Jr.

The Red Sox have an absurd amount of defensive talent on the roster, especially amongst the outfielders. Even in the absence of Andrew Benintendi, the Red Sox featured the most talented defensive skill set in the outfield, led by a combination of latest acquisition Alex Verdugo, who features one of the best arms in the league, a few months of Kevin Pillar, and the guy I’m giving this special "best defender" award to — Jackie Bradley Jr. 

While I could have used this as an opportunity to recognize that the Red Sox moving on from Betts to Verdugo was not at all a defensive downgrade, I still have to recognize the elite talent of Bradley in the outfield. While Verdugo led the major leagues in outfield assists with 7 and his first everyday experience of playing the tricky outfield of Fenway Park went nearly as well as it could have gone, Bradley still takes the cake as the perfect captain of the outfield. 

JBJ led all of baseball in outs above average, a range-based statistic, in the outfield and was 76th percentile in outfielder jump (incidentally, Verdugo was a mind-boggling 98th percentile). Bradley had everything going for him defensively, with the arm, with the routes, and with the metrics to prove it all. If Bradley walks in free agency, his defensive highlight reel will go down as one of the most impressive in franchise history.

Disappointment of the Offense: J.D. Martinez

This had to be the easiest selection of the day. And yes, I know Andrew Benintendi had the worst year of his professional career in 2020 as he started the year not being able to hit a baseball and eventually was ruled out for the season due to rib injury. Still, a full season of J.D. Martinez with no signs of barrelling up a baseball consistently has to take the cake.

From 2014 to 2019, Martinez has been one of the best hitters in baseball and for a good bit of that period, he was statistically the best right-handed hitter. In 2018, as a DH, he won two silver sluggers and was nearly an MVP finalist, despite the winner of the award being his teammate. In this year’s trade deadline outlook, I attributed Martinez’s struggles partially to a lack of a video room. One of the biggest studiers in the game, I expect Martinez to be back to raking in 2021 assuming normal policies. But 2020 is a year that Martinez should be attempting to completely erase from his memory.

Disappointment of the Pitching Staff: Like 90% of it

It was no secret when the season started that the Red Sox pitching staff would likely be the primary reason they wouldn’t be competing in 2020. After Chris Sale went down with Tommy John surgery and Eduardo Rodríguez was ruled out for the season with heart complications stemming from COVID-19, the starting rotation was far from legitimate and nearly ever pitcher who was called up for emergency pitching duties either met their lowly expectations or couldn’t even reach those.

I thought a guy like Zack Godley could provide some valuable innings and consistent serviceable starts, considering his all-star-caliber year in 2017. What ended up happening for him was an 8-game season with his only good appearance being the one on relief. He made seven starts and finished the year with an 8.16 ERA and didn't win a decision. Even the bullpen did its part to help the Red Sox sustain losing streaks for a majority of the season and saw a stream of guys that, for the most part, were inconsistent and overused. Talking about this pitching staff does neither of us any good, so I’ll stop. 

Pleasant surprise of the Offense: Kevin Plawecki

Even though the lineup saw its apparent problems at times, especially with the abysmal year of J.D. Martinez and the fall of Andrew Benintendi, the Red Sox had several guys step up and rake at times. Whether it be waiver claim Christian Arroyo who has had some big hits and snazzy defensive plays at second base or former St. Louis Cardinal Yairo Muñoz who had himself some blue-hot hitting streaks before the injury, the Red Sox found offense from lesser-hyped sources. Most notably, rookie Bobby Dalbec turned into Bobby Topdeck when he was finally called up this year to display his raw power at the big league level. We knew Dalbec could send a few to the moon but you have to be excited with the consistency in his at-bats. Oh, about that nickname — I didn’t come up with it so if you hate it, don’t blame me, but if you like it, thank you.

But even with all the offensive talent throughout the season, nobody’s consistent offensive prowess was quite as surprising to me as that of backup catcher Kevin Plawecki. Plawecki came into the season hitting .218 with an OPS around .650. In 5 big league seasons with the Mets and Indians, he had 62 extra base hits and drove in 92 runs. 

This year with the Red Sox, Plawecki finished with a .341 average and .857 OPS as he also drove in an RBI at a slightly better rate than every 5 at-bats. Despite the small sample size, the contributions turned some heads. Whenever he got the start on a Vázquez rest day or got to start alongside him to get an extra right-handed bat, Plawecki seemed to do his job on a regular basis and produce with the bat, a welcome addition to the offense. The Red Sox really decided to accumulate all the hidden talent amongst MLB hitters named Kevin this season.

Plawecki is set to be a free agent this offseason but for someone who has gotten a bit familiar with the organization, I wouldn’t mind if Boston decides to bring back the 29-year-old for another ride as the backup backstop.

Pleasant surprise of the Pitching Staff: Phillips Valdéz

Raise your hand if you knew who Phillips Valdéz, who made his big league debut in 2019 with the Texas Rangers, was when the Red Sox claimed him off waivers. Cool, join me in the elite club of baseball fans who care about relievers in the AL West. Now raise your hand if you predicted that he would be the most reliable Red Sox reliever of 2020 and would post a 3.26 ERA in 30.1 innings, which led the team amongst those who did not make a start. Now leave my club because I don’t have room for liars. 

In a pitching staff that was marred with giving up the home run ball, walking the world, and just not getting regular shutdown innings in general, Valdéz was a diamond in the rough and a classic Chaim Bloom find given his statistical dominance. He did so with a sinker-slider repertoire that was elite-tier in movement and a changeup as his primary pitch, one that he attributed to Red Sox legend Pedro Martínez. This year, he pitched like a star for a team that could use a cheap but effective arm wherever they can find one. Valdéz should have his job secured as one of the middle-to-late-relief arms for the Red Sox going forward.

Rookie of the Year: Bobby Dalbec

It's pretty clear that Bobby Dalbec is ready to hit big-league pitching. After a long wait to be finally called up to the big leagues at age 25, the #3 prospect for the Red Sox finished the season with an impactful .263/.359/.959 line, which included 11 of his 21 hits going for extra bases and 16 RBI in just 23 games played. 

While there is some swing and miss in Dalbec's game as he did lead the team in strikeout percentage, it is encouraging that in 2020, he hit at a .317 clip off the big league fastball, an adjustment that serves to be one of the most challenging for rookies getting a shot early on.

While I almost let Dalbec share this award with Tanner Houck, who I am all in on, I had to give the edge and spotlight to eh position player that had more playing time because he deserves the respect for looking like a stud. Don’t worry though, Houck will give us several more chances to be excited about the future of the Sox rotation.

Cy Young Award: Martín Pérez

Duh. When the Red Sox rotation was depleted early on this summer to just Nathan Eovaldi and Martín Pérez, any expectations of an ace in sight would have been mocked. While I have liked the consistency and high-pressure track record for Pérez in the past, I pointed out in the offseason that he is far from an ace. What ended up happening was Martín Pérez pitched as if he were a #2 guy and against excellent offensive opponents, he stepped it up a notch and pitched like an ace. In fact, Pérez ended the season in the top 10 percentile of starters in hard hit percentage — unreal domination from a guy that cost barely over seven figures. Don’t let his last start against the Orioles distract you from the reliability and guts of 2020 Red Sox ace Martín Pérez.

Pérez has a team option in his contract for the 2021 season — I think the Sox will not just want to bring him back for the trust he’s earned in the organization but will need him with the uncertainty surrounding the top end of the rotation.

Most Valuable Player: Alex Verdugo

Look, you can talk about Rafael Devers and him finally figuring it out offensively during the middle of the season. You can mention team captain Xander Bogaerts, who continues to be in the conversation for best offensive shortstop in baseball. Hell, you might as well put Christian Vázquez in the topic for being one of the most consistent all-round players at the catcher position in 2020. But to me, everything you would want in a team MVP on the field came from the guy that headlined the trade of former MVP Mookie Betts.

Alex Verdugo has every quality you’d want in a franchise cornerstone, leadoff hitter, and offensive and defensive star. He lead the qualified Red Sox in batting average, OBP, and OPS and was second on the team (to Rafael Devers) in win probability added. When Ron Roenicke finally made him the permanent leadoff man for the Red Sox lineup, Verdugo delivered by getting on base, hitting for more power, and being a ball of fire on the basepaths — oh, by the way, he also threw in a 14-game hit streak in August to cap off the most consistent offensive season of the team.

As for his defense, Verdugo passed the eye test with flying colors while also being one of the most statistically sound outfielders in baseball — his outfield jump was nearly top 10 percentile amongst all big league outfielders and his 7 outfield assists led all of the major leagues. It’s time to stop caring that the Red Sox traded away an incredible player. Alex Verdugo is not here to replace anyone per se. He’s here to be a star in Boston for several years and clearly has the potential to be a perennial MVP candidate in the future with his skillset.

To top it all off, Verdugo was an emotional spark plug for an otherwise dreary Red Sox clubhouse undergoing a bumpy transition year. He’s not just flashy but also one of the happiest people in the league to just play the game and help his team win. He plays every ball in outfield and runs between every base like it’s a postseason clincher. His energy and swagger will continue to be contagious as the Red Sox return to relevance soon. It was a no-brainer to name him the team MVP in his first year with Boston.

Offseason Project: Nathan Eovaldi

Yeah, this is not an award. It’s not a jab. It’s just a question mark with a flavor of optimism and a look of confusion. The Red Sox will inevitably have a long list of tasks to do before the start of the 2021 season. Realistically, they probably won’t even get to complete all of them — the manager position as a box that needs to be checked this offseason and the #4 overall pick in the 2021 MLB draft will be a venture with several keen eyes in its direction. 

But what about the health of Sale and Rodriguez? Regardless of whether they are able to come back, the Red Sox will need help with pitching. Who’s the question mark that’s somehow hiding in the ozone layer of this pitching project? It’s Nathan Eovaldi. Entering his 31-year-old season and already with a history of injuries, Eovaldi has learned to reinvent himself multiple times. Sometimes, he's come back from IL stints stronger than ever. When Boston signed Eovaldi to a four-year, $68 million contract immediately after his 2018 postseason heroics, they didn't have this bumpy of a road in mind.

Yet, here we are — with two years left on Eovaldi’s contract, it’s time for some answers but it’s nearly impossible to have them any time soon with how unpredictable his status can be. Consider his role on a team a giant floating question mark. 

What surprised you most about the 2020 Red Sox season and what do you expect to see next season? Who is sustaining success and who is falling off the face of roster relevance? What highlights or lowlights of the season did I miss? You probably have a completely different set of takeaways than I do. Let’s hear them. 

Follow the author at @AhaanRungta, listen to his sports podcast, subscribe to his baseball YouTube, and read more Red Sox content here.

Thumbnail photo courtesy of: AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
Photo of Eovaldi courtesy of: Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald