Over at ESPNNew York, Mark Simon has run some numbers and come up with the most valuable players in the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry over the last fifteen years. According to his findings, Manny Ramirez has been by far the most clutch player in the series (no need to rely on stats for that one). Using WPA as the measurement stick, Manny’s productivity was more than double the Yankees’ top performer, Alex Rodriquez. On the pitching side, Mariano Rivera and Pedro Martinez were the biggest difference makers for their respective teams, with only Andy Pettitte coming close to the total WPA recorded by those two.
In his analysis, Simon also identifies other interesting tidbits, such as the most clutch play (Bill Mueller’s walk off HR against Rivera on July 24, 2004) as well as the least valuable player in the series (Derek Lowe). However, I do take some exception with is decision to use 1995 as the starting point for the study. Simon used 1995 because it was the first year of the new wild card playoff system, but as any Yankee or Red Sox fan can tell you, it took some time after that for the rivalry to really heat up again. Although both teams made the playoffs in 1995, the Yankees and Red Sox did not really register significantly on each other’s radars until Roger Clemens joined the Yankees in 1999, the same year both teams met in the ALCS for the first time in history. Even then, however, the temperature of the rivalry was still lukewarm at best. The Red Sox were just another stepping stone in the Yankees run of three straight World Series, so there really wasn’t much carry over from the post season confrontation. In fact, the Red Sox failed to make the playoffs in the next three seasons, and really never challenged the Yankees for the division over that span (a late season losing streak by the Yankees in 2000 allowed Boston to close a large gap in the standings, but the Yankees had all but wrapped up the division by mid-September).
It really wasn’t until the 2002 sale of the Red Sox to an ownership group led by John Henry that the seeds of the revitalized rivalry were planted. By the off season of 2002, the contempt was finally back in full bloom. It was during that period that three building block events in the rivalry occurred. The first was the hiring of Theo Epstein, who as general manager gave Boston a competent executive capable of building a team for the long term. The second event was the recruitment of Jose Contreras (whose WPA of -1.572 is ironically the rivalry’s lowest since 2003). It might seem funny now, but at the time the competition between the clubs for Contreras was so heated that Epstein reportedly trashed his hotel room when he learned the Yankees had won the bidding. Finally, that signing gave birth to Larry Lucchino’s “Evil Empire” quote, which seemed to officially sound the bell on the latest round in the teams’ historic rivalry.
In addition to the anecdotal (for a list of some juicy rivalry quotes from 2002-2005, click here), the head-to-head record between the teams also seems to suggest that 2003 is the best reincarnation point of the rivalry. Whereas the Yankees had the clear upper hand over Boston with a 63-49 record from 1995 to 2002, they only held a 67-63 advantage from 2003 to 2009.
So, accepting my premise that the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry wasn’t really reborn until 2003, how does that change Simon’s conclusions?
For the Yankees, both Arod and Rivera retained their title as most valuable player and pitcher, but some of names ranking beneath them were realigned. In Simon’s article, he relayed the feeling by many Red Sox fans that Jorge Posada has been the must clutch Yankee in the rivalry. Using the 1995 cutoff, Posada still ranked third, but his total WPA was just about half of Arod’s. Since 2003, however, Posada has ranked right along side Arod in terms of causing Red Sox fans pain. Also advancing on the list under the new parameters was Derek Jeter, who ranked 13th on Simon’s list, but jumped to fourth place on mine.
The only pitcher who appeared on both lists was Rivera. C.C. Sabathia’s excellent 2009 campaign thrust him into the top five since 2003, but otherwise, the leader board is dominated by relievers, which speaks to the weaker starting staff that the Yankees employed between World Series titles. Even though most memories of Tom Gordon include his being sick in the Fenway bullpen during the 2004 ALCS, his presence near the top of the list shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. However, Brian Bruney’s ranking was .
|Sum of WPA|
|Sum of WPA|
On the Boston side, Manny Ramirez’ WPA of 5.035 in only five and a half seasons is astounding, but not surprising to Yankee fans. The rest of the offensive list falls in line with Simon’s, which further illustrates that the rivalry was relatively one-sided before 2003. On the pitching side, however, there are major differences. On the strength of his 2004 campaign, Keith Foulke stands out as Boston’s most valuable pitcher. Meanwhile, the “whose your daddy” version of Pedro drops all the way down to 22nd on the list, behind such luminary names as Phil Seibel, Eric Gagne and Hunter Jones.
|Sum of WPA|
|Sum of WPA|