No, not the Boston Red Sox' best player in 2012; that would be Dustin Pedroia or Junichi Tazawa or somebody. We're trying to spot the player -- good, bad, or ugly -- who best epitomizes the 2012 Red Sox. And boy, what a team this was. The Red Sox suffered their first losing record since 1997, and it wasn't just any old losing record; at 69-93, the Red Sox lost more games than in any season since 1965, when they lost an even 100.
So where do we start? With Daisuke Matsuzaka, in whom the Red Sox invested more than $100 million, and closed out his five-year stint with a 1-7 record and an 8.28 ERA? With star center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who was limited by injuries to only 74 games? With high-priced superstars Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford, whom the Red Sox ultimately sent to the Dodgers in a cost-cutting and franchise-rebuilding move? With 36-year-old outfielder Scott Podsednik, who somehow got 216 plate appearances for a team that was supposed to contend for a division title? With star left-hander Jon Lester, who went 65-32 with a 3.33 ERA from 2008 through '11, but slumped to 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA in 2012?
That's roughly the half of it. It's actually quite rare for so many terrible things to happen to such a good team. Or rather, to a team that was supposed to be so good, before the season. Which is what makes it so difficult to choose just one player as Player of the Year. It's just tempting to cheat, like Time choosing The Personal Computer or The Whisteblowers or (for heaven's sake) You as Man of the Year. For Red Sox Player of the Year, can't we just say "All of Them"?
Sure, if you want. But that wouldn't be fair to Pedroia or Tazawa or Scott Atchison or ... Well, it would be fair to just about everyone else. But Scott Atchison's mom might be reading this!
Despite all the injuries and the trading of the Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox finished fifth in the American League in scoring. The big problem was the pitching, and specifically the starting pitching. Among the six Red Sox who started more than 10 games, Clay Buchholz sported the lowest ERA: 4.56.
Red Sox starters did not finish with the worst ERA in the American League; at 12th in the league with a 5.19 ERA, they were slightly "better" than the Indians and the Twins ... but of course the Indians and Twins didn't spend nearly as much money on their terrible starters as the Red Sox spend on theirs.
So I think we have to look to the rotation for our Player of the Year. And since we haven't mentioned him anywhere yet, why not choose Daniel Bard? Entering the spring, there were really only two big questions about the Red Sox: Would Crawford become a good player again, and would Bard win a spot in the rotation, after pitching exclusively out of the bullpen in his three earlier seasons?
The answers, of course, were a) no, and b) yes, but everybody regretted it. Bard did win a spot in the rotation in spring training, despite the skepticism of many who saw him pitch. Once the regular season started, he pitched decently in his first outing, then walked seven batters in his second ... which resulted in a one-game demotion to the bullpen. Then came eight starts in which he went 4-4 with a 5.48 ERA ... and it was back to the minors, to rediscover his control.
Back in Pawtucket, Bard returned to the bullpen and racked up an astonishing 7.03 ERA, with 29 walks in 32 innings. But he did seem to come around in August, so at the end of the month the Red Sox brought him back to Boston ... and in six games, he gave up nine runs in four innings.
Essentially, Daniel Bard was broken. Might be broken forever. And for all the awful things that happened to or because of the 2012 Boston Red Sox, this might wind up seeming the worst of them.