Commentary

Ranking the top 20 Boston sports performances of the 2000s

There have been MVPs, Cy Youngs, dozens of All-Stars, and a handful of Hall of Famers. But which have been the best of the best?

Pedro Martinez in 2000. The Boston Globe

COMMENTARY

When the NHL suspended operations in March, not only did it curtail a promising spring for the Bruins collectively, it also dropped a hiatus into what was becoming a historic season for David Pastrnak. His 48 tallies were tied for the league’s most, giving him a legitimate shot to be the first Boston skater to lead the league in goals in 45 years. With a flurry at the finish, by the end of this campaign he might’ve ranked behind only Phil Esposito on the Bruins’ all-time single-season goal-scoring list.

There’s a chance he still could get that shot, theoretically, if the NHL returns without skipping straight to the playoffs — but at the very least, one of recent memory’s best seasons has been interrupted, if not entirely lost. Same goes for the season Jayson Tatum was putting together as he transitioned from a potential centerpiece into a real-life star, with the NBA cutting things off with the Celtics forward in the midst of a 16-game surge when he was averaging 29.6 points per contest.

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Baseball might come back soon, but a likely truncated slate won’t give Xander Bogaerts a chance to fully build on a brilliant 2019 even as he moves into the meat of his prime. And who knows whether or not football will be functional enough this fall to see if Stephon Gilmore can repeat his performance as the NFL’s premier defensive player, or if New England’s next star might break out in the Patriots’ first post-Tom Brady season.

On top of shutting entire leagues and teams, the novel coronavirus has also cost individual athletes the opportunity to turn in those types of legendary seasons that can elevate their status and live on in our regional sports lore. And New England’s fan base has had no shortage of opportunities to enjoy such performances over the course of celebrating the 12 championships that have been driven by an ongoing deluge of star power.

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There have been MVPs, Cy Youngs, dozens of All-Stars, and a handful of Hall of Famers. But which have been the best of the best? Here’s one take on ranking Boston sports’ 20 best single seasons of the past 20 years.

20. 2001-02 Paul Pierce

Statistics: 12.9 win shares, 26.1 PPG

Playing more than 40 minutes per game, Pierce made his first All-Star game that season, establishing himself as the franchise building block. His 12.9 win shares are still tied for the most by a Celtic in these two decades.

19. 2011 Jacoby Ellsbury

Statistics: .321 BA, .928 OPS, 32 HR, 39 SB, 46 2B

So much went wrong for the Sox in 2011, this monster season from the center fielder almost goes forgotten. Then again, much of his Boston career goes forgotten, save for his stellar postseasons in 2007 and 2013.

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18. 2002 Taylor Twellman

Statistics: 23 G, 28 GP

Major League Soccer’s all-time leading scorer, Chris Wondolowski, has averaged 0.52 goals per 90 minutes in his career. In his first season, Twellman averaged an incredible 0.86 scores per 90, setting the stage for one of the league’s most prolific careers in its 25 years.

17. 2011 Tom Brady

Statistics: 39 touchdowns/12 interceptions, 5,235 yards, 8.6 yards/attempt, 327.2 yards/game

The combination of Brady, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez put up some huge numbers through the air — and carried a defense that was counting on cornerback Julian Edelman to the Super Bowl.

16. 2016-17 Isaiah Thomas

Statistics: 12.5 WS, 28.9 PPG, 16th in assists

The overall numbers were spectacular, and they don’t even account for all his fourth-quarter heroics and his inspirational playoff performance that year.

15. 2013-14 Patrice Bergeron

Statistics: 30 goals-32 assists-62 points, plus-38, Selke Trophy

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A player like Bergeron is so well-rounded that it’s sometimes hard to quantify or categorize his greatness — but this was a season where the production and accolades reflect the way he does everything at both ends of the ice at a consistently elite level.

14. 2006 Asante Samuel

Statistics: 10 interceptions, 24 passes defended

The cornerback had “Get Rich to This” tattooed on his shoulder, and when he put the pads over said shoulder he made good on his ink. His remarkable knack for getting his hands on the ball helped him live up to those words just a couple years later.

13. 2016-17 Brad Marchand

Statistics: 39-46-85, +18

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Hockey-Reference.com calculates point shares based on a player’s contributions at both ends. Until Pastrnak posted his brilliance this season, Marchand’s 2016-17 campaign was the Bruins’ best of the 21st century. It’s worth noting, too, that in what’s been a heck of a decade for the Bruins, Marchand has had enough statistically excellent seasons that there may need to be a conversation at some point about wear No. 63 rates in the black and gold’s all-time pantheon.

12. 2003 Ty Law

Statistics: 6 INT, 23 PD, touchdown

The year itself was spectacular, and worthy of the All-Pro honors that helped land Law in the Hall of Fame. But the cherry on top came in the AFC Championship, when he picked off Peyton Manning three times in what remains a signature victory for Bill Belichick, Defensive Mastermind.

11. 2013 Koji Uehara

Statistics: 1.09 ERA, 43 baserunners in 74.1 innings

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He was unhittable all year, particularly from the time he took over the closer’s role in the early summer through the final whiff of the World Series. It might’ve looked different, but he was every bit Dennis Eckersley of his Cy Young/MVP season.

10. 2008-09 Zdeno Chara

Statistics: 19-31-50, +23, 121 blocked shots

The captain played more than 26 minutes a night, was a factor at the offensive end — especially on the power play — and won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman. A superstar season signifying a total home run of a signing for an organization in transition at the time.

9. 2011 Rob Gronkowski

Statistics: 90 receptions, 17 TD, 1,327 yards

The tight end was a red-zone threat as a rookie. It was this season, his second, that he started to look as unstoppable as the fast track he’ll ride to Canton, Ohio.

8. 2007 David Ortiz

Statistics: .332/.445/1.066, 35 HR, 52 2B, 117 RBI

This is actually not the year when he reset the Red Sox record book with his 54 homers. That was a year earlier. This 2007 season was a tour de force that saw him have more RBI and earn more walks than he had strikeouts from the middle of the order on a championship team.

7. 2004 Curt Schilling

Statistics: 21-6, 3.26 ERA, 1.063 WHIP

He came to town with one purpose, that being to deliver a World Series title. He did it right away, pulling his truck up to the players lot and  right in year one establishing himself as the ace in what had been Pedro Martinez’s rotation, then proceeding to dominate throughout. Schilling loves to talk — but it’s hard to think of a guy who has walked the walk more than he did in 2004.

6. 2007-08 Kevin Garnett

Statistics: 12.9 WS, 18.8 PPG, 9.2 rebounds per game

While we’re on the topic of guys coming in and taking over immediately, Garnett arrived in the summer of 2007 and put his stamp on the whole Celtics operation. The culture changed instantly, he was a major factor at the offensive end, and he was the league’s defensive player of the year, too. His No. 5 is going to the rafters for this season alone.

5. 2018 Mookie Betts

Statistics: .346 BA, .640 OBP, 1.078 OPS, 32 HR, 30 SB, 129 R

In terms of WAR, Betts has the two best seasons by a Red Sox position player in the past 20 years, and three of the top seven, according to Baseball-Reference. His 2018 season earned him a batting title as well as an MVP award — and was nearly flawless.

4. 2007 Randy Moss

Statistics: 98 REC, 23 TD, 1,493 yards

The numbers are absurd, and his presence helped change the way we’ve looked at Brady ever since. As a tandem they were practically unstoppable, and, oh yeah, if not for David Tyree and Eli Manning, Moss’s final scoring grab of that season might’ve been the one that won the Super Bowl.

3. 2010-11 Tim Thomas

Statistics: .938 save percentage, 2.00 goals against average, nine shutouts

Take the postseason out of the equation and this season has the makings of legend. Thomas was the NHL’s best netminder that season, turning in a quality start in 41 of his 55 opportunities en route to the Vezina Trophy. By June, he’d added the Conn Smythe to his case, too, as the Stanley Cup’s most valuable player.

2. 2007 Brady

Statistics: 50 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 4,806 yards, 68.9 completion percentage, 8.3 Y/A, 117.2 rating

Others have since thrown for more touchdowns, more yards, a higher completion percentage, and all that. But this is the gold standard of quarterbacking seasons, especially if you believe that the QB’s primary job is to win.

1. 2000 Pedro Martinez

Statistics: 18-6, 1.74 ERA, 284 strikeouts, 0.74 WHIP

In the throes of the Steroid Era, the average ERA in the American League that season was 4.92. Pedro was more than three full runs below that — and he was almost two full runs better than Roger Clemens, who finished second in the contest for the ERA title that season. The average pitcher allowed 1.493 baserunners per inning, while Martinez allowed a shade less than that for every two innings of work. His 284 strikeouts were 72 more than the next-most, and of the six losses he was charged with he went at least eight innings in five of those games. (The clunker in the group saw him go only seven.) Pedro was one of a kind — among pitchers, among his peers, and among the best Boston seasons of the past 20 years.

(Honorable mention: Nomar Garciaparra, 2000; Glenn Murray, 2002-03; Joe Thornton, 2002-03; Corey Dillon, 2004; Manny Ramirez, 2004; Dustin Pedroia, 2008; Wes Welker, 2011; Betts, 2016; Craig Kimbrel, 2017; Gilmore, 2019)

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