As the Red Sox look to rebound from their third last-place finish in their last four years, there are going to be a lot of story lines around the team. None will come close to the impending retirement of David Ortiz. He is one of the true legends in the franchise’s history, and his announcement that 2016 will be his final season changed everything about the year to come. He’ll likely have a little ceremony prior to his final game at just about every stadium, and the final games at Fenway will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It will all be deserved, too. However, one of the stories that is going to be overshadowed is the possibility that this could also be Koji Uehara’s final season.
Now, to be clear, the Red Sox star reliever hasn’t given any indication he’s going to retire at the end of the year. There’s really only a certain class of player that typically announces their retirement so early, and as great as Uehara is, he’s not of that class. When you start to think about it, though, it makes sense that he’d call it quits after 2016. For one thing, his contract ends after this season, so there’s no money he’d be leaving on the table. He will also be entering his age-41 season, making him the fourth oldest player currently employed by a team. He has also had injury issues throughout his career, and at a certain point it’s just not worth going through the rehab process year in and year out. So, while we haven’t heard official word that 2016 will be Koji’s last, it’s time we start building the mindset that it is. Just in case.
Between regular season and postseason action between 2013 and 2014, Uehara struck out an amazing 55 batters without walking any in one of the most under-appreciated streaks in recent memory.
With all of that in mind, I thought it was appropriate to take a quick look back at his career, because I fear people don’t realize just how insane his time in Boston has been.
Of course, it all starts in 2013. In his first year in a Red Sox uniform, Uehara put together a truly historic campaign. He tossed 74.1 innings that year with a 1.09 ERA and a preposterous 1.61 FIP. On top of that, he put up a league-leading 42 DRA- and a league-leading 41 cFIP, a mark that has been matched just once in the last two years (min 50 IP). His second-half was at even another level, when he threw 32 innings while allowing just a single run, striking out 41 batters and walking just one. He followed that up with an other-worldly postseason performance, allowing one run in 13.2 innings with 16 strikeouts and zero (0) walks. All told, between regular season and postseason action between 2013 and 2014, Uehara struck out an amazing 55 batters without walking any in one of the most under-appreciated streaks in recent memory.
Obviously the 2013 season ended with a championship, so most will remember that Koji was ridiculous in 2013, even if it’s hard to comprehend just how ridiculous he was. However, with the last two years since being so disappointing, it’s hard to celebrate those who have performed well. Uehara certainly fits that bill. In 104 innings of work over the last two seasons, he has pitched to a 2.41 ERA and a 2.84 FIP with a 7.47 K/BB ratio. Among those with at least 100 innings in that span, he is tied for 21st in adjusted ERA, tied for 35th in adjusted FIP and 3rd in K/BB. Furthermore, he has finished in the top-30 in cFIP in each of the last two years to go with back-to-back above-average DRA-’s.
So, yeah, Koji has been incredible, even when the Red Sox haven’t been. Those are a lot of numbers that paint a picture of just how good he is, but that’s not all he’s left as a legacy. Beyond what he’s done on the mound, there’s been an air of joy around Uehara since he’s joined the Red Sox. Obviously, the top of that particular list is his high-fives, which took the city by storm in 2013, culminating in one of my favorite moments of the last five years. Beyond the high fives, his carefree attitude rubbed off on everyone. From being carried over Ortiz’s shoulders after vitories, to the selflessness that results in taking a demotion out of the closer role without a second thought, to the best Twitter account none of us can read, he’s an absolute pleasure to follow on a daily basis.
Maybe I’m wrong, and Uehara will keep playing for three years after the 2016 season. I hope that’s the case, because he was introduced to this city far too late in his career, and having it end so soon isn’t fair. However, the signs point towards there being a good chance this is his last year. Focus as much of your attention on Ortiz’s last year as you can — he deserves it — but don’t let it totally overshadow Uehara. This may be your last chance to see him, and he was a truly special piece in a tumultuous and memorable period of Red Sox history.
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