Bobby Valentine has a well-deserved bad rap.
His ego is big and at times he can blunt and brash. Naturally, once he was hired, reporters focused on his persona. All of his prior jobs were rehashed. The media rightfully asked if his style would work with the Red Sox. His career record isn't that great, but I'm holding out hope that his Mets and Japan experiences humbled him and made him a better manager.
Every single inch of scrutiny he's gotten is fair game, but I don't think his persona is what we should focus on. Initially he struck me as the typical politician; self promoting, egotistical and camera loving, but that didn't bother me. Look, he is what he is. He's not going to change. I understand if he rubs you the wrong way, but the only things that matter are: can he can assert control of the Red Sox clubhouse, and will his on field methods work?
People think it's going to be bad if/when Valentine calls out a player for poor production, but I don't. In a way, his tendency to get on a player's case might actually be good thing for this team. Terry Francona is a great guy, but he clearly lost control of his team last year. If Bobby Valentine challenges a player, he's appealing to his sense of pride and competitive fire, and often that helps them they rise to the occasion.
Is his notorious attention to detail exactly what this team needs? Yes. The team needs a guy who will stress the little things. Take the ability to play multiple positions. J.D. Drew and Mike Cameron gave the Sox practically nothing last year. David Ortiz was swinging a hot bat by the time interleague play rolled around. Francona was backed into a corner and had to play Adrian Gonzo in right.
Look, what if the same thing happens again this year? Ben Cherington was smart to grab Cody Ross to play the outfield. Ideally he would have signed Michael Cuddyer because he's a proven AL hitter, but that wasn't going to happen. John Henry gave Ben Cherington almost no money to work with. Ross has played eight years in the pros and has a decent .323/456/779 OBP/SLG/OPS line.
What if he doesn't work out? Ross has spent most of his career in the National League, and there's a chance he won't do well against AL pitching. It would be smart to let Adrian Gonzalez shag some flies in the outfield if, God forbid, they had to play him out there.
Let's look at third base. Kevin Youkilis is a great player, but he's played in 136, 102 and 120 games over the past three seasons. Did you know he was hit by 14 pitches last year? I didn't. Teams clearly target him, and the odds are he's going to miss time again this year. A versatile utility player like Mike Aviles is a necessity. Jose Iglesias has a great glove, but he needs to improve his hitting. Nick Punto is an OK backup in case that happens.
On the field, does Bobby Valentine have a firm grasp of when to play station-to-station sabermetrics and small ball? Yes. 2004 and 2007 taught us the Bill James school of thought is the right way to go 95 percent of the time. Every now and then there will be a situation that calls for speed and sacrifice bunts. Speed can distract pitchers, force them to expend energy on pick-offs, keep a defense on its toes and make a catcher account for them at all times. The best example is Dave Roberts' steal against Mariano Rivera in '04. Here are some quotes from Bobby Valentine, and they tell me he has the right mindset.
According to Ron Chimelis of The Republican, he said Boston will never be a small-ball team but should have such the skills "in the toolbox.''
What about bunting? His quote was "I don't like to sacrifice. If you bunt, I like it when you can bunt for a hit.'' he said.
What about the squeeze play? His precise quote was "I like it when it can end a game.''
The Red Sox have openly poo-pooed holding runners on base for the longest time. Their logic was simple; give the opposition the stolen base most of the time, except in critical moments. No matter what, you don't want your pitcher distracted from the primary task of retiring the hitter. What does Valentine think?
"The first thing for the pitcher is to get that hitter. But to be an excellent team, I think you have to (hold runners well)."
Believe me, the next time Bobby Valentine plays to the camera I'm going to roll my eyes, but I have to remember all that matters is if his methods work and if he's the right fit for this team.
The answer to those questions is: I think so!