Boston Red Sox: Bobby Valentine's Most Puzzling Managerial Decisions of 2012
With last night’s comeback win over the Miami Marlins, the Boston Red Sox have climbed three games over .500 and are, miraculously, just 5.5 games out of first place in the AL East. A piece of the credit must go to manager Bobby Valentine, who has kept this team competitive despite the roster being decimated by injuries.
Any debut season can be tough, but in the competitive cauldron that is Boston, the intensity can break even the most experienced manager.
Thus far, Valentine has handled the pressures of being Red Sox manager pretty well. He has overseen the reclamation of the bullpen—which went from MLB’s worst to one of its best in a span of two months—as well as the strong production of the league’s second-best offense.
Statistically speaking, the Sox should have a better record than they do; their Pythagorean won-lost record (developed by Bill James, it’s an estimate of a team’s winning percentage based on their runs scored and runs allowed) suggests that they should be 38-31 rather than 36-33.
Valentine obviously is not the one pitching and hitting, so when evaluating the team’s play it would be unfair to judge his performance on the same level as the players’. Because Valentine’s role is to put the players in positions to succeed, though, his decisions must be scrutinized in order to ensure that the Sox are getting everything they can out of their roster.
For the most part, Valentine’s decision-making has been strong. However, there have been moments this year where he has made some questionable choices that have cost the team.
While the good moments certainly outweigh the bad, let’s take a look at some of Valentine’s most puzzling decisions this season:
Kevin Youkilis over Will Middlebrooks
This ongoing drama needs to be put to rest. With his game-tying two-run home run last night, Will Middlebrooks has settled the debate over who should be the third baseman for the Sox.
After scuffling a bit early in the month of June after Youkilis returned, Middlebrooks has regained his stroke. Against the Marlins, he was 6-for-8 with a double, two home runs and seven RBI, rediscovering the power that has made him an instant fan-favorite in Boston.
Youkilis, meanwhile, continues to struggle. Since returning from the DL on May 22 he is hitting just .231 with 19 strikeouts in 78 at-bats.
Even though it may be painful, Valentine needs to commit to Middlebrooks. It is abundantly clear to everyone who is the better player, and continuing to play Youkilis could potentially stifle Middlebrooks’ development.
Not Pulling Daniel Bard from the Rotation Sooner
The Daniel Bard experiment ended about as catastrophically as possible with the right-hander’s historically bad start against the Blue Jays. It’s fair to wonder, though, if all this trouble could have been avoided sooner.
From the outset of spring training, it was apparent that Bard was not cut out to be a starter. He completely lost command of his pitches, and the velocity on his signature fastball completely vanished.
Valentine had a front row seat for all of these struggles, and yet he sat on his fans for over two months while Bard languished on the mound. The Sox had an opportunity early in the year to move Bard back to the bullpen, yet to both the pitcher and team’s detriment, stubbornly stuck with him as a starter.
While he may have been grappling with larger forces, Valentine nevertheless failed to put his foot down and extricate Bard from this bad situation. The result is that the promising pitcher is now struggling with Triple-A Pawtucket.
Public Criticism of Youkilis
Perhaps it was prescient of Valentine when he told a Boston TV station in April that Kevin Youkilis was not “as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason.” However, this might have been the type of comment better uttered in private than in public.
As a newcomer to Boston, Valentine likely did not realize the firestorm he was about to touch off. Regardless of their accuracy, the comments were ill-timed because of the team’s rocky start to the season and the fan base’s rapidly decreasing patience.
While Valentine should have known better—he did manage in New York, after all—it was good for him to get his “welcome to Boston” moment over and done with early on in the season.
While the uproar made it a hard lesson for Valentine to have to learn, it was nevertheless an important one in his development as Sox manager.
It seems as though every day, the Sox are trotting out a new lineup. While a huge portion of this lack of stability is due to the rash of injuries the team has suffered, Valentine does need to provide the team some continuity.
Apart from David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, it feels as if every player has been deployed in every possible lineup slot. The struggles of Adrian Gonzalez have complicated matters, but to most fans, the structure of the batting order seems relatively apparent.
The emergence of players like Middlebrooks and Daniel Nava has meant that the roles of each player have become more clearly defined. As he did with the bullpen, Valentine now needs to give the team more structure going forward.
Adrian Gonzalez in Right Field
A move birthed initially out of necessity, Gonzalez playing right field is no longer a wise choice. While it was certainly unselfish of Gonzalez to make the move, Valentine needs to recognize that it is not in the first baseman’s best interest.
Given how he has struggled this season, to return to normal Gonzalez needs to feel comfortable on the field. It’s going to be pretty hard for him to do that if he is continually being moved around.
When he is right, Gonzalez is one of the toughest hitters in MLB; he can hit for average and has 40-plus home run power, giving the Sox lineup incredible depth. He showed fans what he could do in the first half of last season, and it’s unlikely he simply forgot how to hit since then.
Valentine needs to abandon the right field experiment so that Gonzalez can return to his normal place on the diamond, which should then beget him also returning to his normal level of production at the plate.