In spite of some difficult recent history, the Boston Red Sox have managed to establish themselves as surprise contenders early in the 2013 season. They currently sit just half a game outside of first place after sweeping the Minnesota Twins.
One of the myriad of possible reasons why the Red Sox have been able to play so well is the work of new manager, John Farrell. The team’s former pitching coach is in his first year at the position after a brief stint with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Many credit Farrell with Boston’s brilliant first quarter of baseball, but just how good has he been? Here is a detailed breakdown of Farrell’s managerial performance in various aspects of the game. Let’s see how well he’s done.
At the start of the season, fans and writers had painfully low expectations for the Red Sox rotation. To say that they have surpassed those expectations would be a tragic understatement.
Led by aces Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, Boston’s rotation has posted a strong 3.83 ERA and a very solid 2.51 K/BB ratio. Red Sox starters also rank third in the league in WAR, with a 6.9 mark, per FanGraphs.
Furthermore, Lester and Buchholz are both on track for career years and are early front-runners for the Cy Young award.
How does it all relate to Farrell?
Well it’s quite simple. Both Lester and Buchholz were once young pitchers under Farrell’s tutelage during the current manager’s previous stint as the team’s pitching coach. With Farrell’s guidance and positive attitude helping to guide their efforts once again, Lester and Buchholz have pitched as well as anyone in the majors.
Farrell’s work in the rotation has really been excellent. The only tarnish on his record has been the lackluster work of Felix Doubront. While the inexperienced lefty has managed to hold onto a winning record, his 6.03 ERA and 5.30 K/BB rate tell an entirely different story.
Despite his ugly statistics, I find it very difficult to place a significant amount of blame on Farrell’s shoulders. One can only hope that he and pitching coach Juan Nieves have been working with Doubront on honing his control and secondary offerings. With the right support, Doubront could develop into a quality mid-rotation starter.
Much of what has gone wrong in the bullpen this year has been completely outside of Farrell’s control. Who could have possible predicted that both of Boston’s All-Star closers would end up on the disabled list in the first few weeks of the season? Anyone? Didn’t think so.
Despite being handed a bit of a rag-tag bullpen, Farrell has managed to pull together a very strong relief corps.
Red Sox relievers has managed a decent 4.07 ERA through 126 innings of work, many of which were pitched without the help of Andrew Bailey or Joel Hanrahan. That’s not too shabby at all.
There are some areas for improvement.
Former minor league starter Alex Wilson has proved to be one of the bullpen’s most reliable arms. Despite his quality work, he has been almost exclusively relegated to low-pressure, mop-up duty. It’s high time Farrell start trusting the young right-hander in tougher situations.
On a slightly more pertinent note, Red Sox current closer Junichi Tazawa is struggling to find a consistent approach on the mound. While his 2.95 ERA is very strong, he’s still giving up home runs at an alarming rate and allowing almost a hit per inning—issues that can be devastating for a closer.
One possible reason for this regression is that he has changed his pitch approach.
Last season when Tazawa established himself as a quality big league reliever, he was throwing his best pitch, a split-fingered fastball, more than 30 percent of the time. This year, he’s only throwing the pitch half as often and is relying too heavily on his heater to get hitters out.
Such a pattern suggests that he may not be receiving ideal coaching in the area. A quality secondary pitch is extremely important for a big-game reliever. If Tazawa cannot trust his splitter, his future may not be as bright as we hope.
For a former pitching coach, Farrell sure knows how to put together a lineup card. Farrel’s go-to lineup this year has been as follows:
Daniel Nava/Jonny Gomes
Jarrod Saltalamacchia/David Ross
There has certainly been some shuffling around in that area, but the lineup has remained, more or less, unchanged.
That is a great lineup right there. It’s well balanced with both righties and lefties. The top three batters can get on base and run well. The middle of the order is loaded with power, and there isn’t an automatic out anywhere in there.
I particularly appreciate Farrell’s policy of giving hitters rest days. Often when you hear about players receiving mandatory rest days, it relates more to pitchers trying to keep their arms fresh and healthy.
However, hitters need rest just as much as pitchers, especially if they are in the midst of a funk at the plate. Often that one day off is just what is needed for a talented, slumping hitter to hit the rest button and get his timing back.
One of the most refreshing differences between John Farrell and his predecessor Bobby Valentine has been his extremely professional handling of the media.
Even during his time as a pitching coach, Farrell was known for being an intellectual person who helps his pitchers learn from their mistakes rather than growing impatient. He’s been extremely levelheaded. Even when players make most painful mistakes, Farrell is always calm and analytical in his discussion of the situation.
Farrell’s transparency with the media should also be praised. When discussing injuries to players, Farrell is careful not to sugarcoat or overstate the seriousness of any particular disabled list stint.
But most important of all, Farrell has taken a page out of the Terry Francona handbook and become a real players’ manager.
Instead of throwing his own players under the bus for mistakes, he will often praise his team’s work ethic and blame himself for a loss. This approach not only inspires his players, but also helps prevent the media from conjuring up wild stories about players slacking off.
As mentioned in the previous slide, Farrell has quickly established himself as a players’ manager and a dependable coach.
Farrell is always very cautious with his players when it comes to injuries and struggles on the field, often giving days off to players who need them. Case in point, he’s been very careful with Andrew Bailey’s recent injury, and has publicly asked the closer to not play through any discomfort at all. It is clear that he cares deeply about the well-being of his players.
One area of improvement I can see is Farrell calling for regular team meetings, something that he now feels is not necessary.
Making sure the entire team is on the same page is a key step in building success. However, the limited meeting time is a very small area of concern, one that should not draw from his overall success in the clubhouse.
In the following quote from Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, Farrell effectively sums up much of his philosophy:
It’s important for those players to know that [the coaches] believe in our guys, that we like this team. It’s our job to help support them and get them back on track and the track they’ve been very successful on.
Let’s be honest, Farrell has done smashingly well in Boston so far. While there are some minor blemishes on his resume that have been noted in the previous slides, Farrell’s first couple of months on the job have been a huge success.
So now, as Boston sits just half a game out of first place, Red Sox fans can only hope that Farrell’s influence will help the Red Sox harness the strength to capture the top spot permanently once again.
Overall Grade: A-