Fans of the Boston Red Sox are still having nightmares of the horrendous 2012 season managed by the disappointing Bobby Valentine.
However, current manager John Farrell has fans awakening on Tuesday, June 11, to a much more pleasant 40-25 record and a surprising division lead.
Boston has made a complete turnaround from its last-place 69-93 finish last season. The team's improvement in virtually every facet of the game is a resounding testament to the job that Farrell has done as Red Sox manager.
As he was the pitching coach for the Red Sox from 2007-10, it seems fair to start with the job he has done with the Boston pitching staff. During Farrell's tenure as Boston's pitching coach, he oversaw the growth and development of current aces Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester.
In 2012, the pair of stars faced some of the worst struggles of their careers. Buchholz's 4.56 ERA helped him achieve an 11-8 record, while Lester's 4.82 ERA yielded a 9-14 mark.
Both of those guys have bounced back remarkably in 2013, with Buchholz leading the majors in ERA (1.71) and wins (9). Lester has been a tad bit less otherworldly, but his 3.60 ERA and 6-2 record are nothing to scoff at.
Before the season, Lester told ESPNBoston of the effect that Farrell has had on his career: "I think it’s a good thing. He helped mold me into the pitcher I am, the player I am. My work ethic, the work I do between starts, he really helped mold all of that."
Lester and Buchholz might be the most striking examples of improvements on the Boston pitching staff, but the unit, as a whole, has been fantastic. In 2012, Red Sox starters had an ERA of 5.19 for the third-worst such number in the majors. This season, their ERA has shrunk to a very respectable 3.63, which ranks eighth in the majors.
As good as Boston's pitching has been under Farrell's watch, the offense has been even better. Boston hitters have smashed 147 doubles and 74 home runs on the season, good enough for league ranks of first and seventh, respectively.
They also have been remarkably disciplined at the plate. Their .352 team on-base percentage is the best in the majors, and their 251 walks are eclipsed by only the Oakland A's.
In addition to creating runs with their ability to get on base and their power, the Red Sox have also generated runs on the basepaths. The Red Sox have stolen the sixth-most bases (45) in the majors and have the fifth-best stolen-base rate (80 percent). They also rank seventh in the majors with 20 sacrifice flies, which is a good indicator of situational hitting.
The versatile offense Farrell has helped to concoct distinguishes the Red Sox as the premiere offensive team in baseball. Boston paces the majors with an incredible 342 runs scored in 2013.
Part and parcel with the on-field success is the leadership that Farrell has brought with him to Boston. Last season, Valentine seemed to have no control of the clubhouse from the beginning. Whether it was Dustin Pedroia calling out Valentine in public after the manager insulted former teammate Kevin Youkilis or the purported undermining by his coaching staff, affairs under Valentine were simply a mess.
How good a fit is John Farrell in Boston?
Farrell, on the other hand, has set a good precedent for leadership. He has the whole team working toward the singular goal of winning games and is not afraid to take action against players who hinder that. When Alfredo Aceves disgraced the team after allowing seven earned runs over 3.1 innings in an April 23 start against the A's, Farrell was quick to take action.
After the game, Farrell admitted to ESPNBoston, "It's hard to figure out what you're going to get out of Alfredo on a given day." He also mentioned that he felt that "there seemed to be a lack of focus" in Aceves' outing.
The very next day, the Red Sox optioned Aceves to Triple-A Pawtucket, sending the clear message that the kind of effort his pitcher showed was intolerable.
Farrell has shown that he is willing to make tough game decisions that he feels will help the team win.
In the ninth inning of an April 13 contest against the Rays, Farrell brought in closer Joel Hanrahan in an attempt to keep the score knotted at 1-1. However, after Hanrahan walked the first two batters of the inning on 12 pitches, Farrell made the surprising decision to pull him in favor of Koji Uehara. Uehara kept the inherited runners stranded on the basepaths, and the Red Sox went on to walk off with the win in the 10th inning.
Giving a two-time All-Star closer so short a leash is almost unheard of, but Farrell felt it was the right move: "I felt like it was time to make a move right there. He's pitching in some tight spots, and I know that's the life of a closer, but at that point, it was time to make a move"
Veteran outfielder Jonny Gomes praised the bold decision-making of his manager, but he did not mention any specific examples. It's tough to disagree with his assessment, as those kinds of moves take intuition, courage and an unwavering focus on winning.
Farrell has by no means been perfect with his decisions, but when he makes a mistake, he is willing to admit it. During the fifth inning of a May 18 game against the Twins, the Red Sox were nursing a 7-4 lead. Farrell decided to leave struggling starter Ryan Dempster in the game to put the veteran in line for the win. Dempster could not get the job done, and he was yanked before the inning was over.
When asked about the decision to keep his starter in the game, Farrell was candid and admitted his error: "In hindsight probably should have [made] the move at the time. But, still, it’s a veteran guy who’s fine physically in terms of his arm. Trying to get him the last out in the fifth to give him a chance to get a win"
That kind of accountability really helps gain the respect of players. Not only that, but Farrell's confidence in Dempster that night was emblematic of the relationship he has created with his players.
Buchholz summed up the sentiments of his team after Farrell made his decision:
The fact he was given that opportunity will make Demp feel better about the whole situation. It's huge. It's been good what has happened with this team. Everybody on this [team] gets along and supports each other. That's the coaches and the players. It didn't work out for John this time. But I bet that pays off down the road in other ways.
Buchholz's words certainly resonate throughout New England, as Red Sox fans are excited that their team has found an excellent manager to lead for years to come.