I was watching the Sox on Sunday when something caught my eye. In the middle of an at-bat, suddenly Pablo Sandoval went running across the diamond and took a fielding position not far from first base. (I was Pablo, so it was hard to miss him.) They were putting on a defensive shift for the batter.
Now, there’s nothing new about shifts, obviously. There’s not even anything new about doing it in the middle of a batter. Joe Maddon, for some reason, is often given credit for shifting his shifts all over the place depending on the count. It wasn’t even all that shocking to send Pablo over instead of just moving Xander Bogaerts over. If I have one guy in charge of covering an entire side of the infield, it wouldn’t take much thought before picking Xander over Panda.
But, it was just something that struck me. There are different ways to shift, and different places to position the fielders to gain the most advantage.
And I doubt John Farrell came up with a single one of them. Nor, for that matter, does Joe Maddon. They’re all the result of intense statistical analysis. Some computer somewhere spit out the fact that 75% of David Ortiz’s ground balls end up in this general area of the field. So, Farrell put a guy there. Which made me wonder…what does Farrell do?
No, this isn’t a knock on Farrell. Just wondering if the game has changed the way managers are used. The numbers are all done by someone else, right? Whether to bring the infield in is just something off a chart. Ahead by one in the seventh or down by three in the third? Pick it off. Like “going for two” in the NFL. Does this mean that every manager these days is just a guy to keep all the players happy?
After the Sox fired one of their managers…I think it was Grady Little after he ignored some of the data the front office supplied…someone wondered if the Sox should just hire Dr. Phil to manage. He could manage the ego, and the computers would take care of the game decisions. Is that what managers have evolved into?
Is Joe Maddon’s greatest asset that he knows when to shift, or that he can get “grown ass” men to dress up in ridiculous costumes for no reason? Do the Red Sox need Farrell’s game decisions, or just someone who can gently tell Pedroia that he’s sitting down for a game because the numbers show he isn’t hitting? When Joe Torre was getting all his Manager of the Year consideration despite managing with the highest payroll in the history of baseball, people said he deserved it because he was able to manage all those egos. Are great tactical managers a waste of resources?
What do the Sox need from John Farrell?