Monday, November 7, 2016

Managing with Farrell

Torey Lovullo was introduced as the new manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks today. That officially puts an end to his tenure as bench coach for the Red Sox under John Farrell. This news seems to have lots of people aghast, or upset, or both. Many people thought that Lovullo was the next Red Sox manager in waiting. After the Sox gave him a huge contract last season to bench coach, many people assumed it was because he would become manager when (not if) Farrell was fired. Obviously, not only was Farrell not fired, he was given a vote of confidence from Dave Dombrowski almost immediately following the season. He is coming back. It seems clear that Lovullo was being kept not as a safety net in case the Sox no longer wanted Farrell to manage, but in case Farrell’s health no longer allowed him to manage. Once that seemed to not be an issue, Lovullo was allowed to move on.

Which, of course, drives people who think Farrell is a bad manager nuts. They pick apart his in-game managing. They point to all the games that they claim Farrell cost them. They get all prickly when they hear Dombrowski say that in-game managing might not be the most important part of the job. “See! Even he thinks Farrell is a bad manager…he’s just touchy-feely so the players like him!” But, of course, that’s not the case at all. And I would have thought that this most recent playoffs would have proven it.

First, let’s explore the need for an in-game manager, and its importance. Think of all the decisions a manager needs to make. How many of them involve strategy within the game? Batting line-ups? No. Pitching rotations? No. Stealing a base? Yes. Bunting? Yes. But, those decisions are just a small fraction of what a manager has to do. Being good at that, or not, is not what you need to make a team successful. Just ask Bobby Valentine. I’m pretty sure he was considered one of the best in-game managers around. But, his team went no-where. People (incorrectly) shudder when they hear his name. All the correct decisions he made when it came to using a bullpen suddenly aren’t that important. He blew all the other stuff.

Obviously Farrell is pretty good at all the other stuff. But, can he do the in-game managing at all? Is he costing them game after game? 

The biggest complaint I hear about Farrell is his bullpen use. He doesn’t know how to use his closers. He keeps bringing them in at the wrong times. He doesn’t know how to use the rest of his pen. He’ll bring a guy in too early. Or too late. He falls in love with a guy, and overworks him while letting another option rot from underuse. But, then we saw these playoffs. Buck Showalter was roundly criticized for using his closer exactly the way everyone thinks a closer should be used. He didn’t bring him into a tie game on the road, and saved him for a save situation. Just like everyone keeps insisting that Farrell needs to learn how to do. The fact that Showalter is getting crushed is further proof that the decisions aren’t important…the results are.

Did you see the World Series? Managed by two of the great in-game managers, Joe Maddon and Terry Francona. I seem to remember Francona being faulted for not going to his pen earlier in game seven. He should have pulled the starter sooner, but waited a batter too long, and it cost him. Of course, Maddon got the opposite complaint. He pulled a starter that was moving right along too soon. He paid the price, and it almost cost him the series.

What about that problem with falling in love with guys? Did either of them fall in love with guys? I’d say they did. Did they both fall in love with a guy? Yup. Did they fall in love with them to the point that they overused them? Yup. Did that decision cost them? Yup. The fact that Maddon went to Chapman in a blowout because he didn’t trust anyone else almost cost him the World Series. Should have cost him the World Series. While Francona had less choice when it came to overusing Miller, he did end up allowing runs the Indians sure needed to stay off the board. So, maybe Farrell isn’t the only manager who loses trust in some of his players every once in a while.

Maybe it’s just that we see Farrell manage more. Maybe it’s because we’re so vested in all of his decisions. Maybe it’s because we only remember the bad decisions. Because I just saw three of the best managers in the game (Showalter, Francona, and Maddon) make the exact mistakes that people complain about Farrell making. And then some. I saw Joe Maddon call for a bunt with two strikes and a runner on third. I saw Francona call for a bunt to move along a runner already in scoring position. Those were just the mistakes in a single postseason. Imagine if we watched those three managers all year. Maybe once we had to live with those decisions every game, we’d think they were just as bad. Maybe we’d give them nicknames like Fran-coma. Maybe that’s just how managers are thought about. Maybe Farrell’s really just as good as those other three. We just pick on him more. Or, maybe results matter more than decisions.

Either way, perhaps people who have been relentlessly calling for the dismissal of Farrell haven’t been fair. It certainly looks like we just notice his flaws more than the managers in the other dugouts. After watching this postseason, I didn’t see anything that made me say “Farrell couldn’t have done that.” 

However, I saw plenty of cases where I thought, “That’s just what Farrell would have done.”


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