Sunday, October 27, 2013

Red Sox fans should blame Farrell, not umpires

As my regular readers know, I am a Red Sox fan. Many of my posts are from a Red Sox viewpoint, so while I often try to remain objective (unbiased is the wrong word - all commentary should have a bias), that viewpoint is important to keep in mind. So, with that in mind...

I obviously have thoughts on last night's game. About 10 minutes after, when it became clear that the call was correct* it was that the only thing worse than losing a game on a bad call is losing on a good one. In hockey and basketball there is often a mentality of "let the teams play," meaning that the calls should only be on egregious fouls rather than decided by officials. Baseball isn't like that. Every play has a call, even if it isn't necessarily a close call. Hit a routine ground out to the shortstop? The first base umpire still calls you out. When your favorite team loses on a bad call, there is an outlet for the frustration. "Those stupid umpires blew it for us!" When it's the right call, though? All you can do is shake your head and find other outlets for the frustration. In this case, Red Sox manager John Farrell left us with plenty.

*There's really no debate about this. Middlebrooks was in the base path. If you are one of the many people who has posted the picture of a clear baseline on facebook or another social media outlet, stop it. The baseline is not the base path, and if you played little league baseball or have watched more than a half-dozen games in your life, YOU KNOW THAT. Complaining about the umpires is a big reason why people hate Red Sox fans. You're contributing to people hating me, so stop it.

John Farrell's night last night was almost a complete disaster. He started the game out decently, finally giving Daniel Nava a start over Jonny Gomes' winning enthusiasm. I like Gomes and all, but the Red Sox were beating right-handed pitching in spite of him, not because of him. Nava was one of the best hitters against right-handed pitching in baseball in 2013, and he wasn't allowed to play against them in the playoffs, and it put the team's chances in peril. On Saturday, Nava got the start and excelled. It was unsurprising.

The wheels started to come off of the Farrell managerial machine in the late innings. There has been some talk about the decision to replace Stephen Drew with Will Middlebrooks - Middlebrooks went 0 for 2, an infield hit to Bogaerts likely would've been an out if Drew was there, Adams' double might have been an out with Bogaerts at third, and, of course, the final play of the game. To me, though, that's criticizing the result more than the decision. Drew looked lost at the plate, and Middlebrooks gained a platoon advantage at a time it was needed. The risk was obvious in the move, but the potential reward made it a sensible move.

The mistake came when it came to Brandon Workman. When he entered the game, he came in the #9 spot in the lineup- due up second in the top of the ninth inning. Farrell could have double-switched David Ross into that spot, giving the team a defensive upgrade and a short-term offensive one - if Saltalamachhia's spot comes up again, either the Red Sox had a big inning, or they'd gotten into extras. Farrell didn't do that, leaving Workman's spot in the lineup.

That would have been defensible, if - IF - Farrell's plan all along was to bat Napoli in the ninth inning for Workman. No reason, after all, to burn the backup catcher when there's an even better offensive upgrade to be made. But Farrell did not do that. He let Brandon Workman bat in the ninth inning of a tie game of the World Series.

Read that last sentence again.

With one out and nobody on in the ninth inning of the World Series, John Farrell sent up his pitcher to hit. And it wasn't his shutdown reliever Koji Uehara, it was set-up man, fourth-guy-out-of-the-pen Brandon Workman. Okay.

So Workman strikes out, of course, because it's the first time he's had a bat in his hands since 2008 and the pitcher throws 100. Workman comes back out for the ninth, he pitches to only two batters! The guy so indispensable that he couldn't be removed for a pinch hitter who is the second-best power hitter on the entire team was taken out after two batters!

Let's take a little trip down memory lane. Remember 2003? The Red Sox were leading Game 7 of the ALCS. Grady Little left a gassed Pedro Martinez in to lose the lead. The move led to Pedro Martinez getting fired.

How about 1986? Bill Buckner remained in the game instead of Dave Stapleton, a superior defensive player. It took 18 months, but John McNamara got fired. In Lou Gorman's book One Pitch From Glory, he makes it clear that Jean Yawkey had wanted to fire McNamara immediately after the series.

Farrell's managing last night was much, much worse than either of those managing blunders. Pedro Martinez was the greatest pitcher of his time - Little trusted him too much to get out of a jam. It was a mistake, but when it was made, everyone rooting for Boston wasn't saying - "boy, that was dumb." We were rooting for Martinez to make it through, because he was all of our favorite pitcher. We were scared it was a mistake, but not convinced of it.

I was too young to remember Buckner in 1986, but beyond McNamara infamously wanting him to be on the field to celebrate, Buckner was the superior hitter to Stapleton. Leaving him in the game may have had some logic in it.

Last night, though? Leaving Workman hit, even though Uehara was ready to come in and Workman was only going to pitch to two more batters? It's not second-guessing to call that foolish - it was obviously nuts at the time. It was - at the risk of exaggerating - the worst mistake I can remember a manager making. John Farrell clearly does a good job with game preparation, and the team plays hard for him. But game strategy is important, and like Ron Washington and Texas, Farrell is bad at it. It's crazy to think about after this years turn-around, but if he doesn't improve on his tactics, it will be a short stint in the Red Sox dugout.

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