John Farrell is an easy target for anyone who is furious over the Red Sox’ terrible start to the season, and a lot of it comes with the territory. When you’re the manager and things go wrong for an extended period of time — and I’d say the entire 2014 season plus two months of this one counts — you are under the microscope, by definition.
For now, it’s simple enough to say that Farrell has won the World Series in exactly half of his full seasons in Boston, a ratio that’s merely going to put Bruce Bochy in the Hall of Fame after a half-decade of success, and that his job is safe. On top of that, there is the constant caveat that Farrell does not play in the games himself and is ultimately a manager in the secular sense of the word. If we are constantly focusing on small decisions by managers, it’s perhaps because they’re the only decisions they make.
But this situation is alarming, and worth scrutinizing, because it’s either a) just baseball, and it happens, or b) something is wrong. If it’s “a,” then there’s nothing left to write, and we’re better off playing drone basketball. If it’s “b,” we’ve got to look at everyone and everything, even the guy at the helm with the granite chin.
As Matthew Kory and I talked about on a podcast yesterday, it seems likely that Ben Cherington consulted with Farrell, the former pitcher and pitching coach, before putting together a five-man rotation consisting of live arms. (Ironically, one of the dead ones hits 96 MPH.) The signing of Justin Masterson is a particular indictment of everyone involved. Masterson was terrible last year and there was no reason to think he’d suddenly be able to regularly retire lefties for the first time in his career.
Now: as fans, we were allowed to hope it, but I don’t think it was hope that led us to generally think the Red Sox had put together a low-ceiling, medium-floor rotation. I think it was trust, if only to trust the organization not to make its players worse. With errant, arrogant fireballer Kelly, plus Masterson — he of the ineffectual Juan Nieves mound visit to literally end all Nieves mound visits — they seem to have done exactly that.
In a vacuum, that’s not a problem, but it doesn’t help that the other offseason acquisitions, Rick Porcello and Wade Miley, have also done worse than last season. With Miley, it’s to be expected with his transition from the National League, and he was great for most of May, but it’s been nothing interesting. Porcello has been fine except for his sudden tendency to give up a ton of home runs.
Which is bad.
The offense isn’t much better, and while there’s even less Farrell can do about that than he can do about the pitching, the funk in which the hitters find themselves doesn’t seem to have been resolved by the team meeting Farrell called with a quintet of veteran hitters (David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Dustin Pedroia, Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez) over the weekend. It’s a pro forma move, but one that ultimately might get results, in the way of… something. We just don’t know.
More than anyone else, the manager is employed at the pleasure of the club. When your good decisions go well, everyone will recognize them as good decisions; when they backfire, they’ll likely notice them too.
If it doesn’t, then Farrell is in trouble. Pitchers deceive, but they do it directly; managers deceive indirectly, by definition. If he’s lost control of the narrative, the narrative will control him. Should it? I’m tempted to say no, but why the hell not? I have nothing against Farrell, but if your team meetings aren’t working, your pitchers aren’t working and your team can neither field a beach ball nor catch a break, you deserve the heat under your seat.
More than anyone else, the manager is employed at the pleasure of the club. When your good decisions go well, everyone will recognize them as good decisions; when they backfire, they’ll likely notice them too. When your bad decisions ultimately go right, like Brandon Workman hitting for himself in a critical World Series moment, as Kory reminded me on the podcast, most of us will forget it during the celebrations (I sure did). But when bad decisions go bad, they can compound, and suddenly those decisions don’t look so little. Farrell’s trying to get through this any way out there he can, but right now he doesn’t have his stuff. It’s an admirable, workman-like performance, but it’s not working.
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