The Red Sox have earned plenty of plaudits for the way they’ve played over the final weeks of a meaningless stretch run. Much of the focus has centered on how well the club’s core group of youngsters has performed, and indeed the players deserve loads of credit.
A little less attention has been paid to interim manager Torey Lovullo, however, who inherited a difficult situation when John Farrell stepped away from the team after being diagnosed with lymphoma. Few could have blamed Boston for simply limping to the finish line after falling out of playoff contention.
But the Red Sox have done just the opposite since Lovullo stepped in as manager. Over 44 games with Lovullo at the helm, Boston has gone 28-16 with a +81 run differential and climbed into third place in the AL East. The pitching has improved mightily in the last six weeks, and the offense has been among the best in baseball over that time span, averaging just under six runs per game.
Measuring a manager’s impact is notoriously difficult, and even the best need good players to succeed. Lovullo has certainly benefited from a starting rotation that is vastly better than its early-season incarnation, though he has done well handling a bullpen bereft of Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa.
For the Red Sox, the dilemma now becomes what to do about their managerial situation. Dave Dombrowski didn’t hire any of the current coaching staff, and when asked about Farrell’s future earlier in the year, he wasn’t ready commit to anything given the question marks about the manager’s health.
To be sure, the club shouldn’t just push Farrell out the door, especially considering all he’s faced over the last six weeks. Yet Lovullo, too, deserves to be treated fairly, and if he isn’t going to get an opportunity in Boston, he should be free to explore any openings elsewhere.
The big question mark, of course, is whether Farrell will be capable of managing the team next season. For someone going through serious health issues, that’s a huge commitment, and as others have suggested, perhaps a front office position will work better for both sides at this juncture. Farrell does have prior experience in such a role, having previously served as director of player development in Cleveland.
Is Lovullo the right man to step in for Farrell on a permanent basis, though? If you’re the Red Sox, there are plenty of reasons to like what Lovullo offers. He has experience working in Boston and hasn’t appeared at all fazed by the media scrutiny that constantly surrounds the squad (though much of the pressure has diminished since the team fell out of contention).
Lovullo has first-hand knowledge of the organization and has already established working relationships with the decision-makers in the front office.
In addition, he has first-hand knowledge of the organization and has already established working relationships with the decision-makers in the front office. He’s well aware, in other words, just how the Red Sox try to implement their progressive thinking onto the field. And there must also be a certain comfort level he’s established working and succeeding with the current group of players that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
For Dombrowski, who has made few big changes and chosen instead to maintain stability within baseball operations, all of these factors must make Lovullo appealing. Hanging onto Lovullo would be a decision that fits right into how Dombrowski has gone about his business in Boston thus far.
That doesn’t mean he’ll be satisfied without conducting a managerial search of his own, of course. Despite the club’s success over the past couple months, the Red Sox have underperformed on the whole this season, and the coaching staff’s culpability should be assessed. Perhaps Dombrowski decides that a new voice is simply needed for the best interests of the team.
Nevertheless, sticking with Lovullo would eliminate many of the unknowns that come with hiring a new manager you know less about than an internal candidate. Since he took over, Lovullo has succeeded in just about every way a manager’s impact can be measured. From his usage of the pitching staff, to his handling of the clubhouse and his comfort in speaking with the media, he couldn’t have done a better job. Given his multiple years of experience in the organization, he seems more than capable of acting as a bridge between the front office and the players on the field.
Most importantly, the Red Sox have won under Lovullo’s leadership. How much credit he deserves can always be debated, but he could hardly have performed better in an interim capacity.
Maybe this late-season success will prove to be a mirage, and the current confidence in Lovullo’s abilities as a manager similarly misplaced. Judging by the facts we know, however, he’s shown all the qualities that Boston’s brass should want in the managerial role.
If Dombrowski views the Red Sox’s impressive stretch run as a sign of what’s to come in 2016, he might also realize that Boston currently has a capable manager in the dugout.
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