When baseball teams are struggling during a season, the blame usually falls at the feet of the manager. This isn’t always fair, but it’s reality. Replacing the players isn’t that easy, but replacing the manager is. Brandon Magee spells out why Red Sox Manager John Farrell must be let go.
As the Boston Red Sox continue to lose ball games and fall further behind in the race for the American League East, assignment of blame continues unabated. All areas of the organization, from the front office to the coaching staff to the players, have had fingers pointed at them as the reason for the Red Sox’ doldrums. While an assessment of what went wrong can be useful, it has not changed the fortunes of this team.
Last week, Rick Rowand wrote a reasoned response to those who want to dismiss the manager. In the article, Rick assigned blame, correctly, to the struggles of the Red Sox veteran offensive core. However, he could have written about the pitching struggles that led to the Red Sox replacing Juan Nieves with Carl Willis. He could have talked about the hilarious outfield defense from Hanley Ramirez and Rusney Castillo. He could have discussed the defensive struggles of infielders Pablo Sandoval, a gold glove finalist last year, Mike Napoli, who has been a very good defensive first baseman in the previous two years, or Dustin Pedroia, a four time gold glove recipient who has had some unbecoming defensive lapses. He could have discussed the difficulties of integrating younger players – Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart – into a team. Clearly, much has gone wrong for the 2015 Boston Red Sox.
However, while the team, as constructed, is clearly flawed, the conclusion that no manager could repair it seems pessimistic. While it is true that managerial changes rarely make a large difference in a given season, much of that is due to the nature of the teams changing managers. Teams that are playing well do not tend to change managers. The unfortunate truth is that most teams that are not playing well are not very good teams. Changing managers may help a little, but is unlikely to make a big difference at the end of the season.
The last Red Sox mid-season managerial change was in 2001. On August 16th, after losing six of seven games, the Red Sox dismissed Jimy Williams and promoted pitching coach Joe Kerrigan to manager. The Red Sox, at 65-53, were five games back of the New York Yankees in the American League East and two games behind the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card race. Dan Duquette’s gambit failed, Joe Kerrigan guided the Sox to a 17-26 record the rest of the way. In truth, the Red Sox were unlikely to have caught either the Yankees (who ended up 13 ½ games ahead of the Sox at the end of the year) or the A’s (who went 34-8 the rest of the way), but Duquette did not feel like the manager was the correct fit for the team and made a change.
There have been mid-season managerial changes that have changed the fortunes of past Red Sox clubs. The 1988 Red Sox dismissed John McNamara during the All-Star Break when they were 43-42. Just two years prior, McNamara had guided the team to within a single strike of a World Series Championship. New manager Joe Morgan, long time minor league manager and the third base coach under McNamara, quickly turned the fortunes of the team. At the time of the change, the Red Sox were in fourth place in the American League East, nine games back of the Detroit Tigers. The Sox immediately won twelve consecutive games and nineteen of 20, vaulting themselves into a tie for first place with the Tigers. Joe Morgan and the 1988 Red Sox would eventually hold off the Detroit Tigers, winning the AL East by a single game and going to the ALCS. Lou Gorman saw a team capable of winning but failing under their current manager and made a change. A change that worked.
The Red Sox – currently nine games under .500, eight and a half games behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East, seven and a half games behind the Minnesota Twins and the New York Yankees for the wild card, and holders of the second worst record in the American League – need to make a decision. Is John Farrell – whose team finished in last place last season, and finished fourth in both his seasons managing in Toronto – the man to continue to lead this club? While he must get credit for the Red Sox World Championship in 2013, the lustre of that accomplishment is fading with each loss. Since the Duck Boats made their triumphant lap around Boston, Farrell has led the Sox to a record of 102-142. That is not good, especially with a roster of former All-Stars such as David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Pablo Sandoval and the many other veterans on the team over the past two seasons. While Farrell does not appear to make any egregious errors and is willing to make subtle changes to the lineup to attempt to get the best out of the club, his demeanor may be too subdued for this particular Red Sox cast.
The Red Sox have not been shy about dismissing their managers. Grady Little was let go after leading the team to the seventh game of the 2003 American League Championship Series. Terry Francona was dismissed after two World Championships. While the current ownership has not made a managerial change in-season, desperate times bring desperate measures.
The question of whether Farrell deserves to be assigned the blame for the underachieving Red Sox is hard to answer. He probably does not, he is a steady enough hand that doesn’t make many egregious errors. However, that isn’t the correct question to ask. Are the Red Sox going to improve under the steady hand of John Farrell? The answer has been demonstrated on the field by a multitude of different ballplayers over the past two seasons. The answer is a resounding NO. A different voice is necessary. The failing Farrell must be let go.