I should be upset about splitting a double header at home against Baltimore, but can you really be upset when a team that has lost fourteen of the past seventeen wins a game? Sure it was against Baltimore, sure the pitcher they were facing a pitcher with a 9.84 ERA (and that was before he gave up six runs in an inning and two thirds), and sure the same old problems were there, at least in the starting pitching department. But for part of one day I'm checking my pessimism at the door, people. We got Bedard and Beckett going today and tomorrow. Hopefully that's enough to
run out the clock win some games.
The Red Sox have had a September to forget. Unfortunately for them, nobody is forgetting yet. There are calls for the team's front office and coaching staff to be held responsible for the team's failures, which I imagine they will be, though probably not in the way that many people mean. One of those people calling from the proverbial rooftops is Yahoo's Jeff Passan who wrote a scathing article on the Red Sox failures. It's long, though don't let that stop you from reading it. (Craig Calcaterra over at Hardball Talk wrote a rebuttal to Passan that's also worth reading.) There's much to digest here, so let's go through it.
1. John Lackey - Free agents are often over-paid (relatively speaking) as to sign one you have to be the highest bidder. So the issue here isn't how well are the players producing or what are their salaries, believe it or not. The issue is, was it reasonable to expect good performance from the two for close to the duration of their contracts. I can't speak for the Red Sox front office, but I didn't expect either player to be close to this bad, nor did I read any articles suggesting so. John Lackey looked like a number three or maybe if we got lucky, a number two starter to me at the time of his signing. Instead he's a number six, i.e. he probably shouldn't be in the rotation now. Was it reasonable to think he'd be this bad? I don't think it was. It wasn't a contract I'd have given out, but his current performance falls far to the edge of the spectrum of possible outcomes.
2. Carl Crawford- Ditto for Crawford who was universally seen as a premium player coming into the 2010 season. The odds he would have 0.4 fWAR by mid September were such that had you bet on it you'd be buying a nice house in a good neighborhood with your winnings. Crawford might be over-paid, but again, that really isn't the point. It was more than reasonable to expect him to play far above the level he has played at this season, at least somewhere around his career norm as opposed to twenty leagues under the sea below it, and killing the front office for this signing reeks of Monday Morning Quarterbacking.
3. Dustin Pedroia - Pedroia is a legitimate MVP candidate who has had a rough couple weeks at the plate. I don't see any reason Pedroia's slump reflects negatively on the jobs either Theo Epstein or Terry Francona have done, nor on the player himself. Pedroia is having a great season so far and this is just a blip. Regardless, there's no reason two bad weeks by the MVP candidate second baseman should shine a bad light on the GM.
4. Jon Lester. A couple bad starts that, again, happened to coincide with slumps and bad starts from the rest of the team. Should he be better than that? No, actually. Players have slumps, and pitchers have bad starts. It happens to everyone. Everyone. Bad timing in this case, but again, I don't see how two lousy starts by a top line starter reflects poorly on Epstein.
5. Erik Bedard. Ah, now we're actually getting somewhere. Epstein traded for Bedard at the deadline this season, a move I advocated for at the time. What's more, Epstein nixed a deal for A's starter Rich Harden over health concerns and then turned around and dealt for Bedard. Not surprisingly Bedard has pitched well when he's been healthy and also not surprisingly, he's only been healthy a bit over half the time. I think this is a fair criticism. I still like the Bedard deal, but it wasn't enough by itself to cover for the struggles of Lackey and Wakefield and the inept filling in by Weiland and Miller. A better question might be was it fair for Epstein to see those struggles coming?
6. Terry Francona. I've had my bones to pick with some of Francona's moves recently, but you don't lose 14 of 17 by not pinch hitting once or twice, by sac bunting a few times too often or by switching out a reliever or two. That comes down to performance and while Francona may have some affect on that in the margins, he's not a football coach (as Passan rightly points out). He can't gameplan to help John Lackey throw better pitches. Ultimately for good or bad, that's on the player, and that's on the front office for signing that player. Remember, this is the same manager who is 8-0 in World Series games. I bring that up not to shout down any criticism, but for some perspective. This isn't a guy who walked in off the street. He hasn't lost the team because he called for a bunt once too often or started Player A over Player B.
7. Injuries. The Red Sox do seem to get injured at an abnormally high rate. Part of that is probably team age. When you have older players, they tend to get hurt more often. Maybe, as Buster Olney suggested over twitter, part of it is some players not being in proper shape. Was Kevin Youkilis' sports hernia the product of a not-vigorous-enough weight regime in the off season? I suppose it's possible though it sounds unlikely. Was Carl Crawford's hamstring pull and recent stiff neck the result of training too hard? I mean, maybe? How about Clay Buchholz's broken back? At a certain point you have to chalk some of this up to rotten luck.
8. Pitcher Depth. I covered this in a recent article here at OTM and I think it still holds true. I'm not sure if any team is prepared for the run of injuries to starting pitchers that the Red Sox have endured this year. Pick a team at random, find their tenth best starter and throw him into a major league pennant race. I'm guessing it won't turn out well. Should the Sox have given Kevin Millwood a chance? Probably. Should they have acquired Jeremy Guthrie or a similar starter? In a vacuum maybe so, though without knowing what talent teams were demanding in return it's hard to say the Red Sox made a mistake. The minor league system wasn't ready to fill in for all the injuries the team suffered and that's where things got (and remain) rough. I suppose that is on the GM, though if a meteor strikes the country it's the President's fault in some way even though you'd be silly to not vote for him based on that.
9. Theo Epstein. He assembled this M*A*S*H unit and so he'll ultimately take the credit or the blame for the results. He could have assembled a deeper pitching staff, though going into the year the pitching staff appeared plenty deep. He could have signed other free agents (or none at all) but the ones he did sign were widely expected to be useful players. He could have hired a new training staff or dealt players who were known to be out of shape, but at a certain point turning into a taskmaster about fitness becomes self-defeating.
To me the two legitimate criticisms are that ee could have traded for more and/or different starting pitchers at the deadline and he could have held on to Kevin Millwood. While both of those are true they presuppose that Epstein could see the pitching injuries coming around the corner. I'm not sure he could be fairly expected to do so.
In the end, this is mostly Monday Morning QBing. I'm sure Passan had his disagreements with some of the moves the Red Sox have made over the years which have led to assembling the roster, but taken individually, most of Epstein's moves were universally liked. Understand, that doesn't make them good moves, but it makes them the best moves one can make with the knowledge available at the time. I'm not sure what else you could fairly ask for.
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For those of you who will be pissed about not having any links, I offer you these in brief:
- MLB Trade Rumors wonders if GMs really learn from bad contracts.
- More Hardball Talk (video): Craig and an attractive blonde discuss how screwed the Red Sox are.
- At Baseball Prospectus, Jay Jaffe looks at some other teams who have performed poorly at the end of the year and still made the playoffs.
- Finally, Grant Brisbee is funny.