Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE
The Red Sox have got their man in former pitching coach John Farrell. So why was he their top choice?
Like most of you, I was in the midst of Saturday revelry when the news broke that Boston had worked out a deal to bring John Farrell back into the fold, this time as Red Sox manager. In doing so, Boston passed over the four other men they had interviewed in the past week, and also needed to compensate Toronto for snagging their manager away. Thus, Mike Aviles is now a Blue Jay, and the Sox got Farrell and a hatrack. Sorry, a "major-league pitcher" named David Carpenter, whose main purpose seemed to be to inspire a thousand hacky jokes on Twitter. See, his name is Carpenter, and the name of the guy Boston got from Chicago in compensation for Theo Epstein is also Carpenter. Hilarious!
That Boston was willing to not only pass over four qualified candidates, but also give up their starting shortstop, makes it pretty clear that Farrell was their top choice right from the start. And so the question becomes, why? Managerial hires are basically impossible to read. There aren't any quick and easy stats to look at, other than maybe steal/sacrifice tendencies and bullpen usage, and even those are in many ways at least as reflective of the roster and larger organizational philosophies as of managerial tendencies. Additionally, so much of a manager's job (as we all watched this year) has nothing to do with in-game strategy. With that in mind, all we can really do to figure out why the Sox hired Farrell is speculate. So let's do that.
Theory #1: Magical Pitching Powers
Boston's finished out of the running the last two years because their pitching has flat-out sucked. Of Boston's starting staff this year, the only one to finish the year with an ERA under 4.5 was Franklin Morales, and he only started nine games. In particular, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, the two anchors of the rotation for the foreseeable future, underperformed. Buchholz was unwatchably, dreadfully, send-him-back-to-Pawtucket terrible to open the year, got back on the horse for a few months, and then lost it again in September. Jon Lester just was kinda lousy all season. If the Red Sox are to have any thoughts at all of winning games next year, those two need to be reliable.
Hence Farrell. Lester in particular was notably better when Farrell was in town, his K/9 has gone down from 9.7 in 2010 (Farrell's last year) to 8.5 last year and 7.3 this year. If for whatever reason Lester can't pitch well without his binky, well, that's not great in staff leader terms, but it's worth trying to fix. A manager alone is probably not worth a shortstop. A manager who can turn mediocre fourth starter 2012 Jon Lester into Cy Young-caliber 2009-10 Jon Lester is. Perhaps the Red Sox have decided that this is the case.
Theory #2: The Art Howe Gambit
Billy Beane was famously quoted as saying that Art Howe was useful because he looked like a manager. He wouldn't actually have to do anything, or make any big decisions, because the front office would do that for him. Obviously Howe turned out to not really be on board for this, and wasn't pleased when he heard about this characterization. But the plan was still there.
After a year of Bobby Valentine starting fires wherever he went, it's possible this is Boston's plan now. Farrell certainly looks the part of a manager, strong of jaw and steady of gaze. The general sense seems to be that he's comfortable with the sort of metrics and win-expectancy theories that the Sox front office dotes upon. So perhaps this is less about what Farrell brings to the Red Sox and more about what the Red Sox know they can bring to Farrell.
Theory #3: Project Aviles
We could be looking at this all wrong. Sure, we're all focused on Farrell, and how he might manage the Red Sox. But what about the guy going the other way? Mike Aviles was a useful, well-liked member of the club (recall that a dispute between Aviles and Valentine has been cited by many as the first sign that Bobby V wouldn't work in this clubhouse). So why make him the compensation sacrifice, when he's not only useful but has clearly enjoyed his time here with the only team that really gave him a chance to start?
It's a cover. Aviles is actually being sent to Toronto with two return plane tickets. One for himself, and one for whichever of Kyle Drabek or Travis D'Arnaud he can flip. After ensconcing himself in the Toronto clubhouse, his mission is to sow dissent and constantly mention how awesome Boston was to play for. If things go wrong, Bill James has furnished him with a beltful of gadgets to aid in his escape, including a tranquilizer dart gun disguised as a fungo bat. Godspeed, Mike.
Theory #4: Comfort Food
This is the most likely rationale, really. John Farrell's a known quantity to the front office and the players. It's clear that they trust him, and that the players (most of them, anyway) respect him. Ben Cherington's worked with Farrell, as has most of the front office and the current coaching staff. Sure, he hasn't had to make the big in-game decisions here, nor has he had to face the ravenous media horde alone, but he's proven to be reliable and predictable.
The Sox collapsed without warning in 2011, and tales of clubhouse dissent exploded across local sports pages. To a team in disarray was added Bobby Valentine, which turned out... Well, honestly worse than I think anyone really expected, even those who thought it wouldn't work. Farrell appears to be everything Valentine isn't: quiet, cliche-friendly, and familiar to the people he's going to work with. That alone is probably worth the extra premium Boston paid to get him. Now the Sox are truly rebuilding, something they haven't had to do in years. Any of the other men interviewed would very likely have been terrific managers here. But there's something to be said for going back to the familiar when the road ahead isn't familiar at all.