The Red Sox have one game left and honestly it can't come soon enough. The quicker this season is over the quicker we can move on to the off-season, move on to repairing the roster, and move on to what can only be a better season next year. Despite his recent statements to the contrary, part of that inevitable improvement has got to be the firing of manager Bobby Valentine. Valentine has been widely assumed to be dead man walking for about a month now, and since that time (September 1) the Red Sox have gone 7-20. Hmm... now where have I seen that record before?
Other than the man himself, I think we're all in agreement that Valentine should move on to his next occupation, and I'd like it to be as dignified as possible for both him and us. Last season was awful. It was awful on the field, but it was awful off of it as well. Some things that were said about members of the team and especially about manager Terry Francona by fans and by members of the media were downright mean at least and borderline libelous at worst. To be completely clear here, I'm talking about the fans, the Boston media, and some unnamed members of the Red Sox off-field staff.
Last night I sent out the following tweet:
For the record, I'm not on board with all this Bobby V hate. The guy has tried. He's failed, but he's tried. That's worth something.— Matthew Kory (@mattymatty2000) October 3, 2012
As the team's performance has declined, fans and media members have started to hit the anti-Bobby Valentine drum harder and harder. That's fine to a point. Valentine has made more than his share of questionable decisions this season. His lineups have been bewildering, his bullpen management has occasionally called for the removal of one's hair and/or the tossing of nearby items at glowing screens, his dealings with the media have been less than graceful and occasionally downright destructive, and his handling of the clubhouse left much to be desired.
It's safe to say that with the information available (i.e. I'm not in the clubhouse and don't pretend to know about what goes on there) I don't think he's done a particularly good job. That said, the fact that the Red Sox are where they are right now is not all or even mostly Bobby Valentine's fault. When a team finishes as badly as the Red Sox have it can't possibly be all on the manager. The blame pie is way too big and not nearly delicious enough for one to consume single-handedly.
I'm not going to go over the entire season with a fine tooth comb here to ferret out the many culprits. There will be time for that soon enough, but I will mention several broad non-Bobby V. reasons. The first is best expressed with this article from Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe. In reference to Dustin Pedroia's broken finger, Mr. Abraham wrote:
There is no reason to put Pedroia on the disabled list. But his injury adds to a record-setting season. In all, the Red Sox have had 1,485 games missed by players on the disabled list.
Did you catch that number? The Red Sox have lost about fifteen hundred man games to injury this season! For context, if the Red Sox lost each of the nine members of their starting lineup for the season just before opening day to a freak merry-go-round accident it would equal 1,459 man games. This year's Red Sox have lost 30 more than that. Of course, the injuries haven't been so concentrated, but spread around. According to Baseball Reference, the Red Sox used 15 different players in the outfield this season. They've played Mauro Gomez at third base. They've played Lars Anderson in the outfield. Shockingly Jarrod Saltalamacchia hasn't seen time at shortstop, though there's still today's game so I should keep my mouth shut. People have talked about this some, but to me it's a hugely under discussed point. There aren't many teams regardless of payroll and roster depth that could sustain quality play with that kind of attrition.
The other point is under-performance from established stars, especially the starting pitching. Nine pitchers started games for Boston this season, only one of whom finished the season with an above average ERA (that would be Franklin Morales for anyone curious). And while the relief pitching has been fine overall, the pen took some time to get rolling as they posted a 6.10 ERA in April. Not to pin it all on the pitching though. The hitters are welcome to share some blame too. The top offensive player by Baseball Prospectus's WARP (their version of WAR which is an all-around stat taking everything a player does into account) is David Ortiz who A) doesn't play defense, and B) missed 70 games.
This is what Valentine had to work with. His players were either not playing well, injured, or didn't play well and then got injured. It's fair to ask if Valentine made any of this better or worse, and since I'm writing this I'll tell you that with the clubhouse caveat mentioned earlier, it's my opinion that he didn't improve matters and in several instances likely made them worse.
Valentine will likely be fired by the end of the week if not sooner, but I would urge you to remember this as Valentine's time with Boston winds to a close: the man has tried. He wanted to win in Boston badly and by all accounts he's worked hard to make that a reality. He didn't come here to lose. Now it didn't work out and that (mostly) is why he's going to lose his job, but remember that that's what is happening. A man is losing his job. He's failing publicly and it's my most humble of opinions that that should be enough. The media needs to keep it's talons off Valentine's reputation, the Red Sox badly need to handle this with more poise and class than they did with Terry Francona, and the fans, myself included, need to remember to respect the effort that Valentine put in. He tried. In the end Valentine will go and all of us will be here to pick up the pieces. Trashing him or wishing him ill as he heads out the door one final time will say more about those who do it than it will about him.