When news first broke that Bobby Valentine was going to be the new manager for the Boston Red Sox, the mood lay somewhere between panic and resignation for most of us. We weren't fans of the ESPN television personality who offered us little reason to hope for intelligent managing come April.
Since then, I had started to drink some of the Kool-Aid. Some of his comments from earlier managerial stints suggested that maybe the announcer for ESPN was a character, one meant to appeal to a more mainstream breed of fans and that perhaps deep underneath it all there was a strong baseball mind which could at least avoid giving away games through bad decisions.
And, as spring training drew closer and Valentine started to interact with the media I found myself actually liking him. More and more I grew comfortable with the idea of Bobby Valentine: Red Sox manager.
Now, six games into the season, that comfort is gone, and the panic is starting to set back in.
It's not because of the 1-5 record. Much of that is borne from a simple inability to hit on the part of the lineup, or the failures of the members of the bullpen who are supposed to anchor the relief corps. No, it's the process that bothers me.
For one thing, there's the bunting. Most of our readership knows, I believe, that sacrifice bunts tend to decrease the number of runs a team is likely to score. But for a select few circumstances, it's a bad idea to bunt. And yet, we've already seen Valentine call for sacrifice bunts in two moments that aren't simply inappropriate, but completely baffling. Interestingly, they both involve Kelly Shoppach.
In the first, Mike Aviles was called to move Cody Ross and Darnell McDonald along after they had lead off the inning with hits against lefty Phil Coke. Jim Leyland, in his magnanimity, had elected to leave the struggling southpaw in to face southpaw-masher Mike Aviles, but for whatever reason Valentine decided to waste that good fortune and instead leave the inning in the hands of Kelly Shoppach and Nick Punto. Unsurprsingly, Leyland decided to go with a righty against Shoppach given the catcher's massive splits, and unsurprisingly Shoppach did not deliver. A wasted opportunity.
Then there was yesterday's decision to have Shoppach bunt in the third inning. Even had it not gone for a fielder's choice, resulting in no progression and the loss of an out, Valentine would have once again wasted the opportunity to have a lefty-masher face a lefty, preferring to take a guaranteed out. Kelly Shoppach has a .901 career OPS against lefties. That's like asking David Ortiz to bunt.
The bullpen management has also been entirely suspect. The use of Justin Thomas, career minor leaguer in a high-leverage situation in Tuesday's game is a shining example, and arguably cost the Red Sox a chance to stay in the game. The pen was relatively empty at the time, but Franklin Morales was available.
Of course, there's also the lunacy of batting Nick "career .653 OPS" Punto leadoff-and no, the fact that he happened into three hits does end the argument as he suggested on his radio appearance earlier this week. But what is perhaps the worst offense came yesterday, when Jon Lester took the mound in the eighth with 100 pitches on his arm, having given up loud contact in the previous inning, without anybody warming up behind him. Leaving Lester out there is a matter of opinion, but having no backup for when his count hits 115 and he allows a walk? That's just negligent.
The argument has been made on here that this is too small of a sample size on which to judge Valentine, and it's certainly much too early for the front office to go searching for replacements, but I do think this is something worth worrying about. Baseball players get lucky and unlucky with some regularity. They can hit 20 line drives and have not a single one fall in. Managers can get lucky and unlucky too, making the right decision 20 times and having poor results follow or vice versa. But the decision making? That's not luck, that's a matter of competence.
What worries me is that this is Bobby V. getting lucky. This is him happening on Nick Punto's one three-hit game (complete with bloopers and infield singles) on the day he bats him leadoff, or having an ameliorating run score in an inning which could have brought much more without a single.
I don't want to know what it looks like when that luck runs out and he's still making bad decisions.