It's hard to find a consensus on how much a good manager affects a baseball team. Some people will tell you that a manager is next to meaningless, and that talent will win regardless of who is at the helm. Others will tell you that the head of the coaching staff can transform a baseball team. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but it is tough to tell since so much of their job is done behind the scenes, controlling a clubhouse. This last part can be easy to forget, leading some to judge a manager mainly by their in-game managerial skills. In this area, John Farrell is not perfect. While he is a great fit for this team, and the players immediately responded to his presence (especially the pitchers), he made plenty of questionable moves during the games. Looking forward to this season, there's a lot to be happy about with Farrell in charge. At the same time, though, there are a few in-game strategies I'd like to see him stick with in 2014.
Keeping left field in a strict platoon
This, to me, is the biggest worry with Farrell this season. It was something we saw last year in the postseason, when he went with Jonny Gomes in the starting lineup regardless of the handedness of the pitcher. Obviously, it worked out pretty well for the Red Sox, but in a larger sample, it's a much less optimal way to set up the lineup. Consider that Boston's left fielders were the third most productive unit in the game, following the Rockies and the Angels, who boasted Carlos Gonzalez and Mike Trout, respectively. Effectively platooning Gomes and Daniel Nava were the key to this success. The real challenge here is keeping Gomes out of the lineup, which seems to be tough given his veteran status and the respect he commands in the clubhouse. However, if he's in mostly against left-handed pitching, he will be extremely effective. In the last three years, he has posted wRC+'s of 115, 171, and 141 against southpaws. That's a valuable tool to have, and when used correctly, will provide plenty of punch in the lineup. Nava is the perfect platoon partner, as a switch hitter who is much more effective from the left side. Last season, he had a 141 wRC+ against right-handed pitching, with a 129 mark for his career. Injuries could complicate this situation, and the Red Sox could survive using either of these guys on an everyday basis if the need arises, but as things stand now, there's no reason to deviate from a strict right-left platoon in left field.
Resting Koji Uehara and Shane Victorino
Not too much more can be said about Uehara's 2013 than was already said. Simply put, he had one of the greatest seasons any relief pitcher has ever had in the history of the league. The signs for greatness were abundant in his peripherals in the years prior, and he expanded on them to an unimaginable level. However, en route to that season, he tossed 74-1/3 innings in the regular season, plus another 13-2/3 postseason frames. That's a lot of wear and tear for a now-39 year old pitcher, especially one with a history of arm injuries. Because of this, Farrell should take it easy on Uehara, going to other options in some save situations. Luckily for the manager, Ben Cherington stocked the relief corps with late-inning options. Newcomer Edward Mujica closed games for St. Louis last season, and Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow and Andrew Miller all have 9th inning stuff. It's tough to pass on using an arm as talented as Uehara, but if they want him to be an option for another postseason run, they should prioritize on saving his arm during the season.
As for Victorino, resting him hinges largely on how the roster is built for Opening Day. If one of Grady Sizemore or Jackie Bradley is absent, it will be more difficult to rest Victorino. The downgrade from him to Nava in right field is a steep one, especially at Fenway. If Bradley and Sizemore both find themselves with the big-league club to start the year, it should be easier to find off-days for Victorino. Boston's right fielder plays an all-out style that, while fun to watch, can be damaging to the body. He managed to play in 122 games in 2013, but he was banged up for many of those games, especially down the stretch. Finding more days to rest for him would be incredibly helpful to keeping him healthy for the end of the year. If Nava is the back-up option, they could find days to play him in right field in parks with smaller outfields, but this seems like another reason to consider dealing Mike Carp. However he can, Farrell would be wise to find rest days for Victorino through the 2014 season.
Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell- USA Today Sports
Don't be shy in moving Xander Bogaerts up the lineup
The Red Sox lost a good amount of punch from last year's league-best offense. With Jacoby Ellsbury bolting to New York, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia moving down to Miami, they've lost two productive offensive players. That's not even to mention some of the expected regression from some of their returning bats. Bogaerts represents a shining hope for this lineup. If he can live up to his potential, he's a bona fide middle-of-the-order bat. Farrell has been known to ease rookies into the action in favor of his more proven commodities. This is fine in theory, but the key is knowing when to take the kid gloves off. I fully expect Bogaerts to start the year sixth or lower in the lineup. If he shows the ability to adjust quickly - like he did in last year's postseason - his lineup spot should improve quickly. He has all the tools to suggest he'll be a star, so any good early results shouldn't be treated as a mirage. Farrell needs to find a way to create a similar run production he did last year, and putting Bogaerts at the heart of the lineup by May or June will be a good start.
It's impossible to consider the acquisition of John Farrell a failure. He turned around a broken clubhouse into one of the best in baseball, and took a team all the way to an unexpected championship. Clearly, he is the right man for the job. He does have his short-comings, though, and many of them come in the form of in-game decision making. If he sticks to these three things, though, he'll be helping Boston's chances at a repeat performance immensely.