Bobby Valentine is the new manager of the Boston Red Sox. For some, this has caused a problem, as they think Valentine is the personification of old-school manager that Boston needed to avoid. There are some major issues with that thinking that need to be addressed, though. For one, Valentine has always been well-regarded in his search for new knowledge that could help him win games. We're talking about a guy who let former Red Sox outfielder Benny Agbayani lead off for his Mets, just because of his on-base percentage -- and before the Moneyball craze, too.
Another issue many are having is that they think this means Larry Lucchino has completely usurped the team, and Ben Cherington had no say on the manager. Listen, I know that many of us don't like Lucchino, because he wasn't Theo Epstein's best buddy when they were both in town. I get that, and it's fine. Lucchino rubs a lot of people the wrong way, and we're all guilty of not being his biggest fan. That being said, just because we want the narrative to be that he's the bad guy and forcing his hand here doesn't mean that's what's happening. I have been waiting and waiting for someone to say that hey, maybe Cherington had his preferences, and Luchhino had his, and they worked together to pick a manager they could both enjoy. Instead, we get articles penned by this guy, and people react as if it's gospel.
Assuming Lucchino is the problem here is the easy route. It's not exciting to think that this is business as usual. But maybe with the off-season barely off of the ground and the winter meetings coming up -- you know, the time of year when the Red Sox generally get the most significant parts of their off-season done with -- we have nothing else to focus on, and therefore have to create some drama to keep ourselves entertained. Why don't we wait for some of the off-season and games to actually pass us by before we pretend to play expert about the inner workings of Boston's front office?
As for the manager himself, there are reasons to be excited about Valentine. Eric Simon, the manager of Amazin' Avenue, got to watch the Mets back when Valentine ran that ship. As a guy with Sandy Alderson in his website's logo, Simon knows a thing or two about stats:
Looking for some proof that Valentine's managerial schemes are more advanced than his TV gig gives him credit for? Well, besides consistent success in the majors and overseas, if you're looking for straight up insight, this New York Times article from 1998 helps:
Last year, McRae averaged 3.84 pitches per at-bat, meaning he was usually hitting later in the count. Valentine loves to see his players work pitchers hard. Of course, he also wants them to get on base.
If McRae cannot do that, Valentine said he might give Olerud a shot at the job, although he acknowledged that the possibility was a long shot. Olerud has never batted leadoff and is a slow runner, but Valentine said the best leadoff hitter he has had was the not-so-fleet Brian Downing in Texas.
Valentine maintains that stolen bases are more important lower in the order than at the top, and he likes the way that Olerud works pitchers, getting on base and drawing walks (he was seventh in the N.L. in walks last season).
McRae's on-base percentages weren't excellent thanks to low batting averages, but he walked quite a bit, and saw a lot of pitches. The important thing there, though, is the emphasis on OBP over speed at the top of the order. Valentine discusses his take on that more in the Times in 2000
"Speed at the leadoff spot is the most overrated, talked-about thing in baseball, in my opinion,'' Valentine said. ''The guys who hit the most extra-base hits bat third or fourth. The leadoff hitter's usually on base when they're hitting. Why in God's name do we want the guy who runs the fastest scoring on home runs?
"Secondly, if a guy's going to steal, unless he has a very, very high stolen-base ratio, why would you ever want to make an out before the best hitters hit?"
The part of me that doesn't want Jacoby Ellsbury to lead off anymore is swooning over that quote. The part of me that watched runners get thrown out during September as Francona attempted to make something happen, regardless of who was up at bat, also approves.
Or maybe you want to know what he thinks of RBI. Enter Rey Ordonez, who was likely a worse hitter at short than what Boston expects Jose Iglesias to become:
In 1998 and '99, Ordonez had the lowest on-base average plus slugging percentage in the National League. In essence, he does not get on base much and has almost no pop.
''I don't like to throw numbers out there, but they sure in heck can't be where they are now,'' said Mets Manager Bobby Valentine... ''That's not productive. The only number that is really acceptable is R.B.I.'s, and that has to do with men on base."
Emphasis at the end there my own. He knows it's not Ordonez's doing that he had RBI, but that it was the guys in front of him helping Ordonez out by being there to begin with. Again, because Valentine understands OBP, and what it accomplishes.
And if you think he's abandoned all notions of being progressive recently, have a look at where Valentine's concerns were, as of the 2011 season:
What's that? Valentine sounds like a progressive manager willing to learn in order to succeed, the kind of stat and analytics-oriented helmsman someone like Ben Cherington would want in charge? And he's a baseball lifer known for ruling the clubhouse, the kind of guy Larry Lucchino would want to run the team given last year's events? It's almost -- almost -- like Cherington and Lucchino worked together for a candidate they could both enjoy. Imagine that.