On most weekdays from April to September, between the hours of 7:00 and 10:00 (or, more realistically, 11:00), John Farrell is the enemy.
Every other minute of the day? John Farrell is great. Big fan.
It's an idea that I and a thousand others have expressed every season over and over again. John Farrell is a very good manager, but he's not much of a tactician. He has done a remarkable job of keeping this club on the rails through good times and bad. And while that won't always be obvious from the record, it's the sort of quality that can keep a bad variance-based start from spiraling out of control, and keep Boston an attractive destination for free agents and current players alike even after rough seasons. But it doesn't maximize the team's runs scored or minimize their runs allowed with any given crop of players.
The more I think about it, though, the more I'm baffled that we expect anything else. Consider the job description for a manager, and its various demands. Farrell is expected to be both a leader of men, and a great analytic mind. Someone who can handle a team of 25 highly-paid, often ego-driven athletes facing constant competition in a game which is more prone to random chance on a day-to-day basis than any other, all while trying to work out the best times and players to pinch-hit, call in for relief, etc. etc. etc.
What about that makes any sense? We as a species have understood the benefits of specialization for millenia. The baker bakes and the carpenter builds because then they can each get very good at those things, making them far more productive as a pair than if each one tried to both build their own house and make their own bread. In a pinch, if resources are tight and there's not enough bodies, then sure, people might need to take on a more Jack-of-all-trades role.
But this is a professional baseball team worth billions of dollars. Resources are not tight, and there is perhaps no cheaper way to improve a baseball team than by adding personnel. Not dropping millions of dollars on free agent X, Y, or Z, but a high-five or low-six-digit salary on someone who will help you make better use of those expensive free agents. At the end of the day, the $20 million player who lives up to his salary isn't a bargain. The $100,000 guy who told you to sign him instead of the other $20 million player who ends up being a huge bust is.
And by-and-large, the Red Sox have been very good about investing in their personnel. This is a team which has understood the importance of a robust staff since the Epstein days. I am sure there's a great deal of energy that goes into advanced scouting and all that. I am not delusional enough to believe that there's no attempt to build optimal gameplans and maximize the way their players are used. But at the end of the day there seems to be an inefficiency in terms of taking all that information and putting it into practice.
That inefficiency is likely John Farrell, and while that's a knock on him, it's not meant to be a damning one. If John Farrell isn't good at synthesizing this sort of information, but is good at everything else the Red Sox want from him, then they need to find someone who can cover his weaknesses and put him in Farrell's ear. When it's the sixth inning and Farrell needs a reliever, someone should be there to mention to him that the guys they have coming up are actually a really good matchup for Koji Uehara, so it might make sense to get him in there now. He should be there to make sure a message gets to the catcher not to call for pitch X against pinch-hitter Y, and to warn against Chris Young facing an overpowering righty like Aaron Sanchez.
No more of this! Photo Credit -- Tom Szczerbowski
No more of this! Photo Credit -- Tom Szczerbowski
There are a couple of major difficulties I can think of, but neither of those couldn't be dealt with. First, there's the balance of power to be considered. At the end of the day, for the leader to work in his role, he has to have the final say. And that's fine. Make it clear to Farrell from the get-go that his decision is always final. Maybe Koji is great against those guys, but Farrell is worried about his recent workload and has decided to sit him for the day. That's fine. Let Farrell handle thinking about the marathon, and if he's determined to make a decision that really doesn't make sense even in that context, well, that's the price you pay for not hiring the guy who'll win a couple more games on tactical decisions and lose a bunch more by losing the clubhouse. At the very least he'll be making well-informed decisions, with someone there to suggest the best plan of action.
Second, there's the question of just where to put this person. You can only have so many guys in the dugout. For me, the obvious answer is the bench coach. In fact, it's basically the job description for the bench coach. They're supposed to be there for tactical advice. But in reality, the position is little more than that of a second manager, typically used for aspiring skippers to cut their teeth on. As such, you kind of end up with redundancy more than any sort of complementary talents. Torey Lovullo might be a fine tactical manager, but as with Farrell, I very much doubt he's the ideal tactician, simply because ideal tacticians tend to be pretty bad managers for their deficiencies in other areas.
Now, I'm not suggesting the Red Sox fire Torey Lovullo and replace him. Lovullo's decision to stay with the team even with so many other organizations considering him for their managerial roles was an act of incredible loyalty while John Farrell's health was uncertain. Getting rid of Lovullo would likely leave the team in a state of revolt, and possibly sink the season, to say nothing of just being a generally horrible thing to do.
But, if John Farrell is with the Red Sox in 2017, then there's every chance Torey Lovullo will not be, having taken one of those offers to move up in the ranks. And at that point, with the Red Sox in need of a bench coach...why not try something new? Use the position as, effectively, a spokesperson for advanced scouting. There are 29 other teams out there willing to effectively donate the position to what amounts to job training. The Red Sox should be the oddballs instead trying to get the most out of their resources--including, in this case, staff positions--and solve the age-old problem of finding a manager who can both command loyalty and make the best decisions game-in and game-out.
In the meantime...hell, give him a binder. Yeah, people make fun of Joe Girardi for it, but there's a reason that stupid team seems to so consistently exceed expectations. And it's only partly devil magic.