I don’t really like talking about managers a lot, because if we’re being honest I don’t really know what I’m talking about. Sure, I have my own opinions on individual tactical decisions. There’s so much more to being a manager, though. Specifically, their ability to keep the peace in the clubhouse and foster a strong working environment is a huge part of the job. Without being in said clubhouse on a regular basis, it’s really hard to make a comment either way on that aspect of things unless they are so obviously mismatched with their roster, a la Bobby Valentine.
This is why I don’t really have a strong opinion either way on John Farrell’s standing as the Red Sox manager. I certainly see why many are aggravated with him despite some of those people taking it to unfathomable extremes. I’d be lying if I said his bullpen management didn’t make me want to pull my hair out at times. Same goes for some of his late-inning lineup decisions.
The criticisms are valid; he’s not a perfect in-game manager. At the same time, I think that sentiment has possibly gone too far. Even if we ignore the unknown clubhouse aspect of his job — which the signs point toward him being good at, for what it’s worth — there have been good, impactful decisions made by Farrell this season. Let’s be reminded of some of them if for no other reason than to balance out the over-exaggerated cries from the other side of the aisle.
Travis Shaw over Pablo Sandoval
It’s easy to forget now, but Shaw getting the nod at third base as early in the year as he did was a relatively shocking development. Looking only at their 2015 numbers, that was the obvious call, but clearly that’s not the only thing in play here. Sandoval was the veteran who was being paid a lot of money, and everyone was expecting him to start the year at the hot corner and get a chance to rebuild his reputation after such a poor first season in Boston. Then, they reported to camp and the first thing we noticed was Sandoval’s weight. That was strike one.
After that, Shaw was clearly playing better. Despite that, Sandoval was still the obvious guy to start given the money he was being paid. Right before Opening Day, Farrell named Shaw the starting third baseman. Sandoval obviously ended up getting hurt, but given what we’ve seen from Shaw this year — even with his recent slump -- it’s clear that this was the right decision as he was a huge part of propelling them into the playoff picture in the first half of the season.
Brock Holt over Rusney Castillo
This is a lesser version of the last decision. Again, it’s easy to forget that Castillo was supposed to play a large role with the team this year. As another high-priced disappointment, 2016 was looked at as his last chance to stick in the major with the Red Sox. With Jackie Bradley and Mookie Betts manning two-thirds of the outfield, Castillo was the odds-on favorite for left field to form a potentially wondrous defensive trio. Of course, he had to hit at least a little to make that work, and it quickly became clear that was not going to happen.
It was odd that he even made the roster to start the year, but Farrell resisting the urge to give him a chance has turned out to be a strong decision. For as underwhelming as Brock Holt was in that spot for most of the year, imagine how much worse it could have been with Castillo. These first two decisions go hand-in-hand and combined to set an important tone at the beginning of the year. It doesn’t matter what kind of money you make, the best players are going to stay. Sure, Dave Dombrowski had something to do with that philosophy, but Farrell had to actually go through with the decisions and deal with the aftermath, and he did so successfully.
Changing the lineup
Now, we move into more recent decisions, with this one coming just a couple weeks ago. On August 10, the Red Sox were slumping and their much-feared offense was starting to turn into a frustrating, middle-of-the-pack lineup. If Farrell had left things alone, there’s enough talent to believe they would’ve turned it around eventually. At the same time, it’s the manager’s job to provide a spark to ignite change, and he did so with the batting order.
Specifically, he moved Dustin Pedroia to the leadoff spot, Xander Bogaerts to the two-hole, and Betts to the middle of the lineup. All they’ve done since that change is go 8-4 while averaging 6.2 runs per game. Statistically speaking, we know that batting orders have very little effect on overall performance. At the same time, the timing of this along with the team’s resurgence is a little too coincidental to ignore completely.
Trusting Andrew Benintendi Early
This section contradicts something I wrote very recently, because I was wrong. I know, you’re shocked. I’ll give you a minute to process this. Benintendi’s major-league career started as a platoon outfielder with the likes of Bryce Brentz, though it was clear early on that he didn’t deserve that fate. It would’ve been understandable for Farrell to wait a while longer to decide whether or not his rookie outfielder was worthy of everyday playing time, but he acted quickly and Benintendi has rewarded him.
Now, one would assume that the platoon will return as Chris Young comes back from the disabled list, but Young is a much better player than Brentz. Benintendi has been a big part of this recent run of success, and Farrell deserves a little credit for trusting such a young asset.
I think there is one theme through all of these decisions that really sum up all of the positives with Farrell this season: A sense of urgency. I think it’s obvious that he knows his time in Boston may be thin without some wins — hell, he’s said as much — and he’s managing like it. He didn’t hand jobs to expensive players, instead opting for the players performing better. That was an important precedent to set at the start of the season. His decision to shake up the lineup has proven fruitful, as did his trusting of Andrew Benintendi. Whether or not that outweighs the negatives around Farrell this year is up to you. I’m not here to persuade you one way or the other. Both sides deserve to be presented, though.