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The Friday Fire Farrell Index: First place good, blown save bad

The bullpen used a well-earned mulligan for Wednesday’s implosion, but how much was John Farrell’s fault?

New York Mets v Boston Red Sox
It’s just a little airborne, it’s still good!
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

CSN NE’s Evan Drellich rarely steers us wrong, so when he wrote that “there is no complaining allowed the next time the Red Sox bullpen blows a game,” on June 15th, there was good reason to listen. The ‘pen had gone 21.1 innings without allowing a run, which was pretty incredible, and his theory aligned with the planets, and checked out.

Then the relievers blew Wednesday’s game in Kansas City so “hard and inexcusably” that we short-circuited, lost all senses of decorum and set out into the woods to battle large mammals with our bare hands. If you know what happened, you might want to look away for this, but here’s the damage:

It wasn’t good and I didn’t like it.

Discerning readers not under bear attack will note that Matt Barnes and Robby Scott threw 11 straight balls between them. Eleven straight! That’s nine too many imho, but per the Drellich Doctrine, the ‘pen earned the right to screw up and exercised that right in spectacular fashion. After being pissy about it at the time (there was a bit too much of that this week, too), we’re inclined to agree that they can use their Get Out of Baseball Jail Free card on this one, minus any compelling arguments to the contrary.

Imagine our surprise, then, when the most astute criticism came from Drellich himself:

To be clear, we understand why the “closer” role exists in some of its more rigid interpretations; employees at pretty much any business value clearly defined roles, and no matter how nebulous the save rule is with respect to the highest-leverage inning in any given game, we understand why the structure has survived as it does, even if it seems inane at times. Farrell, the former pitcher and pitching coach, clearly subscribes to the value of this structure.

That being said, Matt Barnes is probably miscast as the Red Sox’ set-in-stone setup guy. It’s certainly not the role he was slotted for in the offseason, not with Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg hypothetically battling for it. As Matt Collins wrote here yesterday, Barnes has actually been pretty good, albeit with some control issues that, ironically, make him an easy target for critics like me. Sometimes you gotta just shoot your shot, and we did this week.

Still, we’re inclined to generally Farrell & Co. the benefit of the doubt, given the never-ending injuries to Smith and Thornburg, but after this week’s debacle we think it’s probably time to consider a rotating cast into the eighth inning. Really explore the studio space and stuff. Whether you think Wednesday’s meltdown was a usage and performance issue or only the latter — i.e., whether you think Barnes and Robby Scott are alone to blame for Wednesday or whether you think Farrell gets lumped into it — it seems clear that the bullpen as presently constituted might not have the talent to continue its successful run deeper into the season. Are we concern-trolling? A little bit.

Mostly we’re just concerned. For as good as the bullpen has been, there are reasons to think that they’re outperforming their actual talent level in aggregate on Craig Kimbrel’s back. Make no mistake, in so doing, they have saved the Red Sox’s season, but we're not sure it’s reasonable to expect their near-dominance to continue, especially when Farrell refuses to use the optimal strategies employed by his most conspicuous predecessor. If Terry Francona can become the league’s darling bullpen manager, Farrell can stand to move an inch or two here, especially because Kimbrel can’t pitch forever.

Enough yakkin’. To the numbers:

  • Red Sox record: 40-32
  • Virtually tied for 1st place in the AL East with the Yankees
  • Last 7 days: 3-3
  • Last 10 games: 6-4
  • What we’re criticizing him for today, if anything: The crap above
  • Validity of criticism: 8/11
  • Danger Points gained: .5

Last week Farrell’s job security was as tight as it has been since we started this (scientifically binding) column, and given that the Sox a) beat the league-best Astros two out of three times in Houston and b) tied the sinking Yankees even in a so-so week, we’re going to give the big guy a full point to bring things down to a solid 2.5 of 11 heading into this weekend’s series against the Mike Trout-less Angels. It’s my hope, but maybe not my expectation, that Farrell et. al learned something from this week. We know we did. Don’t be dicks, folks. As this manager knows all too well, someone is always watching.