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June 6, 2012

BP Unfiltered

Boston's Real Experiment

by R.J. Anderson

Big news demands strong opinions. Take Jon Morosi’s column about Daniel Bard’s demotion:

The Red Sox have been described as a data-driven organization. Well, what executive — in any industry — would look at those numbers and conclude that this is an endeavor worth perpetuating?

This is not complicated: As a reliever, Bard is excellent. As a starter, Bard is abysmal. He should readjust to the bullpen in Pawtucket and then return as a setup man (or closer) in the second half. But because this is Boston, and because this is the Red Sox, there is a stubborn and misguided reluctance to admit error.

Morosi scores the hat trick by questioning Boston’s philosophy, aptitude, and hubris within a two-paragraph snippet. It’s an inspiring column, one that made me wonder: if people react like this to the Bard news then how did they react to Boston’s most zany attempt at bettering their roster. There are plenty of choices—the time Boston tried using a closer-by-committee approach, or how they play Adrian Gonzalez in the outfield during interleague play—but for my money, the one that stands out happened on August 16, 2004.

Entering play that night, Terry Francona had a tough decision to make. His regular second basemen, Pokey Reese and Mark Bellhorn, were injured; his fill-in second baseman, Bill Mueller, had to play third base because Kevin Youkilis had suffered an injury, too. That left Francona with two options on the roster: Ricky Gutierrez, a career middle infielder, and Doug Mientkiewicz, a career first baseman. Francona did what any good old baseball man would do if faced with such a choice: he started Mientkiewicz. Everything went fine. The Red Sox won, Carlos Delgado barreled over Mientkiewicz then got drilled by a Derek Lowe pitch. Francona moved Mientkiewicz to first base later in the game and never played him at second base again.

So how did the press react? Here’s a sample from Nick Cafardo’s column in the Boston Globe:

It was a Red Sox team moment when a Gold Glove first baseman, Doug Mientkiewicz, was willing to play out of position at second base.

Well, okay that's positive. But someone wrote something outlandish, right? Absolutely:

There you have it. Morosi may have gone in on the Red Sox, but even he doesn’t have the audacity to call Mientkiewicz a star.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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BP Unfiltered: The Day... (06/06)
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