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April 25, 2012

The Platoon Advantage

What Valentine Brings to Boston

by Cee Angi

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Tensions remain high in Boston following the Red Sox’ September collapse, and the departures of Terry Francona and Theo Epstein are still fresh in mind.  The Red Sox’ slow start has exacerbated the situation, leading some to condemn the easiest scapegoat: Bobby Valentine. Even if the Red Sox’ season had started on more positive footing, Valentine’s return to the dugout was going to be an uphill battle—10 years is a long time to be out of a major league clubhouse and still have credibility with players who are too young to be aware of your illustrious credentials or too old to care. But in an organization plagued by injuries, struggling pitching, an inconsistent offense, and inexplicable strokes of bad luck, the hostility Valentine has received has been disproportionate to any possible responsibility he could have had for the state of the team.

The team’s struggles have left some nostalgic for Francona, who received a standing ovation and chants of “We want Tito” at Fenway’s 100th anniversary celebration Friday. Those chants are a sure sign of lost perspective: Francona managed the 2011 Red Sox to the team’s worst start since 1945 and an unprecedented September collapse, then departed in the wake of questions regarding his ability to control the clubhouse, and reports of beer-guzzling and chicken-eating pitchers.

Perhaps Valentine was the most qualified candidate to replace Francona, but his hiring was also a clear message sent from the ownership to the players: Tito no longer works here; daddy (or more appropriately, mommy) isn’t going to be indulging you anymore. Now Valentine is in the unenviable position of taking over an unstable, veteran club, filling the step-dad role for the 40-man roster after last season’s messy self-destruction and subsequent divorce.

As managers, Valentine and Francona have little in common. Where Francona was known as a player’s manager, Valentine is known for control. Francona seemed aloof, while Valentine is eager to issue sound bites and be the center of attention. It’s no surprise that the organization chose a manager who is the opposite of Francona, but it’s also not surprising that the veteran manager is apparently failing to connect with veterans on the Red Sox roster who are used to being handled a different way.

Valentine has already clashed with players after he called out Kevin Youkilis publicly for his performance, resulting in Dustin Pedroia suggesting that Valentine doesn’t understand how the majors work now. More recently, there have been rumors of a spring training clash with Mike Aviles. Valentine’s attitude towards players is nothing new: in 1999, he told Sports Illustrated, “You’re not dealing with real professionals in the clubhouse. You’re not dealing with real intelligent guys for the most part. A lot can swim, but most of them just float along, looking for something to hold on to.”

Cherington gave Valentine his vote of confidence on Saturday, saying, “He’s doing the best he can with the roster he has. It’ll get better. He knows that and I know that, and along the way if changes need to be made on the roster, that’s my responsibility.” In other words, Valentine isn’t going anywhere and the quicker everyone can get on board with that, the smoother this will go. But Valentine won’t receive respect or trust by fiat. He’ll have to earn that by building relationships and proving he’s the sharp tactician he used to be.

That last remains an open question. Some of his recent decisions show he understands the game as it’s played today. He’s not bunting often, he has issued fewer intentional walks than Joe Girardi, and in Jacoby Ellsbury’s absence he has slowed the running game. The blunders thus far have been largely related to the crippled Red Sox lineup and dealing with situations where the team is only as good as the tools available. Unfortunately, in some cases Valentine’s got a screwdriver when he really needs a hammer—and the outcome is ugly, even though he continues to bang away.  

There have been some isolated moments in which Valentine has made questionable in-game pitching decisions (see below), but for the most part, he is working with the players he’s been given. He certainly can’t control how well they pitch and there’s no evidence to suggest Valentine has handed any of his faltering pitchers the ball and said, “Try and give up a home run or two here.” And, of course, a more complete lineup would help to lessen the impact of the pitching staff’s shortcomings—if you can’t prevent runs, you can create them.

Valentine currently doesn’t have a left fielder or a center fielder, though the acquisition of Marlon Byrd might help. He’s down a closer with Andrew Bailey’s thumb injury, and the bullpen is short another pitcher following Mark Melancon’s mechanical meltdown. The absence of John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka are felt as Clay Buchholz struggles.

Ironically, Valentine has the right kind of experience working to mitigate such weaknesses.  When Valentine took over the Mets from Dallas Green, he told the players he would keep an open mind about them and asked them to do the same for him. “Give me a chance and I’ll show you how to get there,” he said, according to Peter Golenbock’s Amazin. A look at Valentine’s success with the Mets proves that comment wasn’t just lip service—when Valentine had the tools he needed, and even sometimes when he did not, he had good results.

Valentine showed versatility in how he managed his teams, each of which had its own weakness. The 1999 Mets had weak starting pitching, but utilized a strong offense and capable bullpen to get to the NLCS. The 2000 version, which made Valentine’s lone World Series appearance, had a strong rotation and offense, but lacked stability in the bullpen. By 2001, Valentine was managing an aging roster with the worst offense in the National League, but the team still finished nine games better than its Pythagorean winning percentage. Valentine has had some misses in his career, particularly early on, but he has shown consistency in his ability to make even compromised rosters overachieve, which will be important in Boston.

That said, Valentine does have an issue with second-guessing himself at times. He tends to bounce between two extremes: being too proactive and sometimes being inexplicably hands off. His instinct to over-manage and his desire to be in control of all aspects of the game can lead to rash decisions that backfire. Even worse, if a decision Valentine has made has a negative outcome, he recoils, second-guessing himself to the point of paralysis.

Valentine has a history of being an incredibly busy manager, especially where pinch-hitters and runners are concerned. He ranked first or second in the league in five of his six seasons with the Mets, often going beyond his primary pinch-hitter in his restlessness to make more moves. For example, with the Mets his primary pinch-hitter was Matt Franco, from whom he often got good results. But from 1997 to 1999 he asked utility infielder Luis Lopez, a switch-hitter who batted .250/.317/.341 with the Mets overall, to pinch-hit 99 times, and got only 17 hits. From Steve Bieser to Jim Tatum to Mark Johnson to Desi Relaford, Valentine kept sending hitters up there, but pinch-hitting is a tough business. Sometimes he got great results, but often he got poor ones.

All of those moves resulted in a lot of second-guessing—often by Valentine himself. In a late-season game in 1999 against the Atlanta Braves, Valentine decided to pinch-hit Bobby Bonilla for shortstop Rey Ordonez. Bonilla was one of the most productive switch-hitters in history, drifting toward the end of his career, while Ordonez was such a poor hitter that letting him hit in any key situation was akin to suicide by inaction.

Bonilla had had a pinch-hit double just the night before, and Valentine was confident that Bonilla would be more successful than Ordonez against left-handed reliever Terry Mulholland. But the match-up forced Bonilla to bat right-handed for the first time since he had returned from the disabled list. Rusty, Bonilla struck out. In a post-game interview, Valentine said, “I shouldn’t think before series. That’s the one I’ll kick myself in the butt for. Rey has been terrific in those situations. You just get tempted.” In an act of over-compensation in fear of making that mistake again, Valentine never pinch-hit for Ordonez again against the Braves in the 1999 NLCS, even though Ordonez’ struggles (just one hit and no walks in 25 plate appearances) were a key reason the Mets lost.

Where Valentine is sometimes hyperactive in some decisions, he’s historically slow making others, especially where the bullpen is concerned. While his rank in relievers used in some years like 1997 (ranked 12th) and 2001 (ranked 16th) could be related to weakness in the bullpen, Valentine was consistently less busy than his counterparts when it came to pitching changes. But inactivity isn’t always a bad thing, as evidenced by Valentine’s success in 1999, when Mets relievers were second in the league in Fair Run Average (4.37) and second in saves and holds, taking the Mets to the playoffs for the first time since 1988. But at times Valentine’s reluctance to go to the bullpen cost the Mets games, such as during Game 2 of the 1999 NLCS, when Kenny Rogers was left in the game to give up a pair of two-run home runs in the sixth inning. After the game, Valentine said, “I had no reason to keep him in. I left him in and it was absolutely the wrong move.” His hesitance with the bullpen has already been evident in Boston, which stems largely from a distrust due to underperformance.

Year

Relievers Used Rank

1997

12/14

1998

8/16

1999

7

2000

9

2001

16

2002

9

There’s also a softer side to Valentine. Even though he can be intense and butt heads, he brings an element of humor that is sometimes needed. In the 12th inning against the Blue Jays on June 9, 1999, Mike Piazza was called for catcher’s interference on Craig Grebeck. Valentine was ejected from the game for arguing with umpire Randy Marsh; Valentine later returned to the dugout wearing a fake mustache. Though Valentine was fined $10,000 and suspended two games for the stunt, it was a small price for him to pay to show his team they had his support. Valentine also brought some humor to Monday night’s game against the Twins. With a runner on first in the ninth innin, closer Alfredo Aceves gave up a long fly to the warning track, which Cody Ross caught for an out. Valentine approached the mound to speak with the struggling closer, and as the infield gathered around he looked at Aceves and asked with a smile, “Are you trying to kill me?” In what could have been another tense moment for the uneasy closer, Valentine put him at ease with those words and even the infielders smiled. Aceves worked out of the jam and the Red Sox won 6-5, snapping a five-game losing streak. The win and the laughter are signs of progress, but Valentine and the Red Sox aren’t out of the woods yet.

Valentine’s biggest challenge this season may not be his veteran clubhouse, but a matter of internal conflict: he will have to learn to trust his instincts after years away—despite a tendency not to trust them at times—while also not letting his tendency to micromanage the game overwhelm him. If Valentine can remember his success as a manager in these situations, Boston gets easier, but Saturday’s 15-9 comeback victory by the Yankees is a reminder that there are at least 146 more games this season in which his ability will be tested. 

When Vicente Padilla loaded the bases in that game, Valentine left him in to face Nick Swisher, resulting in a grand slam. But was it bad luck or did Valentine make a bad decision? Padilla had previous success against Swisher, holding him to .056/.227/.222 in 18 prior at-bats, each of the slash stats the lowest of any current Yankee against Padilla. Though we can scream small sample, Padilla had been one of the team’s few quality relievers to that point. 

Later in the game, Valentine tried to use his closer, Alfredo Aceves, in a high-leverage situation in the eight inning when the Red Sox still led by one run. The result was Aceves giving up five runs without recording an out. But Valentine’s decision to bring in his closer in this situation, rather than waiting until the ninth, inning was laudable given current conservative tendencies in bullpen management, and the negative outcome doesn’t necessarily mean he was wrong.

Valentine did all he could to try and stay in the game. He made six pitching changes, the most of the season, after removing starter Felix Doubront. He tried two pinch-hitters, but neither was successful and the two five-run innings proved to be too much to overcome; the manager can make a half-dozen moves, or a dozen, or none at all, but in the end the players have to execute.

The Red Sox may never accept Bobby Valentine in the step-dad role. But some of Boston’s injured players will be returning and the schedule gets easier in the coming month. There have been some questionable decisions thus far, but making him the scapegoat for all of the team’s faults misses the value he can provide. Given the situation, would you rather have a clubhouse cruise director running the team or a skipper who has patched leaky vessels before? Perspective in check, and trusting his instincts, Valentine and all his experience could be what Boston really needs this season. At least, if the city wants any hope of second-guessing its manager into October.

22 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

amazin_mess

It never ceases to amaze me how the Boston media and many Boston fans fail to recognize that Theo Epstein did most of this damage. Ben Cherington's trades this winter were awful too. King Theo gutted the farm - think Justin Masterson might look good in Boston right now?

But hey - Bobby V makes a great scapegoat - for the fans, media and the players.

Apr 25, 2012 03:29 AM
rating: -3
 
mikebuetow

Theo may/may not have gutted the farm system, but to hold up Justin Masterson as an example is a reach. Recall that he was traded for Victor Martinez, who gave the Red Sox 4.2 WARP in a season and a half, and when V-Mart signed with the Tigers, the Sox got the 19th pick in the 2011 draft, with which they signed Matt Barnes (34 Ks, 4 BB, 21 IP in A ball so far) and Henry Owens (22 Ks, 8 BB, 10.2 IP in A ball).

Meanwhile, JM stunk up the joint in 2009, continued to reek in 2010, pitched great last year, then has regressed so far this year. The answer to the Sox's problems is not yet another starting pitcher with a 6+ ERA.

Who would you rather have: Masterson or Matt Barnes? Today, it'd be Masterson. For the next five to seven years? Barnes.

Apr 25, 2012 05:39 AM
rating: 9
 
Buford

I would rather have Masterson.

What makes you think Barnes will be the better pitcher in the next 5 to 7 years?

He is 22 (in June 2012) and pitching in the low A minors. If he was dominating at the AA level, then I would agree with you.

Masterson is 27 and has achieved success at the ML level. He is in his prime and could remain a very good ML SP for the next 5 years.

Masterson's ML history at 27 trumps Barnes' low A history at 22.





Apr 25, 2012 18:19 PM
rating: 1
 
ScottyB

Bobby was hired to do exactly what he is doing- taking all the heat, deflecting it away from the front office and players.

Apr 25, 2012 04:52 AM
rating: 2
 
sbnirish77
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

The truth be told .. EVERYTHING is wrong in Boston right now as it was last September.

The owner wanted both the GM and manager out of town and is more interested in his soccer team across the ocean.

Cherrington is a lap dog to the owner and executed their desire to go on the cheap in the offseason (Scutaro for a bunch of medivac arms).

A medical staff that has failed to keep pitchers on the field three years running and has been questioned by some of its own players.

A roster full of Boy Wonder's mistakes that will financially handicap the Red Sox for at least 3 more years.

A clubhouse segregated into prima donnas and worker bees.

Bobby V is only the last straw to orchestrate over the complete and total collapse of a dysfunctional organization the recieved the praise of BP for way too many years.

Valentin "the most qualified candidate" ... PLEASE
Yankees fans could not have picked a better person to do his part to insure the decline of last September would continue.

"Isolated moment" for questionable pitchig decisions? For God's sake the season is barely 15 games old. Two huge gaffes (Bard tired and 3 W's & Morales to face 3 of the best hitters vs lefties in the AL)that cost 2 games out of 15 is a pretty large N out of 15.

All of this was dysfuction was readily apparent to the entire world but five BP writers still had the gall to continue the fine BP tradition of picking the Red Sox to win the AL East.

In the last ten years I believe the BP writer consensus has picked the Red Sox to win the AL East about 6 or 7 years and has never been right (the one year Boston did win the AL East they were not picked).

I thought the myopia that BP has towards the Red Sox had finally ended this year it continues with this defense of Bobby Valentin.

Fro full disclosure the BP writers who picked Boston to win the AL East

RJ Anderson
Cee Angi
Larry Granillo
Sam Miller
Jason Park

and the only one to pick Boston 1st and New York 3rd (not making the playoffs)

Cee Angi

Just tha facts.




Apr 25, 2012 08:07 AM
rating: -8
 
Cee Angi

As the author, I don't really see this as a "defense of Bobby Valentine."

The focus of this piece, as outlined, is to exhibit the assets and weaknesses of Bobby Valentine, as evidenced through his time with the Mets and his (short) record with the Red Sox.

Honestly, I don't think this piece paints a very rosy picture of the situation-- the organization has struggles, Valentine has struggles, the Red Sox have struggles, but despite that he did have success in juggling adversity with the Mets, so there's a question whether that could translate.

This isn't a Boston bias at all. The struggles of the Red Sox will continue throughout this season and it could bleed into seasons to come--the point is that in order to be successful they will need to mitigate those weaknesses, which is something Valentine has a proven track record at being successful doing.

Parenthetically, in regards to BP's appraisals of the Red Sox, they are so dysfunctional they have the second-best team record in the game from 2000-2011 and are tied with the Cardinals for the most championships in that period (see below).


WINS W L PCT
1 Yankees 1157 783 .596
2 Red Sox 1099 844 .566
3 Cardinals 1089 854 .560
4 Braves 1072 870 .552
5 Angels 1066 878 .548
6 Phillies 1049 894 .540
7 A's 1045 897 .538
8 Giants 1033 908 .532
T9 White Sox 1024 921 .526
T9 Dodgers 1024 919 .527

Apr 25, 2012 09:03 AM
rating: 0
 
mikebuetow

Wow, reading this almost makes me forget the Red Sox have averaged 93 wins per season over the past decade and won two World Series in that time.

Apr 25, 2012 09:04 AM
rating: 1
 
thegeneral13

"The truth be told .. EVERYTHING is [as] wrong in Boston right now as it was last September."

Funny enough, this part is actually true in an unitended way: what's wrong across both periods is that good players are either hurt or playing poorly. All the other stuff is just noise.

I do think the Sox took too big of a risk with the bullpen, but the main problem is just bad play from good players. Unfortunately some people's jobs involve providing answers to dumb or unanswerable questions, so we get meaningless stories about beer and chicken.

Apr 25, 2012 09:43 AM
rating: 3
 
andygamer

I would say Valentine's errors are probably traced to management strategy so far, and less to baseball tactics.

He hasn't really done well with Bard, perhaps because he has not been on board with him as a starter going back to early spring training...I would guess he was not on the same page with the GM there. Bard was left in too long one game probably because he has disowned the plan for him, and he is taking too much cue from the player as that player learns.

Aceves coming on Saturday came after an extended rest...I surmise that Aceves is the type of pitcher that needs to get the ball pretty often, based on his past history of not being good at starting. Storing him in glass as "the closer" may not be effective.

The late demotion of Iglesias after such glowing comments in Spring Training also presents a situation where he is possibly not on the same page with the team. Further,it seems just wrong: Among the BP community, it is recognized that ST is not the place to make strategic decisions for the team.

All of these things add up to induce players to question his judgment. Among the other aspects of the Sox organization, his initial hire was perceived as something of a putsch by unpopular owner Larry Luccino: This does not help him in any case, and is not really his responsibility, but the areas where he has gone out on a limb become starker due to this context, and he may not be wise to this.

Apr 25, 2012 08:33 AM
rating: 0
 
Jack Thomas

I grew tired of watching Valentine's act in Texas. He only stayed so long because the the GM was his best friend & would not fire hime.
His public comments about Youkilis put the team in total turmoil -- How many games in a row did they lose afterwards? One or 2 games could easily cost Boston a playoff spot.
Valentine's biggest problem is that he thinks he is smarter than everyone else. He has always been a "wise arse". Example: In Boston deabacle v. NYY last Friday -- The fans were booing in his one of many returns from the mound to the dugout. Instead of walking simply walking off & ignoring it, He tipped his cap to the fans.

Apr 25, 2012 09:39 AM
rating: 2
 
amazin_mess

But who's being the bigger idiot? BV or the Boston fans?

Apr 25, 2012 10:36 AM
rating: 0
 
tim270

I'll be up-front: I'm not a Valentine fan. I think he's a shameless self-promoter, and his "success" in the past I think is wildly overblown in this article. He made the playoffs twice in NY; and has never won anything before or since (spare me the Japanese League stuff. That's a totally different culture to manage in than MLB).
I don't think the "fake mustache" thing was cute; I don't think the tipping of the cap to the fans thing was cute; I think it's detrimental frankly, and just more "Look at me! Look at me!" from Bobby V.
That said, he has a flawed roster. Third or fourth place is a real possibility; if not likely, in that division at this point. Still, he's not doing himself any favors. The Youkillis comments are unfathomable. Why would you say something like that to the press? What could conceivably come from it? It's just downright stupid.
It's hard to blame him for the BP melting down left and right; and it's hard to blame him for an inconsistent offense. But it's easy to blame him for throwing more gasoline on the fire with stupid comments to the press. Of all the teams that could have used a good start to the season, the Red Sox were the most in need of one. They didn't get it, and I think they'll finish in thrird place, and Bobby V will be fired at the end of the season.
Ownership screwed up last off-season big-time. You don't fire guys who have won 2 WS in the last decade because they have a terrible September. They knee-jerked and they'll pay for it. Valentine was just the icing on the cake.

Apr 25, 2012 10:50 AM
rating: 3
 
PeterBNYC

The signal to me that the knives were out too soon for Valentine was Youkilis' reaction to Valentine's printed words. When you read something like that, you don't reply in the press, you go and ask to talk to the manager. Youkilis, for whatever reason, didn't do that. That tells me there is a poor clubhouse culture in Boston, and Valentine's only choice is to attack it. Yes, he's a magnet for the press, yes he has a (somewhat) volatile temperament (Dallas Green, anyone?), but Cee is right, if the disease was the long term legacy of Francona's hands-off style, then Bobby is the doctor they need. Let's calm down, and see where the club is at the ASB.

Apr 25, 2012 11:52 AM
rating: 0
 
ddrezner

My only quibble with this story is that Valentine did err in Saturday’s 15-9 comeback victory by the Yankees. I didn't have a problem with his choice of relief pitchers, but he yanked Doubront an inning early. He was in the groove and had thrown less than 100 pitches, I believe.

Apr 25, 2012 11:53 AM
rating: 0
 
Cee Angi

He gave up a home run in the sixth and ended the inning at 99 pitches. Could he have pitched another inning? Probably. But in a game with an eight-run lead, with a starter who is new to the rotation, with a well-rested bullpen (Atchison (1.0), Thomas (.1), and Tazawa (1.2) the night before), it seems reasonable to bring in someone from the bullpen at that point to me. Obviously it turned out to be the wrong decision, but I don't think there was much motivation to stretch him out any longer with an eight-run lead.

Apr 25, 2012 12:01 PM
rating: 0
 
tim270

I guess to criticize Youkillis for going to the press begs the question: Why did Valentine go to the press intially? He initiated it. He assured it would be played out in the press by taking it to them in the first place; did Valentine think the press wasn't going to come to Youk for his reaction? If you want to lose a players respect bash him to the press. That's a pretty age-old adage. If Valentine had something to say to Youkillis he should have said to to his face, in private. Not embarrass him publicly. Valentine created the situation in the first place so to criticize Youk for reacting to it misses the point entirely imo.
Secondly, what was the problem in Boston under Francona? Winning 95 games a year and World Series? Big problems, huh?

Apr 25, 2012 12:20 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

Youkilis is rarely in the press, I think it's more of a case of the press going to him to grab a response to Bobby V's comments.

Is everything going on in Boston so far Valentine's fault? Nope. But he should still get blame for causing problems he, as an experienced manager and a former member of the media, should've known better to avoid.

Apr 25, 2012 19:33 PM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77

Just heard on NESN this morning that Bobby V had to remake his lineup last night because he mistakenly thought that the Twins starter Liam Hendricks was a lefty.

It be nice if Bobby mastered Big League Managing 101 before claiming he's got his doctorate.

Apr 26, 2012 06:44 AM
rating: 0
 
tgrcub
(609)

*checking the calendar* yup, still April... just going to enjoy the game tonight, and as a good Sox fan, make sure that my panic button is ready to go by Memorial Day...

Apr 26, 2012 07:33 AM
rating: 0
 
krissbeth

As a Sox fan, I had them battling for third place this year. They're a thin team, with just Pedroia, Ortiz, Youk, Ellsbury, AGonz, Lester and Beckett likely to be significantly above average, with Buchholz, Bard, and Crawford having question marks of various sizes. They needed to have perfect health from their top talent to survive this division, and they won't have that this year, we now know.

It's not that we should be blaming GMs or managers past or present, although Crawford was a genuine panic move, it's that the window started closing last year. Rebuilds happen.

Apr 26, 2012 08:23 AM
rating: 1
 
Lastblues

Can i just say this is a really in depth and well written piece, I've been waiting to read an analysis of this caliber. Great, great work.

Apr 26, 2012 16:55 PM
rating: 3
 
Cee Angi

Thank you very much--I appreciate the kind words.

Apr 26, 2012 17:23 PM
rating: 0
 
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