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February 7, 2013 5:00 am

Out of Left Field: Shorting the Red Sox


Matthew Kory

After 2012, what should we unlearn about the Red Sox?


One of the difficult parts about fantasy baseball is dealing with perception. When a player hits a home run, it feels like that’s what they’ll always do. Put another way, do you take a guy who just homered out of your lineup? No, of course not. He just homered. Therefore he’ll continue to homer. That’s a good way to lose. I know because that’s what I do best in fantasy sports. The way to do it, so I’ve been told, is ignore that homer. Let your understanding of the player’s value over the course of the season dictate your decisions. A single event, in this case the homer, shouldn’t enter into it. Yet it always does and I always pay the price.

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Looking for examples of a similarly strange managerial move.

Last Sunday, Bobby Valentine pinch-hit for Jose Iglesias with two outs and a 2-2 count in the seventh inning of a scoreless game against the Blue Jays. Iglesias wasn’t hurt. Toronto hadn’t changed pitchers. However, the situation had changed slightly: on the last pitch Iglesias saw, Pedro Ciriaco stole second. Iglesias is a weak hitter (at that point, he was 2-for-28 on the season), so with a runner in scoring position, Valentine called for Daniel Nava to drive him in. Had Ciriaco not stolen second, Valentine would have left Iglesias in to play defense. Maybe he wished he had after Nava grounded out on the next pitch.

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When it comes to talking about managers, it's as easy to ignore the most crucial skill as it is to overstate it.

The circumstances that led to Terry Francona’s dismissal are as played out as they get. His team played and behaved poorly. His bosses figured replacing the manager was easier than replacing the players, so they replaced him with a carbon opposite. Remnants of the story exist in every head coach and managerial firing; it’s the basis of the Great American Sports Story. What we forget about Francona’s final days is how they exposed him as a poor tactical manager.

Take Francona’s usage of Randy Williams. Williams entered the 2011 season with 90 career big-league appearances, a 5.74 earned run average, and a 1.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He looked like a left-handed specialist, but truthfully he didn’t even fit that role. (To this day, Williams has allowed left-handers to hit .253/.356/.420.) Yet, Francona used Williams seven times, against more righties than lefties, and in high-leverage spots. Williams’ average entrance leverage index finished just below that of Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon, Boston’s two best relievers.

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It's an all-AL East episode, as Ben and substitute co-host Jason Wojciechowski discuss a counterproductive proposal to fix what ails the Yankees, then talk about the latest Bobby Valentine controversy.

It's an all-AL East episode, as Ben and substitute co-host Jason Wojciechowski discuss a counterproductive proposal to fix what ails the Yankees, then talk about the latest Bobby Valentine controversy.

Episode 36: "How Not to Solve the Yankees' Problems/Bobby Valentine Says Some More Strange Things"

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August 28, 2012 10:20 am

Overthinking It: What the New Skippers Have Done


Ben Lindbergh

It's hard to draw conclusions about manager abilities, but Ben looks at how each of five managers hired before the season have performed this year.

Every year, the new edition of the Baseball Prospectus annual contains a comment about every major-league manager. These comments typically run 200-250 words, which means that each one makes up a very small part of a chapter that runs close to 10,000. But the manager comments might be the part of the book most dreaded by BP authors, so much so that some authors have been known to turn in their chapters without a manager comment and disavow all knowledge that manager comments exist or that they were supposed to do one.

There’s a pretty simple reason why manager comments inspire such fear: it’s very difficult to say anything conclusive about people in baseball who don’t play in games. When we write comments, we like to sound smart, or failing that, at least snarky. It’s very difficult to sound either smart or snarky when we say “We don’t know.” If we said “we don’t know” as often in the rest of the book as we do in the manager comments, you might not buy it. We do track some manager statistics, but they’re less helpful than the ones we have about players. They tell us what happened, but not necessarily whether what happened was good, or even how much of it was attributable to the manager as opposed to the team. And they don’t help us at all with what happens off the field, which might be more important anyway.

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August 15, 2012 5:00 am

The Platoon Advantage: At What Price Revolution


Michael Bates

The Red Sox aren't the first team to fight with their manager, and they won't be the first to regret it, either.

OK, stop me if you've heard this before:

A controversial and attention-seeking manager of a major market team antagonizes a popular leader on a team that was expecting to contend for the pennant and faces a revolt in the clubhouse, resulting in team meetings, front office involvment, and bold pronouncements.  And the whole drama plays out in the press.

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June 13, 2012 2:54 pm

Overthinking It: Who Is the Best Umpire?


Ben Lindbergh

The difference between the best umpire and the worst is seven correct calls per game. Ben looks for the one who gets those seven right.

While many of the most memorable umpire mistakes have come on force plays, tag plays, and “boundary calls,” the most common kind of blown call, by far, happens behind home plate several times a game. It’s possible to watch a game and forget about the base umpires, as long as none of them makes a glaring error. But it’s impossible to ignore the home plate umpire, who has to making a ruling on every single unstruck pitch. That’s why arguing balls and strikes leads to an automatic ejection—there are simply too many of them to make arguing each one permissible. Moreover, the strike zone is such a core component of baseball that questioning its consistency calls the integrity of the game into question.

Grousing about umpires is as old as the game itself, but the advent of instant replay—and more recently, ball-tracking technology—has made those complaints more numerous and provided conclusive evidence of occasional umpire incompetence. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re ready to do away with umpires, even if Major League Baseball would allow it. Even Mike Fast, a former Baseball Prospectus and current Houston Astros analyst who made his name by studying the data collected by Sportvision’s PITCHf/x system, has acknowledged that some significant technical hurdles would have to be cleared before an automated system could make more accurate calls in real time than human umpires. However, that hasn’t stopped, or even slowed, the steady stream of complaints about officiating coming from couches and clubhouse alike.

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May 23, 2012 3:00 am

Punk Hits: 2012 Baseball Upfronts


Ian Miller

Baseball is televised entertainment, and the 2012 season follows many of television's most well-worn tropes.

If you follow the entertainment industry, then you’ve heard of upfronts—the annual meeting at which broadcasters preview their fall slate for advertisers. Upfronts are a lavish affair, held at grand venues in New York City. TV networks delivered their upfront pitches this past week.

What you may not know is that Major League Baseball also holds upfronts for their prospective sponsors. This year’s event was last Friday night at the Office Suites of Bayonne in the Gateway Region of New Jersey. Baseball Prospectus’ entertainment correspondent, Ian Miller, attended this year’s event, and has these highlights of fall baseball programming. Part 2, the National League, will appear next week.

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April 25, 2012 3:00 am

The Platoon Advantage: What Valentine Brings to Boston


Cee Angi

If you're looking for a scapegoat for Boston's struggles, skip the manager's office.

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.

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Fourteen days of futility in Boston is more than some reasonable fans can take.

The Red Sox this year were expected to compete with the Yankees and the rest of the American League. They have instead imploded as much as any team can within the constraints of 14 games. The starting pitching has been monkey-with-irritable-bowel-syndrome putrid, the manager’s in-game decisions haven’t backfired so much as they’ve taken their weapons and joined the other side, and to see the relief work as remotely viable one must hearken back to a time before people could read and write and therefore did not know what “remotely viable” means. But the bench has been decent. So there’s that.

While they don’t have the worst record in baseball—that belongs to the Royals—they are third. That would have shocked the projection systems. Our own PECOTA had the Red Sox at 89 wins. My projection system, IMADETHISUP, had the Red Sox winning 120 games. Instead, the team is on a 46-win pace. The difference between PECOTA and the Red Sox’ actual pace is equivalent to the difference between last year’s playoff Rays and the 1962 Mets.

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Jeremy Hellickson gets hit hard and Clay Buchholz impresses in the game of the week, plus thoughts about Tampa Bay's pitching and Bobby Valentine's way with words.

The night before Saturday’s game, the Red Sox scored eight runs against the Rays to turn a relatively normal game into a 12-2 laugher. Actually, there was something abnormal about it, even before the offensive explosion: Rays starter David Price lasted only three innings. He gave up three runs on four hits and three walks while running up an 83-pitch tab. Josh Beckett, meanwhile, suffocated Tampa Bay for eight innings, allowing just one run on five hits.

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An ex-broadcaster shares a great story about Bobby Valentine.

Rumors have been swirling recently that ex-Mets and Rangers manager Bobby Valentine is among the finalists for the vacant Boston Red Sox position. Terry Francona did not leave Boston under good circumstances, with the ugly news about beer and fried chicken parties (among other stories) having blown through the sports world last month. It's a bit hard to understand why anyone would want to take over such a tainted clubhouse, but Bobby Valentine isn't just anyone. Maybe his, um, unique personality will help set things at ease.

And what a personality it is. Valentine just can't seem to keep himself out of the public eye (and I'm sure he loves it). For example, Valentine, who is currently a part of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball team, made news last January when it was announced that he would be named the Director of Public Safety for his hometown of Stamford, Connecticut. It's not exactly the type of job you expect an ex-big league manager to take, but it fits Valentine perfectly.

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