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How much difference has John Farrell really made over Bobby Valentine?

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  July 17, 2013 02:15 PM

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Or to ask it another way: Given the same roster, same injuries, and – you'll have to seriously suspend your disbelief on this one – a clean slate with players, the front-office, fans, and media, how many wins would the 2013 Red Sox have right now as the second half dawns if Bobby Valentine was the manager?

[Tap-tap-tap]

[Devours Skor bar.]

[Sighs.]

[Devours second Skor bar set aside for rainy day.]

Gonna answer that or what?

Oh, right ... some of you already did. I threw the question out there as sort of a crowd-sourcing exercise on Twitter a couple of days ago. Keeping in mind that these thoroughly enjoyable, redeemed Red Sox have 58 wins – a number they hit on August 16 last year en route to a 69-93 record in Valentine's one-and-done tragicomedy. Here are a few of about 40-50 responses, categorized appropriately:

Wise-guys (a.k.a. The Vast Majority of You Clowns)

So they would be -10-and-107 at the break? Is that how the math would work?

I still think it was all a misunderstanding and he claimed to invent rap. It would explain why he sometimes referred to himself as Kool Moe V.

Yes, and .367-hitting Jose Iglesias never would have finished an at-bat.

A random Bobby V truther or two

Thought Bobby V was the world's last Bobby V fan. Hmmm. "Jerry Beach" sure sounds like an internet alias to me. Probably looks like this:

Scott Atchison nods in agreement. Rich Hill reflexively grabs his left elbow and cringes.

Forthright attempts at an actual answer

Five-to-seven wins seems to be the general consensus among the well-considered answers.

I actually brought this up for the exact reason Matt (whose work you should be reading at Baseball Prospectus, Over The Monster, Sports On Earth, and Cat Fancy) mentions: I believe it is an extreme example, a relative outlier in that a managerial change from the absolute wrong man with the wrong team at the wrong time to someone roughly 179 degrees from that has made a significant difference.

Is the managerial change the only major difference between this year and last? Of course not. Not even close, actually. It would be foolish to suggest as much.

Beyond the managerial change, I spelled out in this space multiple times over the winter what needed to happen for the Red Sox to make a full recovery – the acquisition of a dependable middle-class of responsible veterans, the emergence of some of the prizes of the farm system, a return to health and effectiveness for Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, and Beloved Fan-Favorite John Lackey.

For the most part all of those requirements have occurred to some degree, though a return to this level of prominence, where a deep October run doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility, is something no one dared predict.

Because the Red Sox' success seems so improbable on the surface, there are a lot of words being spent justifiably at the All-Star break retracing their route from last year's disaster to this. I thought Grantland's Jonah Keri, someone I like personally and respect immensely for his engaging knack for unveiling fresh insights about every team, was spot-on in his recent assessment of the Red Sox. Particularly with this closing line:

They were always a good team. It was just really tough to see for a while.

But there is – well, I wouldn't call it an old saw, but an educated belief or sentiment – among sabermetrically-inclined baseball writers that a manager really doesn't make much of a difference one way or the other when it comes down to a team's final won-lost record. In other words, the variance between a "good" manager and a 1980 Maury Wills is a handful of wins at most over the course of a season.

I generally agree with this line of thinking. But I don't with last year's Red Sox, as I suggested to Jonah in this back-and-forth on Twitter regarding his story:



It is worth remembering that the Red Sox were at .500 last year as late as August 2 (53-53). David Ortiz played exactly one game after that date. When the mega-turbo-blockbuster with the Dodgers was completed August 25, the Sox had fallen to 60-67. It was over, and it was out of Bobby V.'s control.

But ...

His name should never be associated with the word "scapegoat.'' Very little of what went wrong was within his control ... but did he ever have a knack for making a bad situation worse.

If there have been brushfires this season, Farrell has put them out before they could become infernos on your radio from 2-6 p.m. every day. Valentine? He brought the gasoline and the matches, and he did it from the beginning. In retrospect, the alarm never should have been turned off after he lost Dustin Pedroia just a couple of weeks into the season.

Coming off of the '11 collapse in which several Red Sox players tuned out a manager who had never betrayed them publicly, the personality of the next manager mattered more than it normally would or should. The culture mattered. And damned if it didn't end up being a worse-case scenario.

I'll always believe that most any player gives his best effort within his moment of the game. (OK, I'll grant you Manny as the occasional exception.) There's too much at stake – money, reputation, career, a sweet lifestyle – to allow dislike for a manager to affect whether you're trying to get a hit or not.

But when your manager isn't talking to your pitching coach, and the bench coach is presumed as a threat, and accountability for all is a suggestion rather than a rule, it's pretty easy to let things slide.

I'll always believe Josh Beckett wanted to win when the baseball was in his right hand. But when the manager is distant and disliked, maybe there's a little less preparation, fewer miles logged running in the outfield, perhaps a little more Cabela's Hunting Expedition game on the X-Box in the clubhouse during the third inning.

It's unfair to pin too many specific defeats on Valentine. He was just the manager. But that culture of sniping, pettiness and indifference that preceded and perhaps foreshadowed the lost summer of '12. That's all on him.

Know what's kind of strange? John Farrell's career winning percentage is .504. Bobby Valentine's? Yep, .504. In terms of wins and losses, they've been absolute equals.

It's everything else among a manager's responsibilities that is no contest.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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