John Farrell and the Red Sox Miraculous Turnaround
Never underestimate the importance of motivation in professional sports. We often assume that players with multi-million dollar, guaranteed contracts will do everything in their power to earn that money by producing on the field, but that is not always the case. Despite coming into last season with the best of intentions, the Red Sox were almost immediately deflated by the overall arrogance, ignorance, and smug demeanor of their manager, and their performance suffered as a result.
However, this year the Sox can do wrong. After John Lackey threw his customary fit when he was pulled from last night’s 8-4 victory over the Yankees on Friday night, and Craig Breslow blew the lead by allowing a two-run double off the bat of Robinson Cano, the home team found a way to win. Fenway Park exploded in cheers not 20 minutes later when Jarrod Saltalamacchia launched a grand slam over the bullpen in right field, and the Red Sox ended up closing out their 90th win of the season.
There are some new parts in place for this roster. Yet for every Shane Victorino (who is on pace for career-highs in home runs and RBI despite missing 36 games due to injury), there is a Mike Napoli, who has struggled mightily at the plate during stretches and is third in the league with 176 strikeouts. The new additions haven’t turned this thing around, it’s simply a change in Boston’s baseball culture, a culture that used to be, and is now once more, about winning.
Just look at the emergence of Koji Uehara, who can officially be regarded as one of the premier closers in the game despite possessing a fastball that peaks in the low-90s. While Uehara posted solid numbers in three seasons as a middle reliever for Texas and Baltimore, he has truly flourished at the back end of Farrell’s bullpen. The Sox closer has retired the last 37 batters he’s faced, and has thrown over 30 straight scoreless innings while recording 14 consecutive saves.
Overall, the Red Sox pitching staff has a 3.80 ERA. Last year, many of the same pitchers combined to allow 754 earned runs on their way to a combined 4.70 ERA and the third-worst record in baseball. Thanks to the performance of Uehara, and the incredible turnarounds of Lackey and Felix Doubront, the Sox now have the best record in the majors at 90-59, instead of spiraling towards one of their worst finishes in history like they were last season.
This is certainly not a random turnaround. New manager John Farrell, who spent four years as Red Sox pitching coach from 2007-2010, was instrumental in the development of Buchholz as a young pitcher, as well as the revival of Jon Lester’s career after the starter beat cancer. Now that he has returned to Boston, it is hardly a coincidence that these two strong arms are realizing their potential in the early going.
It’s not just the pitching though, the Red Sox offense has been markedly better through four games under Farrell. They’re batting .277 with an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .796, and they’ve drawn 540 walks as a team. The 2012 Sox finished the season with only 428 free passes, which indicates that a number of hitters were impatient and frustrated throughout the year.
American League managers have few in-game responsibilities, other than making pitching changes. Those changes, while difficult, are often the watermark for how well a manager performs, because the outcome of those decisions will usually decide close games. During their 69-win season in 2012, Boston posted the third worst record in the American League in games decided by two runs or less. Partially thanks to Bobby Valentine’s poor decision making, but also due to the poisonous atmosphere in the clubhouse that only got worse as the year progressed.
When a manager is willing to throw their players under the bus, as Valentine did to Kevin Youkilis last April, it saps the motivation of the entire team. And when relievers, starters, and batters are unable stay motivated in clutch situations, you lose close games.
Just look at how Farrell treated his third baseman, Will Middlebrooks, when the second-year player was sent down to the minors. Middlebrooks was never coddled or endorsed unnecessarily, but Farrell maintained that he would have “a chance to prove himself,” and talked about how “once you’ve had a shot in the majors there is an urgency to get back here.” When Middlebrooks rejoined the lineup in August and went on an offensive tear, Farrell looked like the proud parent who develops integrity through tough love, and the Red Sox roster is markedly better for it.
The biggest difference between the 2013 and 2012 Red Sox will not be found in the roster’s composition, or the box score, but in the effort that is given by each individual on the team. It seems as though their new skipper has found a way to elicit that effort, and thus far, the results have shown.
Posted on September 14, 2013, in 2013, Red Sox and tagged Bobby Valentine, Clay Buccholz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, John Farrell, john lackey, jon lester, Koji Uehara, Mike Napoli, Red Sox, Shane Victorino, Will Middlebrooks. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.