Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Thoughts on the Red Sox Press Release

The Red Sox Nation of fans became one of the biggest fan forces in baseball over the last ten years. Successful over the past nine years, those fans have seen two World Series titles and an end to a long curse and inferiority complex to the New York Yankees. Their team, the Boston Red Sox, became the model franchise. This space has lauded them consistently on how they have outsmarted the Yankees on numerous occasions and their reliance on statistical data went so far as to hire Bill James, the grand poo-bah of our analytic era. All of those apple carts have been overturned in the past few weeks as revelation after revelation has hit the front pages and the Red Sox seem poised to begin 2012 with a new manager and general manager. What the heck happened here?

The conclusions of the masses and of many members of the media seem to be based on the following basic story lines:

  • The Red Sox starting pitchers got out of shape and collapsed in September.
  • Terry Francona's hands-off style combined with a lack of in-house policing led to anarchy and losses.
  • There was a lack of team unity with a schism between the pitchers and the position players and most of the team with Jacoby Ellsbury. 

All of these story lines are cited as factors in the monumental collapse the Red Sox experienced in the month of September. They are also cited as the reasons Terry Francona was no longer the right manager for the Red Sox.

The major "symptom" of these story lines or the disease, if you will, have become the beer-drinking, chicken-eating, game-playing trio of Jon Lester, John Lackey and their supposed ringleader, Josh Beckett. The latest allegation in this game of symptom-calling was that these three drank beer in the dugout during games. This latest bombshell led to the press release yesterday with rebuttals from the three pitchers, "former manager," Terry Francona and CEO, Larry Lucchino. This press release follows recent interviews from Jon Lester and Jason Varitek that perhaps the pitchers did wrong at times and perhaps Terry Francona was part of the problem since he obviously let the pitchers do whatever they wanted. Curt Schilling has given his two cents that Francona is not to blame and that these pitchers should look at themselves in the mirror.

All three of the pitchers vigorously denied drinking in the dugout according to the press release. From an outside observer's view, their comments seemed a bit off-putting. They sounded like some television criminals defensively telling Leroy Jethro Gibbs in the interrogation room, "Look, we might have taken that old lady's handbag, but we didn't kill nobody." All three admitted culpability for "doing some things wrong" during the season. Lucchino was like the parent forcing the students to tell the teacher that they did something wrong. Thus, though denying the major allegation, they seemed to have accepted their roles as designated scapegoats.

Terry Francona chimed in perhaps trying to hold on to his last shred of dignity (and hopes of future employment) and said he's never seen anyone drink in the dugout "in his 32 years of professional baseball."

Larry Lucchino's part of the press release was grating. First, he states that he believes the "testimony" of these three pitchers. Then he goes on to make a point of calling Francona, "the former manager," and then he sort of whines that he wants this all to go away, which of course it won't. This writer can't help by being irked that he had to make a point about Francona. Lucchino could have simply named him without adding on that nice little tag line. That "former manager" led your team to the promised land twice, Mr. Lucchino.

Numbers do not lie. The numbers show that the offense was still potent in September. They weren't quite as potent as they were in August, but they were great numbers just the same. The numbers also show that starting pitchers went 4-13 with a 7.08 ERA with a WHIP of 1.753. The bullpen similarly failed as they had a 3-7 record with a 4.45 ERA in September. Let's call that, "Exhibit A." The defense also struggled mightily in September. Three pitchers have now admitted that they handled some things incorrectly during the season. We'll call that, "Exhibit B." What this writer struggles with is A+B=September collapse. Certainly "A" by itself is a major factor. But does "B" have anything to do with that?

The prevailing opinion is yes. This writer isn't so sure. Injuries to Buchholz, Dice-K and Erik Bedard didn't help either. The defense can partially be blamed on the long, drawn out way the Red Sox pitch. Several stories during the month showed an inclination of Boston pitchers to take minutes between pitches instead of seconds. How many times have we heard from fielders that a fast-paced pitcher aids the defense. The Red Sox would be the reverse of that. They easily led the majors in average game time.

We have become a pretty intolerant society since the PED scandal broke. Ball players are expected to be in shape and work hard year round (as long as they don't ingest anything that aids that aim). This is a relatively new phenomenon. Players didn't always take care of themselves. Players often partied and carried on to excess. And yet there has always been excellence by some players before this new norm and after it. But the new norm gives the fans (and writers) the expectations that players should be automatons and not the young human beings they obviously are. There is a double standard at work here in a society where most popular music is about how to party and enjoy life but our sports figures are to be the paragons of propriety. Life doesn't work that way.

To sum this all up, this writer isn't prepared to say emphatically that it was "A" plus "B" that equaled collapse or that "A" equals "B." On the surface it seems that a strange mix of injuries, pressure and calamity snowballed into disaster. That disaster has its fallout and it ended an era of Boston leadership. But like the fallout from the meltdown of a nuclear power plant, the radiation spewed out becomes the reason for the failure instead of the real reasons that are far more mundane and complicated.

1 comment:

Stevo-sama said...

Fantastic assessment. Your Jacoby Ellsbury comment made me consider whether a bigger mid-season impact for the Cardinals was acquiring Rafael Furcal or in getting rid of Colby Rasmus. I haven't heard very many pundits cite Rasmus' sayonara as a plus point for their late-season performance.

I just finished writing something about how horribly the Twins collapsed against pre-season projections by Baseball Prospectus...apparently whatever is wrong in Boston never happened in Minnesota but had a larger performance impact for that team.