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Are The Red Sox Explosive Enough?

2013 March 3

On Sunday, the Globe’s Nick Cafardo continued his offseason long campaign to not let you forget that the Red Sox did not sign Josh Hamilton. Call it ”Protect David Ortiz 2013,” if you will. This time Nick re-imagined a Sox lineup fit with the likes of Hamilton, Adam LaRoche and Cody Ross.

That’s $60 million the Sox had for a shopping spree.

…the shopping spree yielded Mike NapoliShane VictorinoJonny GomesDavid RossStephen Drew, and Ryan Dempster. Quantity, yes, but more Marshall’s than Nordstrom’s.

They could have done, say, this:

Sign Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million deal (which he got from the Angels). Sign Adam LaRoche to a two-year, $24 million deal (which he got in Washington). Re-sign Cody Ross to a three-year, $26 million deal. Sign David Ross and Dempster.

That comes to about $62 million for 2013.

There are problems with the piece. For one, as important as a contract’s average annual value is in relation to the luxury tax, there’s a significant difference between the two options laid before us. Committing a combined $71.5 million on one- to three-year deals for Napoli, Victorino, Gomes and Drew ($63.5 million if Napoli doesn’t meet performance bonuses) is not the same thing as promising $175 million to the likes of Hamilton, LaRoche and Cody Ross on longer contracts.

There’s also the larger concern of whether or not the Red Sox are in the right position organizationally and on the win curve to commit major dollars and years to a premium free agent. What I think is particularly worth addressing though is Cafardo’s proposal that a lineup that includes Hamilton, LaRoche, and Ross, but consequently Jose Iglesias, is demonstrably “more explosive” than the one Boston is set to run out on opening day.

Using the projections from ZiPS, Steamer and Bill James – all readily available at Fangraphs – and making playing time assumptions of our own, we can come up with projected runs above average for both groups.

First up we’ve got Cafardo’s Sox. What jumps out is how much Iglesias harms the group. On average, Iglesias wipes out nearly all of Hamilton’s production. Depending on the projection system, the group could be expected to contribute anywhere from about one to three wins at the plate, with much of the swing hanging on Hamilton’s season.

Next we’ve got the guys who will actual play for the Sox this season. The attention being paid to identifying a backup first baseman this winter tells me that the Sox may be looking to give Napoli some days off throughout the season, so we’ve got Mike Carp penciled to make up the 100 plate appearance difference between Napoli and LaRoche. I don’t think we know at this point whether Gomes will be used more as a straight platoon or an everyday regular, so we’ve got Ryan Sweeney getting 150 plate appearances in order to match up with Hamilton.

Look at that. The second group actually comes out ahead according to all three systems, projecting something in the area of two to three wins. Notably, the fall off between Ross to Gomes isn’t nearly as dramatic as some would think and while Stephen Drew may not be the second coming, he’s got a good chance to be a major upgrade over Iglesias. As always, injuries will play a large role in how moves made or not made play out, though neither group strikes me as distinctly more likely to stay healthy than the other.

To be fair, we’re only looking at one part of the equation. The former group is considerably more equipped with the glove, enough so that it likely will push their overall production ahead. But with what we know, it’s tough to think that Cafardo’s Sox would be any more explosive on offense than the actual Sox.

Red Sox Acquire John Farrell From Toronto Blue Jays

2012 October 21

The Red Sox acquired manager John Farrell from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for infielder Mike Aviles. Boston also receives 27-year-old right-hander David Carpenter.

 

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There is a rule of thumb that managers, under no circumstances, are worth any type on-field talent. As a point to work from, I think it makes a lot of sense. Does that mean it’s actual correct?

There is little precedence. In MLB history, only seven managers (including Farrell) have been acquired by a club while under contract with another one. There’s no reason for an organization to offer more than they have to in order to obtain anything, manager or player, from another organization. Even after a season in which we saw the Miami Marlins send prospects to the Chicago White Sox for manager Ozzie Guillen, history suggests starting from the position of “please give me the manager.”

Greater leverage is in the hands of the team seeking to acquire the manager than we often assume. The Blue Jays had every right to hold Farrell hostage, but they’d have to do so knowing that he no longer wanted to be a part of their organization. Best case scenario, he completes the final year of his contract under uncomfortable circumstances. Worst case scenario, he becomes disgruntled and counterproductive. Plus, they don’t receive what ever compensation, nominal or not, that they could have.

Much of this line of thought hinges upon the assumption that the on-field contributions or effects of any given manager are insignificant. Consequently, the position could and should just as well be filled by the next best candidate available that requires no compensation. Who is that next best available manager? Doesn’t matter. By default they’re insignificant.

Are we confusing an absence of evidence with evidence of absence?

We know that the tactical contributions of managers (lineup construction, bullpen and baserunning decisions) aren’t worth the attention they receive, swaying the team’s record no more than a handful of games over the course of a season. But what about the stuff behind the scenes? It’s easy to mock a manager who keeps a happy clubhouse*, but also calls for the second hitter in the lineup to bunt at the first available opportunity. Does this mean though that a happy clubhouse holds no significant value? Are we ignoring what, if other employment settings hold true, is actually the manager’s greatest responsibility, simply because it occurs behind closed doors and is hard to put a number on?

*Happy clubhouse is a stand in for all those things a manager does within an organization, including, but not limited to, keeping the workforce happy.

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On a related note, a recent study was published by individuals from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and the University of Utah that examined the value of bosses. It suggests that the choice of boss matters:

Full disclosure: I haven’t read the study, only the linked blurb and articles on the study.

There is substantial variation in boss quality as measured by the effect on worker productivity. Replacing a boss who is in the lower 10% of boss quality with one who is in the upper 10% of boss quality increases a team’s total output by about the same amount as would adding one worker to a nine member team. Using a normalization, this implies that the average boss is about 1.75 times as productive as the average worker. Second, boss’s primary activity is teaching skills that persist. Third, efficient assignment allocates the better bosses to the better workers because good bosses increase the productivity of high quality workers by more than that of low quality workers.

Are findings from “technology-based service jobs” relevant on the baseball diamond? I don’t know, but it’s probably wiser to assume that they might be rather than that they aren’t. Think of Bobby Valentine as the boss in the lower 10% if you’d like.

The third finding is the most interesting and maybe most relevant here. The criticism of Farrell has focused on the poor results he experience in Toronto (a 154-170 record in his two seasons with the club and a starting pitching staff with 4.69 ERA). The first problem is that we should be looking at the process and not results. That aside though, this study could suggest that Farrell, if a “better boss,” might be able to increase the productivity of an underperforming, but arguably talented Boston staff, more than he was able to a Toronto staff, injured and of a more questionable degree of talent.

Managers, What the Heck Do We Know?

2012 October 19

The Red Sox managerial search may be nearing its end.

The Globe’s Nick Cafardo reports that Boston and Toronto have advanced past the preliminary stage of compensation talks for manager John Farrell. That both parties have reached this point suggests their preferences. Boston wants Farrell. Toronto wants to move past him. So while no deal is done until the ink is dry, turning back from here would require at least one team to act against their interest.

As a fan, I feel like I’m supposed to have an opinion here. “Why give up anything for a manager when others are available without such strings? Brad Ausmus would make a better manager than Tim Wallach.” Except I’m not really sure how any of us can, lest it be nothing more than conjecture.

Prior to the news of talks intensifying, ESPN ran a piece by Gordon Edes that profiled the candidates interviewed for the position (along with Farrell and others Edes felt should be considered, omitted below).

The profiles read like Wikipedia entries. Candidate [A] was employed as [insert job title] from [insert period of time]. Edes covers the team day in, day out and this – which is consistent with other outlets in nature and breadth – is the best to be offered.

What do we know about each candidate’s ability to leads a group of people? To process and disseminate information vertically within an organization? To address and move past internal conflict? To deal with the physical and emotional issues that players face?

What the heck do we know about each candidate’s ability to be a major league manager?

Very, very little.

 

The Face of Defeat

2012 September 17
by John

Fire Bobby Valentine

2012 September 16

In the top of the seventh inning of today’s 5-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, manager Bobby Valentine made a move that for me, will in all likelihood define his tenure with the club for the worse.

To that point I had been something of a Valentine supporter, if only in that I wasn’t calling for his head. I was indifferent. To avoid getting sidetracked, I’ll just say this: I believe that no manager can cost his team more than a handful of wins in any given season. Valentine has done nothing to shake that belief. What has flipped my opinion of Valentine wasn’t a bunt, bad bullpen call or an “un-optimized” lineup (things that more managers are guilty of than not), but a decision to operate directly against the best interests of the team.

The game tied 0-0, with two outs and a runner on second, Valentine pinch hit for light hitting shortstop, Jose Iglesias, in the middle of an at bat. Iglesias was pulled from a 2-2 count in favor of Daniel Nava. Pedro Ciriaco had just stolen second base on the fourth pitch of the sequence, putting the go-ahead run in scoring position and giving Valentine the opportunity to play for the win. The manager confirmed that much after the game, “there’s a risk/reward there. The risk is negligible; the reward is a win.”

It’s safe to say that Iglesias, who was 0 for 2 on the day, didn’t give the team much of a chance to score the runner. In 39 career major league plate appearances, Iglesias has recorded four hits (.102 batting average). In three minor league seasons spanning over 1000 plate appearances, he holds a .264 batting average. The thing is though, none of that matters.

The Red Sox entered the day with 66 wins. They had the eighth worst record in baseball and the fourth worst in the American League. It is no time to be concentrating on the present. Iglesias meanwhile is a 22-year-old player getting his first extended look in the majors and he plays a position that the team will likely enter the offseason looking to improve at.

Iglesias took a seat and Nava grounded out to the pitcher on the first pitch he saw to end the inning. The Red Sox fell to 66-81 under the guidance of Bobby Valentine.

Maybe the downside was negligible. It was just one at bat after all, not even a complete one at that. Iglesias takes this one on the chin, holds his head high and doubles down his perseverance. Only it’s not about the magnitude of the risk, but its direction. It’s one less opportunity for Iglesias to further his development and for the organization to get a look at a young player who may or may not be a part of its future.

Further defending his decision, Valentine stated that “it’s not just about one guy. It’s about a whole group of guys.”

Today, it was about one guy. It was about a manager with one foot out the door, putting himself and his win/loss record ahead of the organization.