The Art of False Narratives

The Red Sox aren't winning because of chemistry or beards. They're winning because of talent.

I’m sorry.  I just can’t sit over here quietly anymore.  I’ve stood by as writer after writer and talking head after talking head proclaimed the Red Sox’s new team chemistry as the primary (and in some cases, the singular) reason they’ve been able to complete a worst to first transition.  Those people could not be wrong, and, quite honestly, should not be trusted for baseball information.

My breaking point hit on Tuesday at around noon when I read an article by Gerry Callahan on the Boston Herald.  I know what you’re thinking:  Chip, you did this to yourself.  And by all accounts, I did.  After months of carefully trying to avoid these types of articles, save for a few carefully chosen selections by Mr. Cafardo, I gave in and read an article that I knew what infuriate me.

While I’m sure Gerry Callahan is a nice person one-on-one, I find his on air shouting-at-the-wind, the-sky-is-falling personality on the radio to be tired, attention seeking, and quite frankly impotent.  Does it grab ratings?  Yes, it does–or at least, it did.  Now, he and Dennis are getting spanked day in and day out by Toucher and Rich over on 98.5.  Is his schtick ridiculous?  You betcha.

Not surprisingly, his on-air personality translates to the written word.  After all, his public persona is what he’s paid for, so we should expect nothing from his sports opinions in the logical, rational, or fact based realms of the sports universe.  While I would strongly agree that there’s a place for emotion and reaction in sports, Mr. Callahan takes that one step further.  He dumbs things down by making broad and ridiculous generalizations about things he clearly has little intimate knowledge.  Rather than use the expertise his listeners assume he has to explain why the Red Sox are playing well, he would much rather pander to the lowest common denominator and stir his listeners up to push his own agenda.  This is hardly a new tactic, but I’m calling a spade a spade.

Case in point:

“Years from now, baseball fans will look back on the Red Sox’ 2013 season and wonder how it was even possible. They fashioned one of the great worst-to-first turnarounds in baseball history with only one player — their third-string closer — having an off-the-charts career year. Consider this: The Sox probably won’t have a player who finishes in the top five in the MVP or the Cy Young voting. Koji Uehara has been historically good out of the bullpen, but he got a late start. He is 15th in saves in the American League and doesn’t qualify for the ERA title.”

It’s true.  No one on the Red Sox is having an “off the charts” season.  The really question is this:  Does it really matter?

While no one on the club may finish in the top five MVP voting, they have four position players that have been worth more than five wins above replacement this season accoring to Baseball Reference.  FOUR!  That’s a lot!  Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, and David Ortiz have all been so valuable on the field that they haven’t needed one guy to be the most valuable!  For the record, none of the other 29 teams have even three position players worth at least five wins.

As for the Cy Young award, Clay Buchholz was well on his way to winning that award when he went down with a shoulder injury in early June.  During his healthy stretches, he’s been, by far, the most dominant pitcher in the American League.  It’s not even close.  Hands down.  Jon Lester, outside of a rough patch in June has been excellent all season.  John Lackey has been a revalation.  Felix Doubront, after toiling in mediocrity at the start of the season, finally took that next step forward.  Jake Peavy?  He’s been the best mid-season pick-up since Jason Bay.  While no one will finish in the top three for the CYA this year, Gerry, the starting pitching has been worth roughly 12 wins this season, which is roughly 13 wins better than 2012.*

* Yes, Red Sox starters performed below the replacement level in 2012, according to Baseball Reference’s version of WAR.

As for our closer, Koji Uehara, you can call him the third string closer all you want.  Those of us who have paid attention to baseball over the past few years could tell you that he’s one of the best relief pitchers in baseball.  Yes, Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan received opportunities to close ahead of Uehara, but that was due to the perception that Bailey and Hanrahan were “capital C” closers.  Maybe they are, but Uehara is proving that baseball people had him begged as a non-relief ace all along.

“And the 2013 Red Sox? Maybe, maybe Dustin Pedroia plays long enough to compile Cooperstown-worthy numbers, and perhaps Ortiz keeps up this pace for two or three more years and avoids any further PED scandals. Maybe you have one or two Hall of Famers on the field at Fenway tonight, but you know what’s more likely? That there is no Hall of Famer on this club, no MVP, no Miguel Cabrera, no otherworldly individual performance that helps explain this historic season.”

First of all, Ortiz is widely considered to be a serious Hall of Fame candidate.  He likely won’t be a first ballot guy, but given the backlog the baseball writers have created due to their refusal to vote for anyone, that shouldn’t surprise anyone.  As for Pedroia, he just turned 30.  Isn’t it a little early to be assessing his Hall of Fame candidacy?  Yes.  The problem with Callahan’s argument is that he needs to tear players down and belittle their accomplishments in order to create his ridiculous vision of “historic” and “out of nowhere” Red Sox season.  That’s why he brought up PEDs with Ortiz, and ignored the unbelievable accomplishments of the offense and the starting pitching.  If he declares the 2013 edition of the Red Sox as a flawed team, it makes the turnaround all the more magical.

Secondly, how is this team historic?  Yeah, the Red Sox have an outside shot at winning 100 games during the regular season since the first time since 1946.  It’s true.  But as I mentioned yesterday, 46 teams have won 100 games during the regular season in the division era, and only 10 walked away with a championship–including only four of the last 29.  Unless this club brings home the World Series trophy in October.  Don’t believe me?  Ask the Patriots if they feel their 16-0 season that ended with a Super Bowl loss was historic.

“Cherington made the greatest trade in Red Sox history a year ago, and then last winter, took the team in a bold new direction. He decided chemistry matters, character matters. He signed a busload of over-30 free agents who would not break the bank or rock the boat. He overpaid for guys like Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster and David Ross, and he resisted the temptation to throw money at a TV star like Josh Hamilton. The owners wanted sexy, he gave them mangy. It was risky. In February, I predicted this team would set a club record for appearances at the Jimmy Fund Clinic — and win 78 games.”

Back in February, Callahan looked at this team on paper and guessed they’d win 78 games.  He was wrong.  To this point, they’ve won 92 games (maybe 93, depending on how Tuesday’s night goes), and they still have 10 more games remaining to add to their season-end total.  And you know what?  Callahan can’t believe he was wrong.  I mean, how could he possibly be wrong?  After all, Cherington overpaid for Victorino, Gomes, Dempster and Ross!  He said it himself!  He was so wrong that something mystical must be at play!

Unfortunately, Callahan doesn’t understand how to value players appropriately in comparison to their contracts.  Victorino was paid the going rate for a good corner outfielder in his early to mid-30s.  Gomes was paid on par with the going rate for a platoon, power hitting outfielder.  Dempster was paid on par with the average number four starter.  Ross was paid for exactly what he is–the best back up catcher in baseball.  His problem is that he underestimated their abilities and value.  He can’t believe in their success because he had a preconceived notion about what these players could do.  None of these players are doing anything out of the ordinary, except for perhaps Gomes.  Even then, it’s only been because of his flair for the dramatic.

“In the end, I was wrong and Ben was right — incredibly, historically right. Character matters, chemistry matters. The beards matter. Hamilton is a complete bust in Anaheim, and Daniel Nava is seventh in the American League in hitting. It could all end in an instant in October, but that doesn’t change what we’ve witnessed during the past six months.”

Well, at least he can admit when he’s wrong.  Right?

Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to understand why he’s wrong. Ben Cherington did not build this team based around character.  He built this team in the same way Theo Epstein built the 2003 and 2004 Red Sox–around cheap, talent, and undervalued veterans who could come to Boston, do their jobs, win some games, and hold down the fort until the kids were ready in the minors.  The chemistry (and by extention, the beards) was built afterwards as an overwhelmingly positive, albeit secondary byproduct.  The 2013 team is exactly the same.  Yet, once again, people like Callahan have successfully hijacked the narrative, as they did in 2011, to set forth their own agenda.  As per usual, intelligence, logic, and rational thought loses out over bullshit–something Callahan is a professional at cramming down our throats.

Categories: Boston Red Sox Clay Buchholz Daniel Nava David Ortiz Dustin Pedroia Felix Doubront Jacoby Ellsbury John Lackey Jon Lester

After being slapped with a restraining order for stealing Nick Cafardo's mail, I was forced into retirement for a brief period of time. As fun as it was to lounge around the community pool and play shuffleboard with noted internet columnist, Murray Chass, I quickly felt a yearning to write again. Now in my second tenure with Fire Brand, I have set lofty goals of achieving world domination, ending the plight of the hipsters, and becoming BFFs with Mike Trout. I am fluent in two languages (Sarcasm and English, in that order); have an intimate relationship with M&Ms; firmly believe that Lucille is the best character on Arrested Development; and spend my spare time trolling select members of the Boston media. You can follow me on Twitter @Chip_Buck.

One Response to “The Art of False Narratives” Subscribe

  1. jsc1973 September 19, 2013 at 6:20 PM #

    This might be the best article I’ve read on the Red Sox’ turnaround all year. There’s nothing magical about it. They signed good baseball players, who have gone out and played good baseball. No one expected Nava to have a breakout season, and I sure never expected them to be able to flip Iglesias even-up for a year and a half of Jake Peavy, but there was every reason in the world to believe this team would win more than 78 games.