Much has been made of the complete overhaul the Red Sox underwent in the offseason. Multiple players were brought in, changing the entire culture of the team. Perhaps more importantly, the front office claimed a familiar face to lead the team.
John Farrell’s appointment as manager didn’t garner as much attention as the players. Yet he has had a major impact on both the atmosphere surrounding the team and the play on the field.
Let me acknowledge that it’s difficult to gauge exactly how much influence a manager has. On field decisions can be scrutinized and second-guessed, but a manager also makes hundreds of decisions behind the scenes. What struck me this season was how little we heard about discord in the clubhouse, whether between players and manager, between the coaches, or with the front office. Farrell deserves a tremendous amount of credit for this.
It also makes it easy to contrast this season with the catastrophic dumpster fire of 2012. With Bobby Valentine at the helm, there seemed to be a new controversy every day. John Farrell has managed to focus attention squarely on the games, quite an achievement when you consider the rabid Boston media.
This approach has fit well with the group of veteran self-described “baseball rats” that makes up this year’s Red Sox. There has been little focus on contract issues, playing time gripes, or personality conflicts. If these issues have come up, they’ve been handled out of the media spotlight.
On the field, he has managed some tough situations well. These include the multiple injuries to the back end of the bullpen, questions in rotation due to the long injury layoff for Clay Buchholz, and juggling playing time at shortstop, third base and left field. In each situation, he’s managed to keep his players happy while putting the team in the best position to succeed.
In the playoffs, Farrell has shown that he will change his tactics to fit the situation. This type of flexibility from a manager often leads to playoff success. Terry Francona managed much differently in the postseason than the regular season, and Farrell has followed that example.
In Game 3 against Tampa, he made an aggressive move to pinch run for David Ortiz in the 8th inning. As this post details, unfortunately he didn’t manage the rest of the inning as aggressively, leaving two batters who struggle against lefties in to face lefty fireballer Jake McGee.
While he defended this move after the game, in a similar situation in Game 4 he took a different tact. He used Xander Bogaerts to pinch hit, and his walk was the turning point in the Red Sox victory. He managed Game 4 like it was a must-win game throughout, and pulled it off perfectly.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez wouldn’t adjust his regular season tactics, and the Braves were bounced from the playoffs with their best relief pitcher waiting unused in the bullpen. John Farrell aggressively adjusted his tactics, and the Red Sox managed to avoid a stressful Game 5.
With Farrell’s hands at the wheel, here’s hoping he can steer the Red Sox to their third World Series title this century.