April 9, 2012

Keep Calm And Carry On

Losing three games - two of them by only one run - to the powerhouse-hitting team many people think will steamroll to the World Series? This is making Red Sox fans panic?

We have dealt with far worse situations than this, and somehow kept our heads. In fact, we sometimes accepted those situations as merely our sad lot in life.

It was a bad three games, I agree. Sunday's game was particularly horrific. The two relief pitchers in competition for the role of shutting down the opposition in the ninth inning have utterly failed. Mark Melancon allowed two hits in the ninth inning of a 2-2 tie on Opening Day and one of them scored when Alfredo Aceves allowed a ground ball single down the left field line. Melancon could not put away Alex Avila on Sunday evening and the resulting two-run home run in the 11th inning crushed the hopes of fans hoping to salvage something from this season-opening series. And Aceves left his mark on G3 also. Entrusted with a three-run lead in the ninth, he allowed two singles and a home run to flush what could have been a 10-7 win.

This has many fans demanding that Daniel Bard be yanked from the rotation before he has made even one start and plugged back into the bullpen. But that would be a mistake and a clear sign that the front office has abandoned the philosophy that brought them two World Series championships after an 86-year drought. It would show that the team is taking the short view and looking at only the recent games when making important decisions. You don't base team decisions on two games worth of data.

Reacting impulsively to the most recent thing that happened - that's exactly what the sports media does. And it's one of the things we hate about them. They need attention, they need web clicks, so they go for the most sensationalist, attention-grabbing angle. Quick to stir up controversy, create gloom and doom where there is none, put fans on edge - it is their raison d'ĂȘtre. However, I expect a more mature attitude from a multi-million dollar business like the Red Sox. I trust them not to measure their success by water cooler talk or angry calls to sports radio.

When George Steinbrenner let his emotional outbursts drive the direction of the Yankees during the 1980s, he was the laughingstock of baseball, and the team suffered accordingly. In contrast, the front office that Theo Epstein ran from 2003-11 prided itself at taking the long view, of not getting its cues from sports columnists or the impatient fans on sports radio. There was a clear reason why we said: "In Theo We Trust". The front office explained its five-year plan, it sounded ambitious and logical, and they executed it with as much precision as you can in the unpredictable world of professional baseball. And it worked. It goddamn worked. They won two titles in those five years.
Example
Relief pitching is extraordinary difficult (if not impossible) to predict. Every season relief pitchers seemingly come out of nowhere and excel beyond anyone's expectations, and then they often lose that effectiveness in a season or two. (Who knew that Kyle Farnsworth would become an elite closer for Tampa Bay last year?) The reverse also happens. Being able to keep your cool and concentrate in the highest-leverage situations is a talent, but considering the pressure and demand to excel that every major league pitcher deals with while rising up through the minors, the possession of a "closer's attitude" seems unimportant to me. Any player unable to shut out the crowd and focus on the task in front of him either washes out of the majors very quickly or never gets within shouting distance of the bigs in the first place.

Bobby Valentine committed an error when he announced that Aceves would be the team's closer. Aceves was angry at not being chosen for the rotation and perhaps Valentine's designation was made to boost his ego. I don't know. But I do know that without that pronouncement, Valentine could have used Aceves or Melancon or Vicente Padilla or Franklin Morales as each ninth-inning situation and different opponent arose. One size does not fit all. Now, if (when?) Valentine changes anything, it will be spun as a panicking manager of a rudderless team giving up on a player after only a handful of appearances.

I want the management of my team to understand that shit happens. (I want overwrought and misplaced panic to be the exclusive domain of the CHBs of the world.) Bad teams beat good teams, and good teams lose games. Sometimes those good teams lose two or three games in a row. The 1998 Yankees began the season 0-3 (and 1-4), and ended up with a 114-48 record and a World Series trophy. The 2011 Red Sox started out 2-10, then started winning like gangbusters, going 80-41, including 36-15 in June and July. (What happened in September does not erase the previous four months of excellence.)

After Sunday's game, Adrian Gonzalez told Mark Melancon: "Keep your head up. Keep grinding. A couple of weeks from now you're not even going to remember it."

A bad three-game start to a six-month baseball season is like grinding your gears at the start of a long drive. It's annoying, but it won't affect your journey.

17 comments:

9casey said...

Allan , I can give a shit about the media , but the front office put the Red Sox in this situation with very confusing moves during the offseason. Not offering Bot a contract, trading Scutaro away for no reason, taking one of your proven bullpen guys out of the bullpen and making him a starter...

Panic, no .. But these moves all make you scratch your head, they make no sense, and if they do make a change are they giving into the media?? Or just doing what some of us think should be done. Some of my opinions and other commenters on this page may feel the same way.

And if we happen to agree with some of the media , I think that is allright, after all it is the globe and the mlb network not Fox News..

I understand your dislike for mainstream media.....But are they all wrong????

allan said...

Not offering Bot a contract, trading Scutaro away for no reason, taking one of your proven bullpen guys out of the bullpen and making him a starter...

1. Bot wanted more money than they felt was reasonable for a relief pitcher, even a great one. That has been their stance for years and years. Not confusing at all.

2. While I think Aviles will make us forget about Scutaro (I already have), they did trade him for next to nothing. As was reported, probably a payroll issue. Doesn't seem like a big enough deal to rip them for, though.

3. Despite the two games in which the pen had imploded, they have talent out there. And they figured that 150 innings of starting is more valuable than 70 innings of relief.

Agreeing with the media is all right, but (outside of a game thread) it should be based on something other than pure emotion.

The fuss over Bard bothers me because it was clear they wanted him to start months ago and he worked over the winter as if he was starting. He spent spring training as a starter. To undo all that work and planning (which obviously affected other aspects of the roster) even before he throws one friggin pitch is insanity to me.

Give Bard at least 5 starts and let BV sort out the pen for a few weeks before making any decisions. Like I said in the post, making any permanent decisions after a mere three innings of evidence (against one of the best teams in baseball) is not the mark of an intelligent organization.

Tom DePlonty said...

The fuss over Bard bothers me because it was clear they wanted him to start months ago and he worked over the winter as if he was starting. He spent spring training as a starter. To undo all that work and planning (which obviously affected other aspects of the roster) even before he throws one friggin pitch is insanity to me.

I agree. The 150 vs. 70 innings is a strong argument that the fifth starter is more important than any reliever, even a closer. Bard was apparently competing with Padilla and Aceves for the job in ST, and thought to be the best bet. To yank him now, in reaction to Bailey's injury and two bullpen implosions, may make the team worse. There's no way to know until Bard actually makes some starts.

Rasputin said...

Wait, what?

People think the Tigers are an offensive powerhouse that is going to steamroll to the world series?

When did this happen?

FenFan said...

Well-stated, Allan; it doesn't make sense to push the panic button three games into the 2012 season... unless you are the Boston media, who routinely play on the emotions of sports fans to boost ratings and revenue.

The only move from yesterday's game that I questioned (before it backfired) was removing Padilla from the game when it seemed that he had enough left in the tank to get the last three outs. On the other hand, I'm sure Valentine felt that this was a golden opportunity for Aceves to get his first save: a three-run cushion with momentum on Boston's side.

Give Bard a half-dozen starts, continue to groom Aceves AND Melancon, and see where the chips fall before tearing up the plan and relying on gut alone.

Amy said...

Although I agree in part with 9C, after reading your post and response and also a similar analysis at OTM, I am on board with sticking with the plan. For now. But boy, that was one heart-breaking series...

allan said...

When did this happen?

Maybe that is over-stating it, but they were picked by a lot of them there experts to win the pennant.

allan said...

Amy: OTM is good and they bring up another good point. The Tigers lit up Beckett and Buchholz. Maybe we better put them in the pen, too.

tim said...

The Tigers lit up Beckett and Buchholz. Maybe we better put them in the pen, too.

At least we have our ace, Cy Padilla. He should be able to throw 300 innings this year, no?

Ig said...

Hey, I'm not panicking.
But questions about who closes are kind of theoretical for now. The Sox don't really have a closer until someone really closes a game. So far, two chances for two guys, and nobody's closed anything yet...

9casey said...

The "plan" blew up when Bailey went down..

Injuries and lack of depth...

allan said...

If you have a lack of depth after losing only one guy, you never had any depth to begin with.

allan said...

Buster Olney claims the Red Sox are a team with lingering clubhouse discord from last September's collapse and the beer/chicken reports. Olney suggests that some Sox players still resent the source or sources that leaked that information.

"There are still some players on that team angry with what happened last fall. The accusations, questions about who the mole was on that chicken and beer story. One loud conversation I heard about between two teammates on that team. They've got to get that settled. This isn't necessarily about Bobby Valentine, this is about players turning the page and moving forward. ... It really tells you the depth of the anger that was felt after that story got out. ... There's a lot of questions among some Red Sox players about who was the guy that leaked that information out there and that has not been resolved."

allan said...

B5 takes some blame for the opening series debacle:

Valentine said he has arms to succeed in bullpen but he has to manage them better. "And I will" he said
(Bradford tweet)

Steve said...

While I completely agree that people are freaking out needlessly this early in the season, part of the reason the Sox are in trouble is that Theo stuck the team with so many bad contracts before he left town. It really doesn't work to hold Theo up as some kind of genius long term master planner when his plans were what's put the Sox in the situation they've been in the last three seasons.

hrstrat57 said...

It's just chicken and beer panic....move along folks.

allan said...

Theo stuck the team with so many bad contracts before he left town

Bad contracts, as of 2011? Name 3.

It really doesn't work to hold Theo up as some kind of genius long term master planner when his plans were what's put the Sox in the situation they've been in the last three seasons.

If you are talking contracts, you also have to acknowledge that he signed the following five players to contract FAR FAR below market value: Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, Youkilis, and Pedroia. And was churning out and keeping major leaguers at an outstanding rate for several years: Lester, Buchholz, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Bard, Papelbon.

You can't just point at Lackey or Crawford and say that's the story. (And the jury is still out for long time re Craw.)