October 23, 2012

Q&A: Bluebird Banter Talks About John Farrell

Tom Dakers, one of the main writers at Bluebird Banter, was kind enough to answer some questions about John Farrell's two seasons at the helm of the Blue Jays.

How was Farrell presented to Jays fans when he was named manager (either his perceived strengths or how he compared to the other candidates)?
John's intelligence was talked about a lot. His experience in baseball, time spent as Indians' "Director of Player Development" was talked up. He was said to be thoughtful, intense and a hard worker.
Could you tell me a little bit about his styles/tendencies as a manager? How was he as an in-game tactician, bunting, running, lineups, etc.?
He is a strange combination of things I like and things I hate. He doesn't bunt much, a good thing. He rarely calls for intentional walks, a very good thing. He made good use of his coaching staff, he seemed to get along well with all of them and made sure they knew they were valued.

He loves the running game. Loves it. He especially loves the steal of third. I'm sure we lead the league in players caught stealing 3rd with 2 out in each of his two seasons here*. He never seemed to catch on to the idea that there was a cost to having runners caught. Farrell used the hit and run a lot. Perhaps too often.

Lineups? To be fair, John wasn't helped out by the roughly 74 injuries the Jays, but that wasn't a strong point. He doesn't seem to understand left/right splits. Adam Lind, with his .202/.250/.303 slash line against lefties, would often bat clean up against them.

[*: In all attempted steals of third, the Jays were 33-of-41 (80%) in 2011 and 32-of-38 (84%) in 2012. The team's overall SB% was 72% in 2011 and 75% in 2012]
Did he have a quick/slow hook with his starters? How was his bullpen management?
Farrell was a slow hook this year. Surprisingly to me, he didn't seem to be able to tell when a starter was tiring; maybe his hope was to build endurance, but starters always seemed to be left in a batter or two too long. It seemed like in 2011 he was a quicker hook.

Bullpen management was likely the one area that fans got on him the most about. He had troubles picking a closer in each of his two seasons with the Jays. He also would bring in the right-handed reliever with poor numbers against lefties to face a left-handed batter. Or bring in the lefty reliever to face right-handed batters. At times he would used his better arms in low leverage moments, then use the lesser arms in the important moments. Surprisingly, even as a former pitching coach, handling the pitching staff didn't seem to be a strong point.
Did his style change at all over the two years he was in Toronto?
His style didn't change much but he did seem to learn and improve some in small ways. He went in with the idea that the team should be aggressive on the base paths, but didn't seem to get that there are moments you shouldn't be so aggressive.
Did he work well with GM Alex Anthopoulos?
I thought so. Farrell himself said that reports of "friction" between the two were disrespectful, irresponsible and unfounded. I have no reason to think he was lying. I'd imagine any manager and GM that went through a season like they did would have moments of disagreement but I thought they worked well together.
What did you think of Omar Vizquez's comments late in the season that seemed to take a shot or two at Farrell's style of running the team, claiming that players who made stupid mistakes in games were not properly spoken to?
He may have had a point, though I'm not sure why he didn't go directly to Farrell with his concerns. Some of it seemed self-serving for Omar. Omar talked about the need for veteran presence in the clubhouse, but seemed to overlook that veteran presence was why he was on the roster.

You'd often see Farrell speaking to a player on the bench, after that player had made a mistake. So it did seem like he would address issues, but then some mistakes were made over and over again. I don't remember Farrell ever sitting a player to drive home the message about mistakes, which might have been a good idea.
Dakers also pointed me to this longer examination of Farrell from about a week ago.
More stuff re Farrell:

Mark Zwolinski, Toronto Star, October 22, 2012:
Farrell, according to several players who were interviewed at the close of the 2012 season, probably waited too long to put an authoritative stamp on the clubhouse. While there were meetings throughout the season, Farrell, according to several players, staged a closed-door session in the clubhouse last month at which he challenged every player to question his authority.

That meeting came months after a host of incidents — from Brett Lawrie's helmet-slamming antics to the Yunel Escobar eye-black scandal — combined to undermine Farrell’s role and the level of respect he had in the room.

Zaun was the first to note the lack of discipline in the clubhouse, and now-retired infielder Omar Vizquel remarked on the same subject near the end of the season. ...

When Farrell's departure was first rumoured last week, reports surfaced of rifts he may have had with his front office.

Anthopoulos said he was disturbed by those reports, since, he said, they were not based in fact.

While the subject can be debated, Farrell didn't appear to send a necessary message to some players. Lawrie kept playing despite repeated baserunning blunders, emotional outbreaks and even good-natured attempts by Farrell to educate him and prevent such instances from happening again. ...

"You can't let the inmates run the asylum," Zaun said. "The manager has to be clear on who the boss is, and what the manager says, goes. And if he wants to send a guy down or bench him to get his attention, then he has to be able to go the front office and say this is what he wants to do, and he has to have the backing of the front office. None of these kids have earned their stripes, but they're running around in a consequence-free environment. ... Someone needs to say this is not acceptable ..."
From Drunk Jays Fan:
Keith Law, October 9, Baseball Today podcast:

Farrell's an interesting one. I've had some people in the Red Sox organization who worked with him say he's actually really bright, he's very personable, he's very good with the pitchers, the players do like him, but he's a little stubborn on some of the old school in-game stuff.

Maybe he goes into that bucket with the Dusty Bakers or Ron Washington, where the players love him. What they say about Farrell is that he's actually a bright guy, and open-minded ...

Anyway, so Farrell's managing of the baserunning? He's been horrible. Absolutely awful. That's something I'd like to think you can work with if he's somebody who buys into your overall philosophy ... [T]here's value in what Farrell might bring to the table, especially if you think, at heart, you've got an intelligent guy who's open-minded.

That's really the biggest thing I would ask for a manager. If we sit down with you after a game and we say, "You know what? That bunt in that situation, we'd rather that you didn't do that, and here's the explanation of why" – you know, not a "I'm the GM and I'm telling you to never bunt again." That's really not how you want to run that relationship. If you get to that point with your manager, you probably need another manager. But to actually be able to have a regular conversation, where the manager might come back to you and say, "Look, here's why I did what I did – here's why I batted Joey Bagadonuts second tonight" – at least then it's a dialogue and you feel like over time you'll be able to get the manager to adapt a little bit more to the philosophy you and the front office are trying to put forth throughout the entire organization.

That's the sense that I've gotten from people who've worked with Farrell in Boston and Toronto – the sense that I've gotten, is that he's very intelligent, he's very personable, he is open-minded, he just gets a little stubborn, especially with the base stealing stuff. That seems to be a real blind spot for him ... [I]f I was in Boston, saying, alright, we want to bring you over, but you really have to stop trying to steal third base, because it doesn't work.

Andrew Stoeten, Drunk Jays Fan:

It all sounds about right, doesn't it? Granted, I wrote earlier in the week that the baserunning stuff is, in a lot of ways, overblown – the Jays' baserunning numbers weren't crazily out of line with the rest of the league, though they made the second most outs on the bases in MLB – but the third base stuff is tough to argue: they were tied with Baltimore for the most number of times caught stealing third base at eight, double the league average.

Still, what Law suggests about Farrell's intelligence and open-mindedness is pretty much exactly what we were sold when the Jays selected him as their manager, following an exhaustive search. And it's exactly why I don't mind giving him another kick at the cat, even if the folks who are dead set against it aren't exactly wrong that he truly hasn't shown much, either.
I also asked Craig, a Jays fan who works at the same law firm I do, what he thought of Farrell. He sent two emails:
Farrell is a player's manager. Players that like a manager who can be one of the guys will probably like him.

I found he wasn't very good at managing relievers who needed to be used in specific types of situations. Octavio Dotel was possibly the most obvious example. Farrell treated him like just another reliever ignoring very obvious splits, so Dotel ended up being used in situations where he was basically set up to fail.

Also, he was prone to bunting too often and attempting base stealing with power hitters at the plate. Example being he once had Rajai Davis attempt to steal 2B with Jose Bautista batting. This led to losing a run after Davis was caught stealing before Bautista hit one into the gap. Also, any bunt attempt in the first three innings is beyond stupid.

And of course there was the stupidity surrounding a lack of discipline within the team. It came from having too many young guys with all of the older players being injured, but Farrell didn't manage it well which led to very sloppy play on the field and the whole Yunel Escobar eye black thing.

Nobody here is upset that Farrell is leaving. Jays fans just hope he doesn't bring Brian Butterfield with him as he is a fantastic coach.
On Twitter we had a hash tag going for a while of #FarrellBall.

There was an overall philosophy of aggressive base running and small ball he was trying to push. Certainly part of it came from the roster. It's hard to not just let Rajai Davis steal bases since it's what he does. But Farrell would have the players do these things just for the sake of doing them rather than because it was the best decision at the time. The end result was that he often took the bat out of the hitter's hand.

Another example of him infuriating everyone was when there was a runner on third with no outs. JP Arencibia was due up, but instead Farrell had Omar Vizquel pinch-hit to try and lay down a sac bunt to score the run. This not only failed miserably when Omar couldn't execute, but Arencibia, who does hit well with RISP, was pretty pissed off about it.


allan said...

Interestingly, Farrell admitted during his red Sox press conference this afternoon that his aggressive running game in Toronto was (according to a SoSH post) "overboard, and they ran into outs".


"There were very obvious things with Lester watching him pitch that I want to talk about."

"Bard is not injured. Gives you every reason to believe he can regain ability."

SoSH Press Conference Thread: Lots of swooning!

Tom DePlonty said...

Thank you! Excellent post - more specific, and comprehensive, than the stuff on Farrell I've read anywhere else.

9casey said...

Good stuff, it seems he is different than Tito in the fact the doesnt allow the game to come to him. He would rather be aggressive.

Hope it works.

Off subject , Jim Leyland completely changed they way he handled his bullpen in the playoffs. He want with the hot guy rather than going by the book. Some managers are afraid to do that. He' s got balls and that and talent will win him a world series.

9casey said...

Just go away.....


Tom DePlonty said...

Other than the bit about Ortiz, there wasn't really any red meat in that interview (which I watched despite promising myself I wouldn't). NBC probably played that up before the show to get more eyes.

Even if Ortiz had shut himself down, that was the best thing for him and the team. Let an Achilles injury heal - no point in risking the rest of a career for a season that's already over, and we need his bat this season. Who cares what BV thinks.

I think you're right on about Leyland.

Maxwell Horse said...

I consider it meaty the fact that Valentine made it sound like someone else made up the story about Will Middlebrooks ("Nice inning, Will"), when in fact he himself provided that story on WEEI.

From that story arose a new wave of hatred for the players. "They're stabbing Valentine in the back! What babies! I'll bet it was Pedroia that snuck up the back stairs to tell on Valentine to the management!"

Now we're left with the very real idea that Valentine made up part or all of that story. I'm not sure people are grasping what a lying narcissist Valentine was.

We were left with this impression that the 2012 team was this bunch of traitorous, spineless babies. And yeah, I'm sure losing contributed to that, since losing makes everyone hate you. But at least part of that hatred and perception has been based on stories involving (or told exclusively by) Valentine.

I actually want Valentine to be torn apart Francona style here. It doesn't even have to be done in a dishonest way based on innuendo. I'd bet money if the simple truth and specifics of all these stories came out, that alone would be enough to show how skewed our perception of this season has been.

(Again, I'm not saying it's going to make us feel good about the season--since losing never feels good. I just hate the idea that the players have been painted as worse people than they deserved to be. All because of this "old school" reincarnation of John Wayne, or whatever the hell we were told he was.)

laura k said...

He doesn't bunt much, a good thing. He rarely calls for intentional walks, a very good thing. ...

He loves the running game. Loves it.

Me likee.

laura k said...

Omar talked about the need for veteran presence in the clubhouse, but seemed to overlook that veteran presence was why he was on the roster.

I thought that was a weird comment, too. Then again, I think it's weird that Omar Vizquel is still playing.

This is a good round-up, thanks.

FenFan said...

Again, Allan, you outdo yourself. Interesting to get the perspective from people who have seen Farrell coach day-to-day over the past two seasons.