The Boston Red Sox just fired pitching coach Juan Nieves. Now, if they really want to turn it around, they need to fire manager John Farrell.
The Boston Red Sox fired pitching coach Juan Nieves this week, following the team’s poor start and even poorer pitching. Through 29 games, the team stands at 13-16, 5.5 games behind the division-leading Yankees and tied with the Orioles for last place in the American League East. Nieves was an easy candidate to fall on the sword, as the Red Sox currently sit in last in the American League and second-to-last in all of baseball with a 4.95 ERA. Firing the pitching coach is all well and good, but it’s not enough. It’s time to do more. It’s time to fire manager John Farrell.
I’m certainly not alone in those thoughts; Jimmy Stewart, a producer at Boston’s 98.5 The Sports Hub, echoed this sentiment just this morning:
Manager needs to go. It's clear he can handle vets driven to win (2013) but not young talent / pitchers who needs help to develop.
— James Stewart (@IAmJamesStewart) May 9, 2015
Stewart mentions Farrell’s success in 2013, which seems a good place to start, especially for those not in agreement that Farrell is the problem. Farrell’s Red Sox won the World Series in 2013. It happened, it was awesome, and Farrell deserves to take at least his fair share of credit for the success. In his first season in charge in Boston, the Sox won 97 games, stormed through to playoffs with an 11-5 postseason record, and Farrell became the second Red Sox manager in 10 seasons to win a World Series his first year in charge, joining Terry Francona. He finished second in Manager of the Year voting. Things were good, to be honest.
But what about what’s happened since, and even what happened before? Even including his 97-win 2013 season, Farrell is 335-342 as a manager, a .495 winning percentage. In three of his four full seasons as a manager (two in Toronto, two in Boston), Farrell has finished .500 or worse. He finished fourth in the American League East in both of his seasons in charge in Toronto, winning 81 and 73 games in 2011 and 2012, respectively. He followed up his World Series win in 2013 with a last-place, 71-win season in 2014 with a team that was mostly the same as his World Series winner.
All of this is to say, maybe John Farrell isn’t a good manager. He’s certainly not a “bad” manager; his record goes to show he’s just an average one, which simply isn’t going to fly in Boston. But anyone with a cell phone and a radio station’s phone number can say “he’s a bad manager, look at the record.” That alone isn’t the issue. You can only blame a manager so much for a team’s record; the players need to perform, simple as that. John Farrell doesn’t deserve to be fired because the team is 13-16; he deserves to be fired because nothing he has done has shown he will turn this team around.
Let’s go back to that tweet from Stewart. He points out that Farrell’s issue is dealing with a young team, and it’s tough to argue that point. Last season was perhaps the best look we’ve had at this problem; nearly every young player the Red Sox used struggled. After winning the World Series in 2013 – a fluke not because the Red Sox weren’t that good, but rather because they weren’t supposed to be that good – the team decided to go with a youth movement in 2014. Jackie Bradley, Jr., Xander Bogaerts, and Will Middlebrows were supposed to infuse the team with young, talented blood that could pick up where the 2013 veterans left off. But for whatever reason, Farrell couldn’t get anything out of his young stars.
Bradley struggled worst of all of them, finishing the season with a .198/.265/.266 line and a lengthy minor-league stint in the late summer despite his Gold Glove-caliber play in centerfield. Bogaerts, expected to break out following his excellent 2013 postseason, also struggled. The natural shortstop was moved between short and third – as much the fault of general manager Ben Cherington as anyone, as it was his decision to bring in Stephen Drew, forcing a move by Bogaerts. In the end, Xander struggled both in the field and at the plate, hitting only .240 on the season. Middlebrooks was so bad when healthy – which was only a fraction of the season – he was essentially exiled, and ultimately traded this past offseason. Three young players, all expected to become regulars both last season and well into the future, all falling flat on their faces. Bradley is still toiling away in Triple-A, and Middlebrooks is a Padre. Bogaerts, for what it’s worth, has looked much better in 2015.
The issues extended far beyond the batter’s box, though. Farrell, a former pitching coach with these same Red Sox, was supposed to bring his knowledge to the rotation, and help get the most of out the likes of Clay Buchholz, Rubby De La Rosa, Felix Doubront, and others. That…that didn’t go so well. Boston’s 4.01 ERA – also with Nieves as pitching coach – ranked tenth in the American League in 2014. Buchholz struggled mightily, finishing the season with a 5.34 ERA. To say he regressed from his 2013 form would be an understatement. De La Rosa and Doubront – two young pitchers hoping to carve a place in the Boston rotation for years to come – combined for an ERA over 5.00. Doubront is now in the Blue Jays’ minor league system, and De La Rosa is a Diamondback.
This season hasn’t been much better for Boston, as their current record and ERA suggests. While the younger players are performing better, especially Bogaerts and centerfielder Mookie Betts, the pitching has been dreadful. While it certainly isn’t Farrell’s job to control the entire staff as a pitching coach would, a manager with his background can realistically be expected to get more out of his pitchers than he has. Worst of all, it seems like some of those pitchers – specifically the aforementioned Buchholz – are completely lost/disinterested/etc. It’s not simply a lack of results from some of these players that is frustrating Red Sox fans; it’s an apparent lack of passion.
Changing managers isn’t going to turn the Red Sox around. Not right away, anyway. But it will help. Farrell came into a perfect storm in 2013, a storm he absolutely deserves credit for steering in the right direction. But the Red Sox have been promising a “bridge year” for quite a while now, and if they’re serious about it, he isn’t the man to lead it. He simply doesn’t get enough from his young players or his pitchers, and his overall body of work – far more than his 2013 season – shows what Farrell really is. He isn’t the man to lead this team anymore, and it’s time for a change.