EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 22, 2012

Farrell must focus on pitching immediately

On Pro Baseball Christopher Smith
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — You’re kidding yourself if you think new Red Sox manager John Farrell will have all the time in the world on his hands while trying to fix a dismal Boston pitching staff that posted a 4.70 ERA in 2012, ranking 27th out of 30 staffs in the majors.

Farrell, a former Red Sox pitching coach who spent the past two seasons as manager of Toronto, worked with pitchers less than you would think while managing, Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow said.

“He’s so busy handling everything that he doesn’t spend a lot of time (with just the pitchers),” Morrow said about Farrell last month. “Obviously, he’s very knowledgeable and we’ve had good conversations about changing speeds and kind of the big thing I’ve added this year: the separation between my curveball and fastball. ... But the manager has such a busy job he’s not out at bullpens and stuff.”

A manager obviously has a ton of responsibilities. He must research matchups, put together lineups, deal with the media, cultivate relationships, set the clubhouse mood and know everything that is happening with everybody on his team — and much more.

Farrell, who the Red Sox signed to a three-year deal over the weekend to be their manager, will have much more on his to-do list than improving the pitching.

But pitching should be Farrell’s greatest concern and focus this offseason and upcoming season considering the Sox staff has been horrendous over the past two years. It ranked 22nd out of 30 staffs in ERA in 2011.

Pitching certainly is Farrell’s greatest area of expertise.

Before managing the Blue Jays, the ex-major league hurler was Boston’s pitching coach from 2007-10. The Red Sox posted an American League-best 3.87 ERA in 2007. Boston hurlers recorded the third-best ERA in the league (4.11) during Farrell’s four years here.

Baseball Prospectus’ Ben Lindbergh wrote an interesting article in October 2010 after the Blue Jays hired Farrell. The piece discusses how certain ex-pitching coaches have performed as managers and how there actually is a dearth of pitching coaches who have earned promotions to manager.

Lindbergh astutely ponders: “By declining to ‘promote’ their pitching coaches, perhaps teams are simply acknowledging the vital nature of their duties. If a pitching coach succeeds in his original role, he may offer his team the greatest possible value by continuing in that capacity. From a utilitarian perspective, would you rather have (then-St. Louis pitching coach Dave) Duncan fiddling with lineups and giving injury updates to roving packs of beat writers, or teaching Joel Pineiro how to throw a sinker?”

I’m sure many of you Sox fans would rather have Farrell’s bench coach deal with pitcher vs. batter match-ups and beat writers so Farrell can tirelessly work side-by-side with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and the rest of the starters.

But that isn’t realistic. Farrell is here this time around to work with everybody from the front office to his coaches to all the players.

That said, his first and most important duty must be to find a pitching coach on the same exact page as him. Farrell then must work extremely close with that pitching coach immediately this offseason on several issues, including developing a plan to better Lester’s performance and improving Buchholz’s consistency.

Farrell also should monitor Sox pitchers more than managers normally do, especially early on in his tenure. He needs to have a good relationship with them but also establish rules and discipline and make them accountable if rules and workouts aren’t followed.

He needs to take that same type of attitude with position players, too. He can’t be as lenient as Terry Francona became in 2011 but he also has to be more careful with his words and relationships than was Bobby Valentine.

Farrell already is well respected by his players. He earned their respect by working hard when he was here. And if he is going to help dig the Sox out of the hole they are in, he must work even harder than ever before.

Farrell, who was the Cleveland Indians director of player development before joining Boston (and therefore, has front office experience), must work carefully with general manager Ben Cherington and Cherington’s newly-appointed special assistant Jason Varitek to evaluate the pitching on the current roster and in the free agency/trade markets.

Those three men must work tirelessly together in the coming months.

Farrell has a lot to prove still as a manager. The 50-year-old posted only a 154-170 record in two years with the Blue Jays and veteran Toronto shortstop Omar Vizquel told the Toronto Sun late this past season that young Jays players were allowed to repeatedly make the same mistakes without being held acountable.

For the Red Sox’ sake, hopefully, there will be more clubhouse accountability now that Farrell is skipper than there has been over the past two years. Cherington certainly believes Farrell is the man to right the ship.

In other words: both Farrell and Cherington have a lot on the line. They will end up sailing or sinking together.