Problems the Red Sox Will Face This Season

We’re weeks away from another baseball season. Spring training is up and running. The Red Sox made some impressive off-season moves, most notably in obtaining Chris Sale from Chicago. Along with David Price and Rick Porcello, Sale’s addition makes the team a strong contender. But let’s not forget about the problems the Red Sox will face as they prepare for the 2017 season.

John Farrell is entering his fifth season as the Red Sox skipper. Undoubtedly, calls to fireRed Sox Will Face him will rise again if the Red Sox hit the kind of slumps they faced last year. Farrell has to avoid a repeat of those issues or else he’ll finally get the ax. The fact that Farrell is still with the team reflects the level of confidence the Red Sox have in him but how long will that last, especially when their pitching staff will potentially carry them to the post season? The margin of error for Farrell is tighter than ever this year.

Farrell’s problem isn’t just that he’ll walk on thinner ice this season, but that ice will crack open if he doesn’t figure out how to rally the team when they fall behind.

Ghosts of Fenway’s Past Offer Solutions to Challenges the Red Sox Will Face

Recently I interviewed a few former Red Sox players from the 1967 and 1975 World Series teams. Jim Lonborg, Bill Lee, and Rico Petrocelli all agreed that focus and discipline made their teams successful. They stopped slumps before they gained momentum, and rallied each other to maintain morale. Talent and hard work took those teams all the way into the post-season, but what made those teams successful was how well they kept up their momentum.

A problem the Red Sox face time and time again is their inability to face dejection. That’s how they’ll make it to the post-season. It’s hard for them to rally when they fall behind. They can’t depend on David Ortiz anymore. The Red Sox don’t have an heir-apparent yet, but that player won’t reveal himself through talent alone. Ortiz’s heir will have to rise to the occasion to take the reins.

The Red Sox problem is not a lack of talent, it’s their inability to take advantage of the right opportunities.

Firing John Farrell Not the Answer

In light of Boston’s recent struggles, many have suggested that it’s time for John Farrell to go. He’s the first manager in more than 20 years to guide the Sox to back-to-back losing seasons, and they’ve faded after a fast start this year. Fans and media are understandably frustrated with the team’s recent performance, but firing John Farrell is not the answer.

Dismissing Farrell would be an overreaction to one bad month; the Red Sox were great under him in April and MayFiring John Farrell. They stunk in June, but that was because their lineup cooled off and their pitching staff was exposed. Farrell doesn’t have a dependable fourth or fifth starter right now; his bullpen options are limited. Dave Dombrowski needs to get him some help, not kick him to the curb.

Making Farrell the scapegoat for one bad month of baseball isn’t just unfair—it’s wrong. It’s not his fault that the rotation is in shambles, or that a bunch of key players got hurt around the same time. Boston’s crazy offense was bound to cool off sooner or later.

The Red Sox have a lot of problems, but Farrell is the least of them. He’s not a great manager, but he’s not terrible, either. He has the respect of his players and handles the media well. Often times managers are fired to send a message, but what kind of a message would that send to Boston? They’re only a few games out of first and could easily regain control of the AL East if their hitters get hot again.

Firing Farrell isn’t going to magically fix the rotation or bolster the bullpen. It won’t make Pablo Sandoval any skinnier or Koji Uehara any younger. It’s not Farrell’s fault that David Price is struggling or that Clay Buchholz has turned into a pumpkin. The best manager in the world couldn’t help Joe Kelly find the plate or Christian Vazquez hit major league pitching.

The Red Sox are flawed, and firing John Farrell isn’t going to change that. At least give him until the end of the season. If the Sox go nowhere, then fine, fire him. But right now, there’s no need.

John Farrell Needs to Go

I’m still baffled by some of the choices that John Farrell has made recently. In the first game of the series with Chicago last week, the Red Sox loaded the bases with no outs. Here was a chance to overcome a deficit and win the game. What did Farrell do? Instead of inserting an experienced hitter, he put Ryan LaMarre in to pinch hit. Many fans like me  scratched our heads as we tried to recall who LaMarre is. It disappointed me to see that LaMarre hadn’t even had an at-bat all season. Of course, the Red Sox blew the game. As the White Sox took the game in ten innings, all I could think was that John Farrell needs to go.

John Farrell’s only real highlight in his career is the 2013 World Series victory. John Farrell Needs2014 and 2015 saw the Red Sox finish dead last in the American League East. Half way before finishing in the cellar for the second year straight, it became clear that the Red Sox didn’t have a problem with its players. Their problem was with its manager.

Half way during the 2015 season in August, Farrell was diagnosed with stage 1 lymphoma. Farrell took a leave of absence and thankfully recovered. Bench coach Tory Lovullo took his place. Under Lovullo, the Red Sox scored 37 runs in their first two games and went on to record a .636 winning percentage through September. Farrell’s previous winning percentage of .439 paled in comparison. Owner John Henry should have known then that something was wrong. No one noticed that the bench coach increased the team’s victories by 20%? Also, Farrell continues to insert Clay Buchholz into the rotation. It’s clear that the right-hander is no longer an asset to the team (He’s 3-8 with a 5.90 ERA!). If this doesn’t signal that John Farrell needs to go I don’t know what does.

Right now, the Red Sox are like a bus with a few flat tires controlled by an oblivious driver who thinks that the tires will fix themselves. Not only is it time to change those tires (release Buchholz) but more importantly, it’s time to change drivers. With that said, John Farrell needs to go.

The Red Sox Struggle with Making Solid Contact

The Red Sox’ relative inability to score runs has been well-documented this season. After all, through the first 59 games, Boston scored just 221 runs, the 4th-worst total in the entire American League. Such offensive wastefulness has impacted negatively on the pitching staff, which, despite a stellar 2.41 collective ERA in June, still finds itself in the loss column all too frequently. Yet, aside from the bigger problem of scoring runs, the Red Sox just don’t seem to make solid contact, which is a recipe for disaster as the season progresses.

Purely from a fan’s perspective, this Red Sox team looks persistently off-balance at the Red Soxplate, with hitters constantly chopping the ball foul or popping it meekly back into the crowd. Each game feels similar; when the Sox desperately need somebody to produce a quality at-bat and square the ball up, it just never materializes. And frustration is now reaching boiling point.

 

The statistics support this notion of poor contact by Red Sox hitters. Thus far, the Sox have a .374 team slugging-percentage, which ranks 26th in the Majors and second-worst of all American League teams. Moreover, according to Fangraphs, Red Sox batters have hit the ball hard just 27.5% of the time, placing them 23rd in the big leagues, while Boston’s 20.7% soft-hit rate is the worst in all of baseball.

The correlation between these stats and actual team wins is fairly obscure, however. For instance, the Brewers have the highest percentage of hard-hit balls, but the second-worst record in the Majors; and the Royals have less hard-hit balls than the Red Sox, but have won six more games. But, in theory, a team needs to hit the ball hard if it has any hopes of scoring enough runs to compete. A team that hits continuously for power is obviously far more dangerous, and therefore more daunting for an opposing pitcher, than a team that routinely gets itself out with soft groundballs and pop flies. That’s just logic.

Of course, the great Red Sox teams of 2003, 2004 and 2007 were built with a slugging blueprint in mind. Theo Epstein regarded OPS (on-base-plus-slugging) as the single most important statistic when constructing a team and, to that effect, great hitters such as Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Lowell and even J.D. Drew helped set the tone of a potent offense.

Now, those glorious days are long gone, both for the Red Sox and for baseball. We live in a pitching-dominant age, where the aces keep getting better and the strike zone keeps expanding. In the new baseball world, there is very little reward for the kind of offensive patience ingrained in the Red Sox philosophy. Now, working the count and seeing plenty of pitches is more likely to result in a strikeout, due to more pitcher-friendly umpiring. Likewise, previous Boston clubs would feast on weak bullpens, but that opportunity no longer exists. From the sixth inning on, relief pitchers tend to get better, not worse, meaning a change of focus is needed.

Red Sox

Ultimately, the Red Sox must adopt the new style of contemporary baseball, where it pays to be more aggressive and force the issue early in games. If this team has any October aspirations, it will have to cease making feeble contact and rolling over weakly on pitches, in favor of a rigorous, consistent and altogether more dangerous approach. Whether hitting coach Chili Davis is capable of implementing that change remains to be seen, but time is fast running out for these Red Sox, who must simply do better.