Before I begin, a quick note to John Henry & co.: Just so there’s no confusion: we never said we wanted a flashy team, or a personable team, or a slugging team… we just want a WINNING team. OK. Hope that clears things up. Now on to my main topic.
I am going to buck the general trend amongst the established baseball cognoscenti in Boston, with all due respect to Dennis & Callahan (lately, I’ve been trying to figure out how much respect IS their due, but that’s a subject for another time), Dan Shaughnessy, Eric Wilbur, and Steve Buckley. I think we are wasting too much energy agonizing over the supposedly disappointing performance of top money acquisitions Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. Both are only slightly off their normal paces, and even if they were at their normal paces, the win-loss record would be almost exactly the same as it is now anyway, and that’s a fact. And don’t whine to me about their huge contracts; that’s just the nature of the game today. Players (and their agents) bargain for big money because they are competitors, and that’s a form of competition amongst themselves. “He makes $10 million a year, and I’m a better shortstop, so I should get $11 million.” Money is not a motivator; that’s been proven in business and sports studies. Athletes don’t play for a paycheck. They play to win. You show me a player who is motivated by money and I’ll show you a player that I don’t want on my team.
The real problem with the Red Sox is not hitting, it’s pitching. When the season began, we all expected Rick Porcello to be a decent starter, and hoped for something good from either Joe Kelly or Wade Miley. Didn’t happen. Porcello has been hugely disappointing, and both Kelly and Miley are maddeningly inconsistent. I really believe that when there is no consistency from the pitching staff, it is very hard for hitters to excel at the plate. In the back of their minds has to be the question: “What is the point of scoring runs that the pitcher is just going to give away in the next inning?”
When pitchers are bad, everyone plays badly. They get nervous. They try too hard. They make mistakes in the field and at the plate. We saw this in 2011. When the pitching staff unraveled, the team fell apart in short order, and everything went to Hell.
This year, everyone knew that the Sox needed a stud starting pitcher to have a chance at a World Series this year. Cole Hamels was supposed to be the guy. They were going to go for broke to get him. Only they haven’t gotten him. Of course, we did have a stud starter, and a quality reliever. Who were they? Oh, yeah… Jon Lester and Andrew Miller. What happened there, exactly?
Last year, Jon Lester had a stellar partial season with the Red Sox, with a 2.52 ERA. John Lackey had a respectable 3.60. The rest of the staff sucked. Really sucked. Clay Buchholz was 5.34. Remember Rubby De La Rosa? Brandon Workman? Ouch.
Well, Lester and Miller were in their contract years, and negotiations were not going well. So, Lester got traded for Yoenis Cespedes, who in turn was traded to the Tigers for Porcello. We can see how that worked out. Miller went to the Orioles for Eduardo Rodriguez who is still a project. Why is there no outrage about this? And why is there no outrage about how the Sox consistently let great talent walk away because of their ham-handed negotiations? Pedro Martinez. Johnny Damon. Adrian Beltre. Jacoby Ellsbury. Many, many others. Sure, you can come up with rationales in each case for why it made sense to let them go, but when they pile up like this, and more I think than for any other Major League franchise, you have to wonder after a while… WTF?
And why do the Sox respond to fan angst by getting some hitting sensation instead of dealing with the real problem, which is usually pitching? Remember Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez? Hey, I have an idea… let’s blame it all on the manager and fire Terry Francona. Then hire… Bobby Valentine?!?! WTF?
Sometimes, they make brilliant, sabermetric driven moves, like getting Shane Vitorino, Mike Napoli, and Johnny Gomes, when everyone thought they were crazy, and then winning a World Series championship. Other times, they do the crap outlined above. It’s like there are two opposing personalities there… one is rational and strategic, the other is impulsive and tactical. Hmmm.
I have an idea. Let Larry Lucchino go off and run Boston 2024. Then maybe we can get a winning team.