Home > MLB > Bobby Must Go: A Pipe Dream In 1100 Words

Bobby Must Go: A Pipe Dream In 1100 Words

It’s hard to place too much blame when a team is routinely missing at least a third of its regulars. The 2012 Red Sox have certainly been victims of capricious luck as well as poor decisions. Despite that, it’s more than fair to come away from watching this team and decide it is past time for Bobby Valentine to go.

Valentine has, since the Red Sox rebounded from their poor start, gotten something of a free pass in the face of injury after injury. Fans even bought the media narrative that Kevin Youkilis had to be dumped to save a small fraction of his salary, never mind the fact that it was Valentine who quickly soured relations with the infielder. As the team is seeing now with Will Middlebrooks injured, finding playing time for a decent hitter is the antithesis of a “problem.”

It’s that recent lack of depth that brings to the forefront Bobby’s next liability: lineup construction. Once more, circumstances are far from ideal, but the man who Larry Lucchino just had to have has exacerbated the weaknesses of a woefully thinned roster. Pedroia’s out? Let’s put Ryan Kalish (history of contact problems; .254 OBP) there! That didn’t work? Well, clearly we should slot the second baseman in that spot; it doesn’t matter that Pedro Ciriaco has a career .281 OBP… at AAA! (The fact that his ground balls and golfed blooper found holes Saturday doesn’t erase the fact that he was so bad the Pirates couldn’t find a use for him.) And we can’t just blame lack of talent on the roster – the Red Sox leadoff and #2 hitters are worse than any spot in the lineup except 9th; those offensive liabilities have combined for 99 more plate appearances than the 7th and 8th batters.

Even given a useful player, Valentine does his best to resist making the right call; Daniel Nava leads the team in OBP and is second only to David Ortiz in strikeout to walk ratio, but it took Valentine a good month to figure out that he could be a good leadoff man instead of wasting away at the bottom of the order.

Speaking of wasting away at the bottom of the order, Kelly Shoppach has been treated like an afterthought. Despite a .267/.359/.522 line on the season, the 32-year-old is clearly seen as a last resort only acceptable when Jarrod Saltalamacchia is exhausted, and even then has batted ninth in 18 of his 27 starts and has seen all of 23 plate appearances above the last two spots in the lineup. It doesn’t matter that Shoppach has hit left-handers well in his career while Salty’s .601 OPS against lefties this year is right where his lifetime average says it should be; Saltalamacchia routinely hits against lefties late in games, and the team suffers for it.

And for all the excuses Bobby can have with injured players, one has to ask just how much say the manager has regarding the team’s medical concerns. Dustin Pedroia was allowed to languish with a thumb injury crippling his offense until an “unrelated” injury elsewhere in the same thumb finally forced him to hit the DL; the mistake seems to be repeating itself with Will Middlebrooks, who left last Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury and hasn’t been available since despite tease after tease of him only being a day or two away. With the four-day All-Star break looming, the time Middlebrooks has spent “day-to-day” has forced the team to play with a 24-man roster for more than half the games he would have missed with a minimum DL stint. Ultimately, roster moves are made by the General Manager, and Ben Cherington certainly hasn’t done an ideal job there (a subject for another post), but it’s hard to believe that Valentine is being authoritative enough in his communications with players and the front office when injured hitters are allowed to limit the team’s flexibility just to save their egos as they try (and fail) to “play through the pain.”

To his credit, Valentine has done a fairly good job managing the pitching staff, thanks in large part to Bob McClure or lady luck turning Andrew Miller, Scott Atchison, and Vicente Padilla into a solid setup corps. Furthermore, reports in spring had Valentine as the voice of reason fighting a front office dead set on using Daniel Bard as a starter; we all know how that turned out. But even after these positives, Valentine’s approach to his arms had a high-profile misfire in game one of the doubleheader against the Yankees. Franklin Morales has been pitching far beyond his true talent in the rotation, and was due for a hiccup. But allowing 4 homers in just 3 1/3 innings is a bit much, and there’s an easy culprit if we look back to July 4. Morales, on his day to throw between starts, was used as a reliever against Oakland, taking over in the seventh with one out and one on. He struck out lefty Seth Smith, and his night could have been over with no objections.

Instead, Morales cooled down in the dugout (including waiting out a pitching change of Oakland’s own), heated back up, and stayed in for another inning, facing only one more lefty in the process. It’s not an insane request to make of a starter to get an out or two on his day to throw, but Morales – following just his third start of the year after exclusively relieving since 2009 – was casually treated as the second lefty reliever, not a starter making a special contribution. The fact that this disruption of his rhythm was followed by a disastrous start is nothing close to surprising.

The fact of the matter is, whatever moves Valentine could have made this year were unlikely to reverse the fate of the 2012 Red Sox. The team pretended to have a budget crunch despite its owner’s ability to buy a soccer team, and consequently cheaped out on pitchers while dumping Marco Scutaro to save a little money. A few high-leverage at bats going to the wrong Pawtucket hitters wouldn’t suddenly erase the deficit and catch New York. Even in a perfect situation, managers may do very little to impact wins or losses. But just throwing up one’s hands and saying “it doesn’t even matter” is no way to run a team; Valentine has done nothing to help on-field production, and his abrasive personality has driven at least one Boston veteran out of town. It’s anyone’s guess whether Terry Francona made the Red Sox better when the team was thriving, but it’s apparent that right now, Bobby Valentine is making a bad team look even worse.

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  1. July 8, 2012 at 5:38 PM

    If we’re going to give Bobby credit for not wanting Bard in the rotation, then I feel we should also note that he wanted Jose Iglesias to be the starting shortstop out of spring training. The very same Jose Iglesias who currently sports a .255/.302/.294 line at Pawtucket. Yeah.

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