Home > Game Recaps, MLB > Red Sox Game 139 recap: John Lackey: Good pitcher. John Farrell: Bad tactical manager.

Red Sox Game 139 recap: John Lackey: Good pitcher. John Farrell: Bad tactical manager.

Highest WPA: Daniel Nava, .150 (3-3, 2 2B, BB)
Lowest WPA: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, -.272 (0-4, K, GIDP, 3 LOB)

Early on, this looked like a game that would challenge my assertion that a player’s offensive contributions are always more important than whatever he does on defense. Jose Iglesias turned a pair of nifty double plays, snuffing out potential Red Sox rallies and keeping the game scoreless until the Tiger offense broke through in the seventh inning. Then, when the Sox threatened to tie the game in the bottom half, the old terrible managing demon reared its ugly head.

After the Red Sox put two runners on base to start the inning, Jarrod Saltalamacchia came up. Salty doesn’t do many things well, but the one thing he’s good at is hitting righthanded pitching; for the year, his line against northpaws is .283/.344/.506. Rather than let Salty hit against the clearly laboring Fister, though, John Farrell ordered a sacrifice bunt. If successful, it would have been Salty’s first sacrifice of the season, and would have moved the tying run into scoring position with the bottom of the order coming up. At best, it was a pointless sacrifice of one of the precious few outs the Sox’ offense had left to spare; as it turned out, the slow-footed Daniel Nava was forced out at third, and a rally became that much less likely.

That wasn’t all, though. Later in the inning, Will Middlebrooks came to bat with runners on second and third and two out. This time, Farrell decided to do nothing, when intervening would have only improved his team’s chances. Middlebrooks is, as you may have heard, a terrible hitter; Mike Carp, a decidedly not-terrible hitter, could have batted in Middlebrooks’ place. And while it’s true that the lefthanded Phil Coke was warming up, there’s nothing that would have stopped Farrell from then turning to Jonny Gomes, a guy the Red Sox decided to hand $10 million because his skillset consists of hitting lefthanded pitching and magically infusing players around him with the will to win, or something. The worst-case scenario from pinch-hitting is that Coke would intentionally walk Gomes and face Jacoby Ellsbury with the platoon advantage and the bases loaded; even that is likelier to produce a better outcome than letting Middlebrooks bat against anyone, righty or lefty.

But Farrell let Middlebrooks hit. And, predictably, Middlebrooks made an out. The rally was snuffed, the game was eventually lost, and the world keeps on spinning. People will blame Salty for not getting the bunt down, and they’ll blame Middlebrooks for ending the rally. But while the players deserve blame for not coming through, the manager also deserves blame for not putting them in the best situations. Ah, well. It’s not like a bad managerial decision can ever cost a team in the playoffs, right?

  1. September 2, 2013 at 5:45 PM

    Your “terrible hitter” has a perfect 100 OPS+ in 571 career plate appearances with a .300 BABIP. If you’re going to say “well, more recent data says last year wasn’t representative,” you’re willfully choosing what “recent data” is relevant and overlooking the fact that Middlebrooks has greatly improved his plate discipline since his return this season (yes, his August BABIP is a fluke, but in 69 PA, he has more than half as many walks as he did in 286 PA last year). He’s still not a big asset at third base, and 2012’s HR/FB was flukishly high, but acting like he’s a giant liability is just laughably counter-statistical.

    • September 2, 2013 at 5:56 PM

      As you know, OPS incorrectly values slugging percentage as being of equal value to on-base percentage. Middlebrooks has a career .298 OBP, and even that is being unfairly kind to him because of his very hot start. His performance almost perfectly follows the common pattern of a guy who comes up and hits when pitchers only throw him fastballs, then can’t adjust when teams get a bit of a scouting report on him:

      May 2012: .316/.349/.573 (.922 OPS)
      June 2012: .288/.329/.507 (.836 OPS)
      July 2012: .294/.314/.471 (.785 OPS)
      August 2012: .194/.286/.387 (.673 OPS)
      April 2013: .194/.223/.418 (.642 OPS)
      May 2013: .211/.247/.395 (.642 OPS)

      Will Middlebrooks is not a good hitter. Will Middlebrooks is a very bad hitter. It shouldn’t be a controversial statement to say that when the four choices are Middlebrooks facing Fister, Carp facing Fister, Gomes facing Coke or Ellsbury facing Coke, Middlebrooks facing Fister is *easily* the least desirable.

      • September 2, 2013 at 6:26 PM

        You continue to ignore August 2013, which is inexcusable since you are claiming a definitive trend. Also, wRC+ has him as average in career.

        • September 2, 2013 at 6:30 PM

          In August of 2013 he has a .405 BABIP and got to bat in front of a pitcher, earning him three extra walks on his total. Should I have said Jose Iglesias was a good hitter when he hit .395/.453/.523 in June of this year?

          That’s the thing that gets me most about people who act like Middlebrooks has improved somehow, or fixed something: We *just* saw this. Two months ago! Crappy hitter comes up and gets a bunch of batted ball luck for a month or two, and everyone wants to lavish him with praise and pretend that his performance is sustainable. It isn’t.

          • September 2, 2013 at 6:56 PM

            What was his BABIP in his bad months? Also, come on, he wasn’t terrible through his milb career. Not great, but not close to comparable to Iglesias as far as how far off true talent a good run would be.

          • September 2, 2013 at 6:58 PM

            Also pitcher non-protection is a dubious theory. Try to get 8 out so P leads off, or pitch to 8 so you have better situation when lineup turns over. Protection is largely debunked and I don’t know if I believe this is a big factor.

  2. September 2, 2013 at 7:00 PM

    May 2012: .400 BABIP
    June 2012: .288
    July: .378
    August: .190
    April 2013: .213
    May 2013: .264

    If you want to say that his true talent isn’t the festering pile of sub-replacement garbage that he was before he got sent down this year, I won’t argue with you. But there’s a long, long way between “not among the worst hitters” and “good.”

  3. September 2, 2013 at 7:07 PM

    While I’m looking for the hard studies, I’ll just point out that two of Middlebrooks’ three walks while batting in front of the pitcher were intentional. But I’m sure that’s just because they were terrified of him beating them.

  1. September 10, 2013 at 11:00 PM

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