Maybe the Red Sox really should fire Bobby Valentine

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Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the whole point to hiring Bobby Valentine is that he’s a cut above most as a tactical manager? He’s not in the Boston dugout because he’s a great manager of people. Nor does he have a rep as some sort of master disciplinarian who manages to get the most out of players. He’s there because he’s a smart guy, and the Red Sox apparently wanted a smart guy.

Unfortunately, 14 games in, Valentine isn’t looking very smart. Leaving left-hander Franklin Morales in to face Mike Napoli was the bases loaded in the Texas game Tuesday was an awful move that worked out just as badly as should have been expected (Napoli hit a bases-clearing double, giving Texas a 6-2 lead). Saturday’s eighth-inning moves in the 15-9 loss to the Yankees, dropping Boston to 4-10 on the season, weren’t quite so baffling, but they were terribly wrong-headed.

First, with the Red Sox up 9-8, he let Morales start the eighth against a right-hander, even though Morales had already gotten three outs. That would have been explicable if he actually intended to go forward with Morales, but he removed him immediately after a leadoff single. That’s like my rule No. 1: don’t send a pitcher back to the mound if you’re going to pull him after the first mistake. It’s stupid managing.

So, now Valentine brings in his closer to try to get six outs, only he does it with a man on first instead of with the bases empty. Alfredo Aceves proceded to walk Derek Jeter and give up a two-run double to Nick Swisher, putting the Yankees up 10-9. Next up was the second dumb move of the inning: Valentine had Aceves walk Robinson Cano to bring up Alex Rodriguez with two on and none out.

I wouldn’t have had a big problem with that in the ninth with Mariano Rivera set to come in. Doing everything possible to keep the lead at one would have been the best strategy then. But the Red Sox had two more chances to score, and Valentine just handed them the recipe for a big inning by giving the Bombers yet another baserunner. A-Rod walked to load the bases, Mark Teixeira doubled and it was 12-9. Yet another intentional walk followed and the top of the eighth ended with the Red Sox down by six.

I do feel kind of bad for Valentine. This isn’t the team the Red Sox figured to put on the field. He’s been stripped of his closer, his left fielder and now his center fielder. Also, he can’t be blamed for the fact that the Red Sox’s top three starters have been shelled a combined four times already.

But I don’t see Valentine doing any good either. He hasn’t lost the Red Sox any games by himself, but he’s certainly put the team in position to lose a couple of times and this squad simply isn’t good enough to bail him out.

Bryce Harper is really just a tiny bit better Adam Lind when you think about it

Associated Press
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Tom Boswell of the Washington Post writes about an important matter facing the Washington Nationals over the next year: what to do about Bryce Harper, who is entering his walk year and will be a free agent a little over 12 months from now.

That’s a fine and important question. The Nats do need to decide whether to offer Harper a long term deal, when to offer it and, above all else, how big that deal should be. Should it be $300 million? $400 million? Should it be conventional or unconventional, with opt-outs and such? It’s not every day that a generational talent comes along and it’s even more rare that the generational talent hits free agency at the age of 26, so the decisions facing the Nationals are not easy ones.

Boswell acknowledges that bit of trickiness, but he also, strangely, spends a whole lot of time trying to portray Harper as an ordinary talent. He starts with health, comparing him poorly with Stephen Strasburg, who is ranked 30th in games started over the past five years. In contrast . . .

In those same five years, Harper ranks 90th in games played, just 126 a season, and now he says he should have skipped quite a few more games in 2016 when he had a balky shoulder. That’s almost six weeks out per season.

Nowhere in the column is it mentioned that the several weeks he missed in 2017 was the result of a freak injury in wet conditions and that, despite that, Harper worked his tail off to come back and be ready for the postseason. Not that Boswell doesn’t mention the postseason of course . . .

Harper, for the fourth time, failed to lead his team out of the first round and has career playoff batting average and OPS marks of .215 and .801. By the high standards of right fielders, he’s Mr. Average in October.

I suppose it’s not Boswell’s job to refrain from insulting a player on the team he covers, but he certainly seems hellbent on insulting not only Harper, but our own intelligence via comparisons like this:

In the past five years, in those 126 games, Harper averaged 26 homers, 72 RBI and a .288 average. Over the last nine years, Adam Lind averaged 128 games, 20 homers, 70 RBI and hit .273. That’s selective stat mining. Harper is much better, in part because he walks so much. But Harper and Lind in the same sentence?

“A person can eat delicious chocolate cake or lead paint chips. The chocolate cake is much better, but chocolate cake and lead paint in the same sentence?” I guess Boswell gets points for acknowledging that it was a misleading comparison, but if he thinks it is, why make it in the first place? If you want to eliminate this one as an outlier, cool, because he makes a lot of other comparisons like that in the piece.

This is not necessarily new for Boswell. Here’s something he wrote about Harper in 2014:

Harper has not driven in 60 runs in either of his two seasons. He has only five RBI this year. He’s never had more than 157 runs-plus-RBI. Ryan Zimmerman has had between 163 and 216 six times. Adam LaRoche, no big star, has had 175 or more three times. Fourth outfielder Nate McLouth once had 207. Can we get a grip? Counting their three top starting pitchers, Harper may be the Nats’ seventh-best player. If forced to choose whether Harper or Anthony Rendon would have the better career, I’d think twice. Harper is in a self-conscious, fierce scowl-off with baseball. Rendon dances with it and grins. Baseball loves relaxed.

That was written 16 games into his age-22 season.

I’m not sure what Boswell’s beef with Harper is. I’m not sure why he’s contorting himself to portray him as an ordinary player when he is fairly extraordinary and, most certainly, a special case when it comes to his impending free agency. In his career he already has 26.1 career bWAR, 150 homers, an MVP Award under his belt and, if it wasn’t for that freak injury in August, would have a strong case for a second one. Guy has a career line of .285/.386/.515 and he turned 26 four days ago. He’s younger than Aaron Judge.

My view of things is that players should ignore the media for the most part, but they don’t always do that. Sometimes the hostility or criticism of the local press — especially from the most respected portions of the local press who have the ability to shape fan sentiment — gets to them.

Which is to say that, if this kind of noise keeps up, I wouldn’t be shocked if Harper puts up a line of .340/.480/.650 in 2018 and then walked the hell out of D.C. for New York or Chicago or L.A. or something. Would anyone blame him?