World Series - Boston Red Sox v St Louis Cardinals - Game Three

The night John Farrell embraced chaos


ST. LOUIS — There’s a cliche about managers putting their players in the best position to succeed. A corollary to that is having the best players in the right position, at the right time. Do those things as often as possible and you’re more likely than not to win, right?

Well, sometimes. The Red Sox tested this rule to its absolute limits in Game 3 and, while they got away with it for a few brief minutes, they didn’t for long. John Farrell eschewed conventionality and embraced chaos. But chaos would not cooperate.

It started out defensibly enough, with Farrell trying to get the best matchups he could in the top of the seventh. With Stephen Drew struggling mightily at the plate, Farrell sent Will Middlebrooks in to pinch hit for Drew. That didn’t work — Middlebrooks popped out — but hey, it made some sense. Farrell decided to keep Middlebrooks in the game, sending him in to play third, moving Xander Bogaerts to short.

Which is no real biggie. You gotta try to generate offense if you can. It just didn’t work out. And it makes sense to leave Middlebrooks in. Your roster is only so big, it’s a tie game and you can’t just burn position players. You carry on.

Then in the bottom of the seventh Matt Carpenter hits a ball to short. It’s not the easiest play ever. Bogaerts took a less-than-perfect path to the ball and didn’t square himself to throw it to first. Carpenter beats a throw that David Ortiz couldn’t dig out of the dirt. Maybe even a good first baseman doesn’t dig that out. But I think Stephen Drew makes that play more quickly and cleanly than the relatively inexperienced Bogaerts. Regardless, a runner is on first base.

After Carlos Beltran is hit by a pitch to put another runner on, Matt Holliday comes to the plate. He doesn’t tattoo the ball. It hits the ground not too far in front of the plate as it shoots down toward third and just eludes Will Middlebrooks’ glove.  Does it elude Xander Bogaerts’ glove?  I don’t think it does. It was so close and Bogaerts has that much of a better step at third base. We’ll never know, though.The ball kicked around the left field corner, two runs scored and the Cards took a 4-2 lead. Farrell, while not making any blunders, had less than his best in two critical places and it cost him.

And at that point, Mike Matheny had it all set up: the right people in the right position at the right time. Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal set to throw the eighth and ninth. We saw this in Game 2. We saw this much of the end of the season. Two young studs throwing near triple digits. A Boston team that has often seemed helpless against power pitching this postseason. Good. Night. Irene.

But then baseball happened. And baseball, no matter how much we think we know about it — no matter how much authority, earned or otherwise, we assert with respect to it — occasionally says “ha.” It reminds us that almost all predictions are just guesses. Educated guesses at times, but still just guesses because anything can happen. Balls get through a first baseman’s legs in Game 6 of the World Series. Near-cripples hit home runs off Dennis Eckersley in his prime. Nothing so grand as that happened here, but what seemed highly improbable became reality: Martinez and Rosenthal blew it. The Red Sox dinked, plunked and doinked their way back into a 4-4 tie. Take that probabilities. Chaos will have its way.

At this point I feel like John Farrell started to appreciate the power of chaos. And maybe began to think that he could use it to his advantage. Because at this point he seemed to embrace chaos with both arms and to eschew the notion of matchups and the ideal deployment of resources altogether. How else can we explain Farrell allowing Brandon Workman to face Matt Holliday in the eighth with runners on base when his best reliever — Koji Uehara — was sitting in the bullpen?  But wait! It worked. Holliday flied out and the threat was over.  And maybe it emboldened Farrell even more. What else explains Farrell allowing Workman — an American League pitcher, mind you, — to bat in the top of the ninth inning of a tied World Series game while his best available hitter — Mike Napoli — sat on his bench?

Hell, Farrell wasn’t just eschewing the ideal. He was rejecting the whole idea of the ninth inning mattering at all. Why else would he punt his team’s half of it so decisively? Why else would he head into the bottom of the ninth, on the road, against a team which seems to have more crazy voodoo working in its favor than any team, without using all of his weapons? And continue to do so, not even calling on Uehara until there was a runner on base.

Whatever his reasons, baseball’s unpredictable chaos decided it had led him on enough. It went back to wreaking havoc as it will, this time in the form of the most improbable demolition derby of a game-ending World Series play in recent memory. In a fielder’s choice/nailed at home/interference/walkoff win.

Going with the best matchups doesn’t always work. Embracing chaos doesn’t always kill you. But there’s a reason why managers usually play the percentages. They respect the power of chaos and do what they can to keep it at bay. And I bet John Farrell does so more regularly as long as this World Series continues.

John Farrell may use Mike Napoli as a late-game defensive replacement at first base

mike napoli red sox getty

Now playing under National League rules, Red Sox manager John Farrell has opted to start David Ortiz at first base over Mike Napoli, at least in Game 3 of the World Series. While Napoli has hit well for the Red Sox throughout the post-season, Ortiz has out-done him, homering in the first two games against the Cardinals, to boot. Ortiz certainly lacks the defensive skill set to be reliable at first base, but the hope is that he’ll outhit his deficiencies with the glove.

Farrell did express consternation with the correct way to utilize Napoli off the bench:

Though the thought of Napoli as a “defensive” replacement seems odd, advanced defensive statistics graded him well:

Additionally, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, Napoli took grounders at third base, creating speculation that Farrell is getting creative with ways to get both bats in the lineup.

And people think the DH is great. The endless lineup strategy is exhilarating!

A.J. Ellis: Red Sox manager John Farrell trusting gut over numbers in the World Series

Getty Images

Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis is providing analysis of the World Series to the L.A. Times. In a column posted yesterday prior to Game 2, he wrote about how Red Sox manager John Farrell is trusting his gut over the numbers in a short series lasting between five and seven games. The Red Sox are one of the teams most overtly reliant on analytics, which made Farrell’s decision to start Jonny Gomes in left field against two tough right-handed starters, as opposed to the left-handed Daniel Nava.

Ellis writes that it is Gomes’ playoff experience and energy, rather than proficiency against right-handers, that Farrell wanted in the first two games of the World Series against the Cardinals:

These immeasurable factors of chemistry are loathed by sabermetricians, who tend to scoff at these claims. Undeniable even by the most stubborn supporter of these new metrics is that in the postseason, the Red Sox are 1-3 when Nava starts games and 7-0 when Gomes does, heading into Game 2. To players, managers and fans, that is the only stat that matters in October.

They are 7-1 now, of course, as the Sox lost Game 2 by a 4-2 margin. Gomes is hitless in seven trips to the plate in World Series play. Farrell announced earlier that Nava would be starting Game 3 against Cardinals starter Joe Kelly.

As a self-described “sabermetrician”, I have two thoughts on this: Ellis is relying on a very small sample size, of course. Four starts for Nava and eight starts for Gomes is representative of very little. Secondly, while it is curious for Farrell to abandon the very tactics that helped bring his team to where it is today, it is unlikely to make any noticeable difference in a short series. Nava’s proficiency against right-handers, or Gomes’ deficiency against them, won’t be the sole reason why the Red Sox succeed or fail once you account for myriad other factors, plus the ever-present effect of randomness, even more stark within a smaller sample. In the big picture, there’s nothing wrong with Farrell trusting his gut, but it does set him up to be the fall guy if things don’t work out.

Playing favorites finally comes back to bite Red Sox manager John Farrell

World Series Cardinals Red Sox Baseball

We’ve been over this before, but…

Jonny Gomes against RHP in 2013: .258/.341/.404 in 151 AB
Jonny Gomes against RHP career: .225/.310/.423 in 1,863 AB

Daniel Nava against RHP in 2013: .322/.411/.484 in 339 AB
Daniel Nava against RHP career: .292/.390/.443 in 657 AB

John Farrell knows these numbers. He played Nava over Gomes against right-handers all year as the Red Sox went about producing the American League’s best record. Yet something changed in October. It’s certainly nothing that Gomes has done in the batter’s box: his 0-for-4 in Thursday’s Game 2 loss left him 5-for-32 with two doubles and two RBI in the postseason.

But Farrell likes Gomes’ presence. He likes Gomes’ beard (who doesn’t?). He likes the way Gomes spies that willing reporter and manages to give a postgame interview every night.

And Farrell rode Gomes as a good-luck charm. Gomes even had Timmy McCarver singling him out as a “winner” tonight. The Red Sox were 7-0 when Gomes had started in the postseason, which is why he was making his fourth straight start tonight.

Hopefully, the spell is broken now, because lo and behold, the Red Sox might have found a match in a World Series for once. They can’t afford to continue starting the inferior player with the Cardinals throwing nothing but right-handers.

Look, here are all of the players to post higher OBPs against right-handed pitchers than Nava this season: Joey Votto, Shin-Soo Choo, David Ortiz, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis. Those are pretty well known guys, right? Some might say it’s good company. Not only should Nava be starting against the Cardinals, but he should be hitting second in place of Shane Victorino. But maybe just work on the whole “getting him in the lineup at all” thing first.

John Farrell says Jon Lester “sweats like a pig,” was using rosin last night

Lester glove

Red Sox manager John Farrell just met the media and, predictably, he was asked about the substance which may or may not have appeared in Jon Lester’s glove. From the media tweets:


Fair enough. Not sure why rosin would appear sort of greenish and gelatinous, but there’s lots of things I don’t know.