BOSTON (CBS) — The smell of freshly cut grass, the sound of the crack of the bat, and the ire caused by a manager’s decision. Ah, yes. Baseball season is back.
For the Boston Red Sox, the 2014 season began on a down note, as the team went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 runners on base in what was eventually a 2-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. There were bright spots, sure, such as Jon Lester’s seven strong innings of work and Grady Sizemore’s home run in his first big league game since 2011, but at the end of the day, a loss is a loss.
And considering there’s no Red Sox baseball on Tuesday, well, there’s a lot of time to wonder what decisions could have been made by manager John Farrell that could have brought about a different result.
Too early in the season for such talk? No way! What else are we supposed to do in this 48-hour reprieve between games?
Plus, Farrell is a World Series champion and he’s spending his Tuesday hanging out with President Barack Obama. I’m sure he won’t mind if we all have something to say.
OK, that’s enough ado. Let’s run through all of Farrell’s decisions that are worthy of questioning from Monday, and I’ll bring back the Grady scale — in honor of Grady Little, not Sizemore — from last October. That means:
“You don’t want a high Grady grade, which will go from one (Good call) to 10 (WHY IS PEDRO STILL IN THE GAME?!?!).”
The Decision: Batting Daniel Nava In The Leadoff Spot
The Grade: 1 out of 10 Gradys
I’ve heard some grumbling about Farrell’s penciling in of Nava at the top of the order, and that to me is your standard crybaby “Wah, we lost on opening day” complaint. Yes, he went 0-for-5, but do you know how many Red Sox batters posted a better on-base percentage than Nava last season? That would be one. Do you know who it was? It was David Ortiz.
Nava is coming off a year when he hit over .300 and posted an .830 OPS. Last year, Jacoby Ellsbury posted a lower batting average, lower on-base percentage and lower OPS than Nava. So chill on the hatred of Nava in the top spot. Give it some time.
The Decision: Inserting Jackie Bradley Jr. As A Pinch Runner For Mike Napoli In Eighth Inning
The Grade: 6 out of 10 Gradys
Pinch running is a bit of a double-edged sword for a manager, as it’s kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t type of thing. Had Farrell inserted Bradley, like he did, and had Sizemore followed it up with a single instead of a strikeout, the decision obviously would have looked a lot better. And from Farrell’s perspective, he needs to do all he can to try to scrape that tying run across the plate.
Yet taking your cleanup hitter out of the lineup is never a good idea in a close game. Even if Bradley scores that tying run, you’ll still need another one to win the game. And there’s a pretty good chance you’ll need your cleanup man to do it.
Sure enough, that spot came up, and Bradley struck out looking with the tying run on second base to end the game. But you can’t judge the decision based on the result of that at-bat, because who’s to say that Napoli doesn’t strike out as well? You can, however, base judgment on the decision itself. And removing a cleanup hitter in a one-run game is a decision that rarely works out.
The Decision: Letting A.J. Pierzynski Face Brian Matusz In The Eighth Inning
The Grade: 5 out of 10 Gradys
If this game had been in October, this one probably would have been an 8 out of 10 on the Grady scale, because from a purely baseball perspective, it was a bad decision. Pierzynski put forth what may go down as the saddest at-bat of the 2014 season, offering two late, weak swings at the first two Matusz offerings and gently rolling out to the pitcher on the third pitch.
The lefty-lefty matchup was a bad one, and Jonny Gomes probably should have been used as a pinch hitter here, with two on and two out.
Yet, I understand why Farrell left Pierzynski in for this situation. Pierzynski was one of just two starters who was not a part of last year’s championship season, and Farrell wanted to give him a vote of confidence. Taking him out in the first big spot of the season could do some damage in the trust that Farrell likes to foster on his roster, so I think this is a case of Farrell taking the long view with regard to the 162-game season. It was costly on Monday, but Farrell hopes it pays off throughout the year in the form of a catcher who is confident at the plate.
(Could you make the case that a 37-year-old veteran of more than 1,700 big league games should and probably would be confident going forward regardless? I suppose. But Farrell was simply showing faith in the catcher. Call it “The Stephen Drew Rule.”)
The Decision: Letting Jackie Bradley Jr. Face Tommy Hunter With Two Outs In The Ninth
The Grade: 6 out of 10 Gradys
Much like the Pierzynski decision, I see the merit in showing support to Bradley in this spot. However, Farrell had an out here.
For as much as Farrell wanted to let the kid know that he trusts him in a big spot, perhaps this was not the time. It’s been a whirlwind couple of days for Bradley, who was told on Friday that he lost the competition to start in center field and would be playing his April games with Triple-A Pawtucket. On Sunday, he was told to get ready for opening day, because Shane Victorino was hurt, and he flew in a rush to get to Baltimore in time for the opener. He was then thrown into an intense situation, and really, he was not in much of a position to succeed.
While Farrell let Bradley know that he has the manager’s trust in a big spot, the disappointment of failing to come through might chip away at that confidence more than being substituted with Gomes would have. Had Farrell opted for Gomes to pinch hit, he could have told Bradley something along the lines of, “I want you in that situation when you’re comfortable, not when you’re dizzy from a roller coaster of a weekend.
The other case for Bradley comes from Hunter’s reverse splits, yet it’s one thing to say lefties hit Hunter better than righties and another thing to say this particular lefty had a better chance to get a hit at this particular moment.
Again, there’s no guarantee that Gomes wouldn’t have struck out as well, but given his penchant for rising to the occasion, it’s a safe bet he would have turned in a better at-bat than Bradley.
All in all, maybe it wasn’t the best day for Farrell, but he is without question a man with a plan. That’s a long-term plan, and if that means taking an “L” or two along the way, that’s OK. Farrell showed his style can pay major dividends over the course of a full season.