I’m pretty sure that it was Red over at SurvivingGrady.com who coined this phrase in regards to enduring the 2015 Boston Red Sox season so far. As fans, we always want our team to win, but when they are clearly on the path of the lemmings, we turn to catharsis to assuage our psychoses. Thus, Red Sox fans should certainly “embrace the suckitude” of this team.
Knowing that I’m a Sox fan with the penchant for being a sardonic one at that, my editor asked me, “Is it time for a managerial change in Boston?”
My immediate reply, sharp and wry, was “Upper management?” betraying my disagreement with the conventional business of scapegoating the on-field manager of a struggling team. Even at the behest of my editor, I cannot, will not, call for the dismissal of Red Sox manager John Farrell.
I believe that the influence of the manager over a team’s success is minimal. Baseball Prospectus has written about it in their second book, “Extra Innings,” and so has the well-respected David Schoenfield. It is clear that a plus-6 to negative-8 range of wins affected can be attributed to a team’s manager, but in the case of the 2015 Boston Red Sox, the indictment is not Farrell’s to take.
What I would actually vie for is a change in upper management, as I had “joked” earlier. The manager, Farrell in this instance, can make decisions that negatively (or positively) affect the team’s performance and game outcome. It is of higher import to remember that he can also only work with the players he’s given by the general manager, Ben Cherington in this case. The performance of the players who comprise the team is the biggest factor in winning games.
Back in the days following the miraculous 2004 season that brought Boston its first World Series championship in 86 years, the mantra of Sox fans was, “In Theo We Trust!” It was as if U.S. dollar notes could have been re-printed with that phrase on them. Theo Epstein craftily built teams that delivered a level of success thought never to be possible at the Fens.
Cherington, in my mind, mostly got lucky in constructing the 2013 championship team; he clearly lacks the top-level acumen on the job that Theo had. Sure, he cleared the Sox of $262.5 million in contracts by sending Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he has not showed the same foresight that Theo had (just think about how the Chicago Cubs are looking these days under Epstein’s direction and recall how Anthony Rizzo was actually a Red Sox draft pick back in 2007). The preseason narrative spoke constantly of the possibility for the Sox to be the first team ever to go from worst to first to worst to first. A quarter of the way through the season, sitting at 21-23, it doesn’t look so hopeful to make history once again. And, what exactly, is wrong with the 2015 Red Sox?
Early in Spring Training, Farrell claimed that the Sox had “five number ones” when it came to a suspect pitching staff that nobody believed had a true ace on the staff. It was a dogmatic response that he had to stick to. A manager standing by his players is part of the unwritten rules of baseball. It was a sure directive in team-building and solidarity. While Farrell’s Five Ace mythology is not the problem, his pitching staff sure is a major ingredient in the sour-tasting Sox’ woes. Let’s take a look, shall we?
The Five Number Ones – as of the end of Sunday’s game – have allowed 208 runs. That is ‘good’ enough for 14th place in the American League and 27th in the majors. This quintet of hurlers heads up a team ERA of 4.48, which again places 14th and 27th respectively, and it translated to an ERA+ of 88. Their Fielding Independent Pitching does not refute their ERA and it comes humming in to a batter’s wheelhouse at 4.35, good for 13th in the AL and 27th in the majors. Starting to see a pattern here, folks? Or are we all so drunk already this late, miserable May that we’re unable to recognize patterns? Well, if you need more help, I’ve got ya. The Sox’ staff is striking out 7.46 batters per nine innings. That knuckles in there for 9th in the AL, but only the Toronto Blue Jays are worse amongst AL East foes. Add to that the fact that they are walking the second-most batters per nine in the AL at 3.34, again only better than the Blue Jays. Oh yeah, don’t forget that – thanks in part to Joe Kelly’s pinpoint command – the Sox are coughing up the second-most homers per nine in the AL. The Five Number Ones seem five minutes from being done. At least from where I sit, but nope, let’s let Juan Nieves take that one on the chin!
Of course, the pitching staff is not solely responsible for the suckitude. The offense that was supposed to be able to score 50 runs a game has been frustrating at best. David Ortiz, the beloved Big Papi, is finally starting to look his age as a slugger. Hanley Ramirez has gone cold enough to reverse Polar Melt in the Arctic and Mike Napoli has just barely begun to awaken from his grizzly bear hibernation at the dish. I don’t want to bore you with another cavalcade of numbers illustrating the suckitude of the Sox on offense as well. However, if you – as a team – have a negative-32 run differential, which puts your Pythagorean Win-Loss at 19 and 25, then the inability to score runs is clearly as sucky as your prowess at preventing them.
I know the tenure of a GM is usually less tenuous than that of the manager in the dugout. Sweet mercy, I live in Seattle and Jack Zduriencik is now the longest-tenured GM in the last 20 years for the Mariners. He should’ve lost his job once it became obvious he thought sabermetrics had something to do with role playing as a pirate. Cherington, on the other hand, had a similar pedigree to Theo as he helped to build the machinistic farm system that began churning out consistent big league impact players. His ability to put those pieces together from the GM’s chair seems suspect at this point. Granted, the guys on the field need to perform and compete, but the puzzle-builder has to be more accountable when things are not going right.
Who should replace him is a question I cannot yet answer, but the conversation should at least be above a murmur of protest.