John Farrell is here, and already the negative talk has begun. Pitching coaches make bad managers. He was part of the problem in the Sox decline after 07. His record in Toronto was 154-170.
This is a big moment in Red Sox history. Their image right now is that of a laughingstock- three managers in three years, players and coaches undermining Tito and Bobby V, owners’ meetings with players to complain,a GM whose image at times is a blank page.
Almost none of the 46 men who have managed the team have been pitching coaches (we won’t even mention Joe Kerrigan). and maybe that’s not a good thing. Pitching is what the Sox have lacked in several near-miss seasons, notably 1949 and 1977.
If we look at Farrell’s stint as pitching coach between 07 and 10, we see lots of positive stats. Let’s begin with the two most consistent hurlers of the Farrell era- Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. Beckett’s four-year mark was 55-29. His ERA’s were very good, except in an injury-plagued 2010 season when he had only 21 starts. His 20-7 mark in 07 made him runner- up for the Cy Young.. Lester was 54-23, and his ERA’s made him one of the most reliable starters in the majors. A 19-9 record in 2010 also put him in Cy Young contention.
Several hurlers backed up Lester and Beckett in this period- Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, John Lackey (for one season) as well as disappointments like Brad Penny and Julian Tavarez. Buchholz was inconsistent, but appeared to be finding himself in 2010 when he posted a 17-7 mark and 2.33 ERA. Matsuzaka had his two best seasons in 07 (15-12) and 08 (18-3) before falling victim to injuries and other woes. Wake pitched in 4 of his last 5 seasons under Farrell and though his record slowly declined, he was still considered a reliable hurler almost to the end. Lackey was a disappointment when he arrived in 2010, but his 14-11/4.40 mark was acceptable compared to the terrible years that followed. As for relievers,, Jonathan Papelbon was consistently near the top, averaging 38 saves. Hidecki Okijima and Daniel Bard were more than adequate setup men.
The tale of the Sox pitching staff since Farrell’s departure is pretty much a horror story. Lester and Beckett declined to the point that lasting the first inning became an achievement. Lackey’s ERA sometimes approached the 7 mark prior to his Tommy John surgery. Buchholz was injured and very inconsistent. Daisuke became an enigma, constantly hurt or ineffective. Okijima faded away. An attempt to turn Bard into a starter had disastrous results.
No one is calling Farrell a miracle man. Much work needs to be done. But pitching is where it starts, and John’s 07-10 numbers are very positive, especially compared to the three men who followed him. The coaches he picks will be very important, but at least he will have a say. No matter how shaky the Sox lineup may be, a return to a strong staff would be a great first step.