Why is there such an extreme disconnect between the public view of Red Sox manager Farrell – at least the loudest one – and that of the Red Sox organization?
Bloodlust rages with each bullpen meltdown, a one-sided social media referendum calling for Farrell to lose his job. On the heels of a six-game winning streak, a single defeat – granted, a brutal one – is sufficient to unleash nitroglycerin. Yet despite the trending prominence of #firefarrell calls in the wake of defeats, the Red Sox haven't dropped the guillotine and they almost surely aren't going to do so this season.
Indeed, as much as there have been games where Farrell's bullpen management has caused members of the organization to scratch their heads – if not throw rocks at their televisions at times – there hasn't been any serious internal conversation in the Red Sox organization about changing the manager. Barring an extreme event like a 10-game losing streak that decimates the Sox' postseason chances, there isn't going to be, at least not for the rest of the season.
At the most recent temperature check, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told Evan Drellich that Farrell is doing "a fine job … a good job," even as he vowed to stick with a career-long refusal to comment on a manager's future status. This view of Farrell's work by Dombrowski represented more than lip service.
Even though there are instances where members of the organization ask a lot of the same questions as the public in the wake of late-innings losses – Why use a cooked Junichi Tazawa in that situation? Why not lift flagging reliever X one batter or three batters earlier? Why not stick with starter Y for one more inning? Why was Steven Wright pinch-running? – there are no pitchforks, no burn-the-witch calls inside the Red Sox organization. To the contrary, there is a view that change would be both counterproductive and, based on the job that Farrell is doing with a team that is in position for a postseason berth, wrong.
That gap may have reached its peak in the wake of Thursday's 4-3 loss to the Tigers after an eighth-inning bullpen meltdown that owed at least in part to Farrell's decision to open the inning, when the Sox led 3-1, with Tazawa. Tazawa flopped. So did the man called upon to replace him with runners on base, Brad Ziegler.
The loss bordered on predictable. So did the reaction to it.
If the public perception of Farrell is, if not unanimous, so one-sided – even on the heels of one bad loss that followed a season-high six-game winning streak – why doesn't the Red Sox organization view the world in the same terms? Why is it that the team considers such public cries to be somewhere between misguided and mindboggling?
At its heart, the answer lies in the bigger picture.
The Red Sox – and, indeed, most teams – view in-game management as an undertaking with a considerable number of pivot points per game that inherently yields some good decisions as well as several bad ones. Front offices learn to live with the bad ones because they are unavoidable, even for elite managers. Jim Leyland's bullpen management, for instance, was subject to critique for his perennially poor bullpens (by one measure, he was the worst ever at deploying relievers,
and he was known to get frustrated with the public perception of his late-inning management)
yet his Hall of Fame credentials aren't in question.
Teams do not make managerial hiring and firing decisions based solely on bullpen management or in-game strategy. Instead, they focus on broader issues of working relationships:
■ How well does the manager work with the GM/president of baseball operations and the front office? In a Red Sox organization where Dombrowski is empowered with immense authority on personnel decisions, this is arguably the most important factor in the manager’s job status. That being the case, the fact that Farrell’s relationship with Dombrowski and other members of the front office is considered strong and productive represents a significant factor in explaining why Dombrowski has remained committed to him.
■ Is the team prepared? Does the right kind of scouting information get disseminated to players so that they can take advantage of it? Preparation is considered a strength of Farrell and his coaching staff, as well as the players.
■ Does the team play hard? Yes, with evaluators outside the organization speaking in particularly high terms about Hanley Ramirez’s transformed on-field demeanor and describing that as a positive reflection on Farrell.
■ Does the manager have the backing of the clubhouse and relate well to players to get the most out of them? Though it has been fair to wonder at times – especially in June and again from late-July until the recent six-game winning streak in August – whether the Red Sox were playing tight, their growing misplays the result of either overuse or an increasingly stressful atmosphere, Red Sox officials haven’t seen signs that Farrell’s ability to relate to his players has been an issue.
■ Is the manager adaptable to get the most out of his players? Decisions such as the early pivot from Pablo Sandoval to Travis Shaw, the commitment to Sandy Leon as a primary catcher, and the move of Mookie Betts down in the order are viewed as points in Farrell’s favor.
■ Is the team performing to expectations? Red Sox senior analyst Tom Tippett, in a presentation at the SaberSeminar last weekend, showed a graph of the Red Sox’ season-long winning percentage relative to its projected wins total entering the year. Until last Thursday, the Red Sox consistently remained above its projected line toward 89 wins before dipping briefly about a half-game below the mark. The team’s subsequent six-game winning streak has put it on a 90 to 91 win pace, back above that projected season total.
If the Red Sox saw themselves as a projected 95-win team that was underperforming its expectations by seven or 10 wins in May, there would be urgency to the conversation about Farrell inside the walls of Fenway. That's not the case.
■ Has the public vitriol related to the manager reached such a point that it’s become an issue affecting the team’s performance and atmosphere? Would managerial change burst a bubble of negativity that surrounds the club and perhaps allow the team to play more freely and at a higher level? To date, the sense inside the team is that the scrutiny of Farrell has remained walled outside the clubhouse, particularly in light of the recent six-game winning streak.
■ What would be the consequences of managerial change? Unknowable, with everything from an explosive Morgan Magic-esque hot streak to a complete Joe Kerrigan-style derailment on the table. There are few instances of teams with the Sox’ record – 10 games over .500 or better – firing their managers.
In 2008, the Brewers were 83-67 (.553) when they fired Ned Yost; they went 7-5 (.583) under interim manager Dale Sveum and reached the postseason. In 2007, Mike Hargrove resigned from a 45-33 (.577) Mariners team; the club went 43-41 (.512) over the duration of the season. In 2001, the Red Sox fired Jimy Williams with a 65-53 record (.551); they went 17-26 (.395) under Kerrigan.
Right now, the bullpen has been a mess, with six blown saves (five resulting in losses) in the last 21 games. Those woes – which have baked a blame pie carved into pieces of varying sizes for Farrell, the front office that assembled the relievers, and the relievers themselves – have prevented a solid stretch (12-9) from being a brilliant one. Are there instances where Farrell's decisions have backfired spectacularly? Absolutely.
But organizations don't view each bullpen loss, or even a string of bullpen losses, as a reason to fire a manager. If they did, then the first-place Blue Jays would have axed John Gibbons in the first half.
Front offices view managerial hiring and firing through a telescope, not a microscope. Teams enjoying success prefer the known element of stability to the wide realm of possibilities presented by a shakeup.
The Red Sox are 14 games over .500. They are in the middle of a race for the AL East, in possession of a three-game advantage of a wild card spot with 42 to play, armed with a winning percentage of .583 or better in every month except June. They've experienced no more than a four-game losing streak.
Based on that on-field evidence, the team hasn't come anywhere near the conclusion that so much of their fanbase articulates after every loss. John Farrell won't be the Red Sox' manager for life. All managers are replaceable, and few choose the terms of their egress.
But in 2016, unless the Red Sox go off the rails in a way that they haven't to date, Farrell isn't going anywhere.
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.