October 12, 2011

Inside the Collapse: Boston Globe's Bob Hohler details the historic collapse of the 2011 Boston Red Sox.

posted by SteveYork to baseball at 12:53 AM - 30 comments

Out come the knives...

posted by grum@work at 10:32 AM on October 12

For those of you whole like such things, Jonah Keri is currently going at it with Chad Finn of the Boston Globe on Twitter about the use of anonymous sources. While Finn's one of the good ones (and not the reporter), I'm with Keri that the pain meds and family issues did not need to be thrown in there for good measure.

posted by yerfatma at 11:30 AM on October 12

And . . . looks like Epstein is off to Chicago.

posted by holden at 11:43 AM on October 12

Yeah, the pain meds stuff seemed pointless sniping at the manager, when really the issue is that he didn't have any sway with the players at the end to keep them focused and hardworking.

None of this is new if you've been keeping up on the sonsofsamhorn.net gossip/threads, but the shocking thing is that the team has faltered two seasons in a row in the last month, which suggests serious conditioning/maintenance issues. At least the owner, John Henry, acknowledged that they now realize how that's been undermining their generally work in the off-season (although I think signings like Crawford and Lackey show that they, and Theo, got too quick to spend the deep pockets they'd earned).

I'm kind of surprised that teams don't have clauses in the contracts about physical conditioning (maybe the player's union is staunchly against it). Nomar's take in that video was that beer/chicken in the clubhouse is no biggie, especially with starting pitchers who only work every few days, but it sounds like they were going further in being generally lazy about conditioning in the off-season and during the season, and being way too laissez-faire about their losing ways in September. The team can at least focus more on the former, but how do fix a problem like the latter?

Because on paper, their pitching staff and lineup are amazing; guys like Lackey and Wakefield don't even make the post-season starting rotation if this team stays healthy.

The two I'm most interested in are Ellsbury and Youkilis. Ellsbury's been somewhat cold with the team and his teammates since the fiasco about his medical issues, so if this year wasn't a fluke will he be re-signed... and can the team afford him along with Crawford, who is now a dead weight unless he starts exceeding his career numbers?

And Youkilis... when healthy, he's one of the best defensive 1Bs and one of the best hitters in the league. So naturally they moved him to third where he's far less effective, and he's lost significant time to injury the last two years. Is he an aging player who's entering a perpetual breakdown phase of his career a la Griffey, or were these just two fluke seasons and a good offseason training program/physical therapy approach will rejuvenate him? I'd like for Youkilis to be a life-time Sox player, but will he even have much more of a career the way his body is going?

posted by hincandenza at 12:02 PM on October 12

And Nomar uses this as an opportunity to bash Sox ownership. While I think Larry Lucchino is a hatchet man and I'm not surprised by the "revelations" coming out about Tito, one might remind ESPN that Mo Vaughn's issues pre-dated the current ownership group and that he suggested the Sox ownership gave him an illness. So you know, maybe not the best example.

posted by yerfatma at 01:15 PM on October 12

Better article by Gordon Edes detailing why this is all coming out.

posted by yerfatma at 02:40 PM on October 12

Yeah, Edes article is spot on. We'll see what Red Sox upper management says about Epstein now that he's moved on. Lame, Boston, lame.

posted by Joey Michaels at 03:22 PM on October 12

I guess the only way to leave Yawkey Way is to walk out backwards so you can see the knives come out and not have them in your back. I had not heard anything at all of a Francona divorce until today. No, I don't live in a cave, but there had been nothing about it, at least in the sports pages I usually read. As for excessive pain medication, Francona has not been in the best of health for a long time. Surely his use of pain medications is nothing new, had not affected his job performance in the past, and seems to be something dredged up for the mere sensationalism of the Hohler piece. Francona gave it his best shot for all of his time in Boston, and the only blame he deserves is for treating his team as professionals when they proved themselves not to be so.

To all of those talking heads, callers to the talk radio stations, and chatters on the various blogs who complain about John Henry and his performance as owner of the team, I say you have 3 choices. Your first choice is to come up with several hundred million dollars, buy the team, and run it your way. Criticism by all those who could not raise the money is included with the team. Your second choice is to ignore the team in its entirety. Don't go to games, don't buy the merchandise, and don't watch the team on NESN (except when Heidi Watney is on, that's different). To all the talking heads and writers, that means you do not speak about, accept calls about, or write about the team. Maybe you can give the scores and standings, but anything else would be off limits. What's your third choice? How about stop complaining and accept what you have (a successful but underperforming team), and continue to hope things change.

I can go on and on about the "Fenway Experience" and why I won't pay to go there any more, but that's for another time. I've already burned up far too much bandwidth.

posted by Howard_T at 04:42 PM on October 12

The most likely response from the organization will be to throw more money at the problems and hope they'll go away. What they need to do is jettison some of these clowns, like Lackey, if they have any hope a new GM and manager will be able to come in and not encounter similar problems. Not sure who would ever want to assume responsibility for a guy like Lackey, though, seeing he not only sucks but comes off as a jackass too.

posted by dyams at 04:53 PM on October 12

Not sure who would ever want to assume responsibility for a guy like Lackey

Rick Peterson could fix him in 15 minutes.

posted by holden at 05:13 PM on October 12

And what would he do with minutes 4-15 when he was done cleaning the shotgun?

Howard, I feels ya.

posted by yerfatma at 05:34 PM on October 12

Apparently Beckett has always had non-pitching-day ADD.

posted by yerfatma at 05:41 PM on October 12

What they need to do is jettison some of these clowns

I think they need to jettison most of 'em, but that's not economically feasible, even for a team with a lot of money to burn.

Hate to say it, but it's looking like the Red Sox just became a mediocre team again. I'm not looking for them to contend for a few years at least, after this debacle.

posted by NerfballPro at 05:45 PM on October 12

Hate to say it, but it's looking like the Red Sox just became a mediocre team again. I'm not looking for them to contend for a few years at least, after this debacle.


They finished a game out of the playoffs.
They won 90 games.
They have Pedroia, Gonzalez, and Ellesbury under contract or control for next season.
Two of their starting pitchers (Lester, Beckett) are among the best in the game, and Buchholz has shown amazing promise.
Crawford can't possibly be as bad in 2012 as he was this year.

I'm a big fan of the Blue Jays, but even I know that it's still NY/Boston dominated in the AL (East) until real evidence suggests either team fails for more than a single season.

posted by grum@work at 06:53 PM on October 12

Yeah, they aren't a mediocre team, and have the pieces to win the World Series next year with the roster they have right now. I think they have two issues, as I mentioned earlier:

First, they apparently now need a clubhouse leader who's less of a "player's manager" than Francona. This worked for them for a while, keeping the players loose yet focused, but now as Howard_T noted "the only blame [Francona] deserves is for treating his team as professionals when they proved themselves not to be so".

Granted, he's no great tactician either, but he didn't need to be: the talent on the field should have and could have won 100+ games. They went 7-21 in the last month; if they'd been even an average team they'd have won 94 games and the wild card, right on pace with their goal of every season "winning 95 and making the playoffs, and letting the chips fall where they may in the post-season".

Second, it was clear last year, and staggeringly clear this year, that their players are not staying healthy or prepping for the 162-game grind. I know other teams claim that "every team deals with injuries", but the Sox deal with more: they seem to lose a lot of starting pitching, such that just as soon as ______ comes back, _______ goes on the DL; the same of their starting rotation. This raises serious questions about either the medical and training staff, or the players' willingness to continue to invest in themselves and the team once the ink is dry on their contract.

It sounds like Theo and the ownership were less aware of this second aspect until the collapse, as they seem to take a hands-off "We build the team in the off-season, and then let things happen as they will", which usually works... but not when you have a slew of underperforming free agents who seem to also be poisonous in the clubhouse. I don't mind SPs idling in their days off, provided they perform- but when they don't, and give off every indication of just not caring, they need to be severely reprimanded. Heck, put Lackey down in the minors until he improves; you're paying his salary anyway so pulling up a promising AAA pitcher, or putting Aceves in as a starter, is worth it if the player isn't doing any better than a replacement-level player. Maybe that lights a fire in their belly, and if it doesn't... well, someone might claim him on waivers (or if they don't, it can be a splash of reality in the player's face).

posted by hincandenza at 08:39 PM on October 12

Oh, and read this on SonsOfSamHorn today:

Posted Today, 03:27 PM One of the interesting aspects to me in all of this is that Theo was always very focused on getting players who would fit in well in the clubhouse and be great teammates. I know this because I heard him say it publicly and was also fortunate enough to be part of a relatively small group of fans who heard him speak during a dinner at Spring Training before the 2005 season.


Ironically, one of the other things I recall from that talk was that he thought the Sox next big advantage was going to be in the medical realm. Given the Boston medical community and the Sox own ideas and focus, they were going to keep players healthy longer....

I do think player health and especially nutrition will be the next big area of focus, especially post steroids era. The joke I heard somewhere recently is teams that spend millions to draft and train first-round picks, and then let them eat pizza and ding-dongs for dinner while coming up in the minors. But since the great players who were caught doing steroids mostly were doing them so they aged more gracefully, I'm talking about a team legitimately doing the same thing the players were trying to do for themselves: once you find talent, how do you keep them on your roster for (hopefully) at least 173 games a year?

Then again, Theo apparently said this in 2005, and here were today, so...

The other big area that I think is ripe is for Bayesian analysis on pitching styles; there was a link on Metafilter a while back about a Bayesian filter on rock-paper-scissors that would beat the human player a significant percentage of the time... because when we try to be random, we're actually quite predictable. I have to imagine that pitcher-catcher batteries are similarly predictable on some subconscious level, and as a result a computer program that sucked up the PitchFX data, and then made real-time assessments... well, what if it were worth 10 points of OPS for a team to be able to signal from the dugout "85% change the next pitch is a slider, sit dead-red"?

posted by hincandenza at 08:53 PM on October 12

Fascinating read. The preponderance of anonymous sources always makes me a bit leery, but I guess I can understand them in this case.

Oh, and welcome to the conversation SteveYork,

posted by flannelenigma at 10:51 PM on October 12

hal, you're leaving me with nothing to say-- agreed 100% on all of it.

posted by yerfatma at 10:12 AM on October 13

Oh good. And now Ortiz is talking about joining the Yankees. The most amazing thing, and I refuse to link to it, is 95% of the comments are bashing him. The Fellowship of the Miserable is out in force this off-season.

posted by yerfatma at 10:15 AM on October 13

I have to say though, I don't understand outsider perspectives like this:

"The propensity toward epic collapse remains part of their institutional DNA, despite winning two of the last eight world championships."

That's certainly a take on it, and one that could get you a Curse of the Bambino theory and book set if you pursue it, but it's illogical. What's the connection to previous administrations and how do you still think this in spite of the aforementioned two championships?

posted by yerfatma at 10:56 AM on October 13

Here is my take on what went wrong in the final month, as far as on-field performance goes. The off-field stuff has been well discussed.

Pitching: Beckett and Lester wore down, Lackey had nothing that could wear down. He was done in May. The reason for Beckett and Lester is likely conditioning and nutrition; hal has that bang on. Not having Buchholz didn't help. Bard had problems with his delivery, but wasn't able to straighten them out. All of this, except Lackey, can be laid at the feet of pitching coach Curt Young. He is said to be one who does not get after his staff to stay in shape.

Hitting: In the regular season, when the weather was warm, these guys could be lights out. Even then there were signs of trouble. The good hitters seemed to be quite ineffective with men on base, and it looked like long ball or nothing. I can't count how many times I screamed at the TV when one of the so-called greats tried to go long ball with a 2-strike count, only to look foolish as the pitch broke out of the strike zone. Look, I know it's not easy, but these guys have been playing organized baseball for years. Don't they know how to choke up on a bat and try to place a timely single. One of Tito Francona's mantras was "just try to keep the line moving", which meant to work the count, take the walk if it was there, and try to get on base. With runners in scoring position, a well-placed single can get you a run or two, and it is far more likely to happen if you work at it.

Defense: Purely a matter of concentration and confidence. Bad throws and throws to the wrong place result from not paying attention. Watching Crawford miss 2 catchable balls in critical situations was painful, but it seemed to me that he was more afraid of making a mistake and letting the ball go past him than he was interested in trying to make a play. Why his confidence was so low is beyond me, but it looked all season long that the rest of the clubhouse wasn't exactly nominating him for man of the year.

How much of this was the manager's fault? I would put much of it at Francona's doorstep, but his style was to tell people what he wanted and depend on them to understand how to do it. Also, I'm not sure he had much choice in the selection of Young as pitching coach. I would bet that was Epstein's decision more than Francona's. My earlier remark on a lack of professionalism stands.

posted by Howard_T at 03:24 PM on October 13

Interesting read. It can't be easy to motivate millionaires over an 162-game grind.

I wonder how other players took Pedroia being a major source for this piece. Though he says nothing controversial, by including his comments with all of the anonymous source stuff, the reporter makes him look involved in dishing dirt.

posted by rcade at 03:28 PM on October 13

My question is, if these guys were sitting in the clubhouse during games, eating chicken, drinking beer, playing video games, why didn't someone stop them? It's stuff like that which makes it appear Francona lost it or just gave up. I honestly can't think of any other well-regarded manager in the game that wouldn't come unglued about behavior as ridiculous as that by "professional" (and I use that term very loosely in this case) athletes.

As for Pedroia, he's one of only a couple of players on that team who actually played like they seemed to give a shit the last few months.

posted by dyams at 08:34 PM on October 13

Thanks for the welcome, flannelenigma. I'm mostly the lurking type, but I saw Globe graphic designer Daigo Fujiwara post a link to the article on his Twitter the night it was put online and wanted to share it.

The personal stuff about Francona was way over the line, in my opinion, but the rest just made me sad and angry. What should have been an amazing season for the Red Sox has been absolutely horrible... first the collapse, then the ensuing circular firing squad, while Theo and Tito and who knows what players escape out of Boston in a speeding car.

It wouldn't surprise me much if we start to see the Globe print more anonymously sourced articles about whatever skeletons Theo might have.

posted by SteveYork at 09:29 PM on October 13

The habit of Red Sox ownership, management or whomever is providing these unnamed comments to consistently badmouth players and people who leave the organization is petty and short-sighted. Not to mention a stupid and wholly speculative way to try to explain away a collapse that had to have a lot of things occur in order for the result to be seen. On top of all that - If they win the last game, none of this is an issue. If Papelbon closes out the Orioles it never happens, it's not written.

Utter bullshit.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 11:21 PM on October 13

Red Sox ownership and the media are definitely a joke, but regardless of the final game, the team still suffered one of the worst collapses ever. A manager leaves and a GM jumps ship? I think this is only the tip of the iceberg of the BS coming to Beantown.

posted by dyams at 06:07 AM on October 14

If they win the last game, none of this is an issue.

Which is the main point of a great article by one of the founders of Fire Joe Morgan.

posted by yerfatma at 08:55 AM on October 14

If they win the last game, none of this is an issue.

Of course, but I don't see how that matters. They did fail, spectacularly, and it's only natural that the baseball-obsessed Boston media would try to figure out who deserves the most blame. Failure has many fathers.

posted by rcade at 10:11 AM on October 14

But it exists simply to perpetuate itself. I don't have to acknowledge it as having any accuracy or value. It's bullshit - which is the premier product of the Boston baseball media (and to be fair - the Toronto hockey media).

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 05:37 PM on October 14

I can see that. Reminds me of the Dallas sports media when the Jerry/Jimmy marriage imploded.

posted by rcade at 10:42 AM on October 15

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