Saturday, February 25, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days – EXTRA! Off-Field Edition!

With our esteemed patron handling the pre-season preview duties for the active roster, there’s not much left for a part-time fill-in to do in the 30 Jays in 30 Days series. But there’s more to the team than the players, so on the weekends, I’ll be doing my best to take stock of some of the off-field staff of the Toronto Blue Jays as the 2012 season approaches. Up first is the manager, John Farrell.

Who: John Farrell. Manager. 49 years old.

Twitter hashtags inspired by managerial style: #Farrellball, usually accompanying tweets criticizing the manager’s seemingly mystifying decisions to allow runners to attempt to steal second base while Jose Bautista was at the plate, sacrifice bunt in bad situations, and pencil Corey Patterson in as a leadoff hitter.

Key characteristics: Lantern-jawed. Man, I’d love to be lantern-jawed. I think lantern-jawed people get respect just for being lantern-jawed.

History: One MLB season as a manager (81-81 record). 116 games, 698.2 innings as a major league pitcher over 8 seasons, retiring after the 1996 season. Assistant Coach and Pitching & Recruiting Coordinator Oklahoma State University from 1997 to 2001; Director of Player Development for the Cleveland Indians from 2001 to 2006; Pitching Coach for the Boston Red Sox (BAH! *spits*) from 2007 to 2010.

Contract Status: Signed as Manager prior to the 2011 season to a three-year contract (through the end of the 2013).

Intrigue!: In the absence of a big free agent or trade acquisition, John Farrell became the subject of perhaps the most contentious bit of speculation for the Blue Jays during the offseason. Reports surfaced that the Red Sox (BAH! *spits*), in the aftermath of their well-publicized September collapse and tarring and feathering of Terry Francona, were interested in bringing Farrell back into the fold to manage the club for 2012 and beyond. There was enough oomph beyond the rumours to have prompted the Blue Jays to make a shift in human resource policy – employees would henceforth no longer be granted permission to discuss “lateral moves” to other organizations.

But would it have mattered anyway?: Many of the more statistically-minded have set out to prove (and done a pretty convincing job of it at that) that the impact of any manager on any team is negligible, if there is any at all. I have a great deal of time for these arguments, but I can also see the – dare I say it? – intangibles that a manager might bring to an organization. It does look, from the outside, as though Farrell and General Manager Alex Anthopoulos have a strong relationship, a shared vision of how to assemble a roster, and a common commitment to long-term sustainability for the organization. I’m not sure you could say that with Cito Gaston (and you could say a whole bunch of other things about Cito Gaston too, but I won’t). In terms of on-field performance, it probably doesn’t matter that much who is making out the lineup card every day, but there is likely some value in having a person in the dugout pulling in the same direction as the guys upstairs.

Looking Back: Farrell took his fair share of heat last year for some of his in-game decision making. It’s difficult, though, to separate the decision-making from the talent he had on the roster to execute the decisions. In retrospect, I wonder whether Farrell had succumbed to the pressure of needing to “make something happen” because he was forced to field a lineup that consisted of one or more of Corey Patterson, Juan Rivera, Jayson Nix or Mike McCoy.

Farrell had to go with what he had in the starting rotation too. Given the lack of talent and depth among starters for 2011, I can't fault Farrell for much on how he used them. I don’t recall any egregious situations of starters being overstretched or yanked unfairly, which is perhaps testament to Farrell’s background as a big league pitcher himself, and a pitching coach for some pretty good arms in Boston (BAH! *spits*).

With respect to his management of the bullpen, we may again be able to take advantage of some informed hindsight, or at least give Farrell some benefit of the doubt. In the closer spot, Frank Francisco didn’t open the season healthy, forcing him to use Jon Rauch in the ninth. I think we can all agree watching Rauch close games was on par emotionally with watching a loved one having a limb amputated by a carnival worker. Francisco reclaimed the closer job later in the season and pitched pretty well. But apart from Francisco finally stabilizing things (far too late in the season), I never really got the sense that Farrell had any inkling from one day to the next what he was going to do with the ‘pen in general. But the roller-coaster ride may well have been a function of trying to find something that works with a thin batch of arms, not unlike the way the offense was managed.

Looking Forward: Perhaps blaming the talent Farrell had on the roster for his frustrating decisions is being overly generous to the man, but that’s what 2011 was like. 2012 is likely to be the season where we can see a truer measure of Farrell as a manager. There are fewer question marks with respect to incumbents and their roles (with the exception of left field and the backup infield spot, and arguably the first base/DH situation). Farrell knows who his closer is. He’s got a clearer picture of the other types of relievers he has and what types of situations he’ll ask them to face. He’s looking at the same challenges we all see in the starting rotation, beyond the 1-2 punch of Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow.

This is essentially a contract year for John Farrell. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which he enters 2013 as a manager with a contract set to expire at the end of the season. I remember that really pissed off Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Brad Pitt had to deal with his insouciance all season because of it.

Farrell is probably going to have to go to Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston after this season and say, “This is why I deserve an extension.” He’s going to need to be able to point to something – a better record, an improving core of players, a few breakthroughs nobody expected. If that something isn’t there, we might not see much more of the guy after 2012.

2012 Expectations: Farrell’s job, as I see it, is to help this team figure out what it is – by putting the best players in situations where they can continue to succeed and help the team win, and by sorting out the best way to assemble a supporting cast. There are going to be times this season when we all shake our heads and tweet our anger about Farrell’s lineup card or decision to send a runner. That’s part of the fun of being a fan. I think he’s a smart guy with a pretty good grip on what the team has, and what it can accomplish. I don’t think he’ll win Manager of the Year, but adding five wins to what he delivered in 2011 will keep him on an upward track.


FrankTheCat said...

Great article Org! aside from the head scratching running blunders, the most obvious mistake I can recall is continually trotting Dotel out against lefties despite the vomit inducing splits.

I think your point about working with the talent he had is legit. He did acknowledge some of his past mistakes from last season, so it will be very interesting to see if his managerial style has matured at all with a full year under his belt now.

Jonathan said...

"I think we can all agree watching Rauch close games was on par emotionally with watching a loved one having a limb amputated by a carnival worker."

Nice one.

Anonymous said...

I'm still convinced that the odd use of Dotel was to actually see if he could have some success against lefties to maybe try to up his value. I think that now that there's a bullpen with no obvious trade at the deadline candidates, and with a bit more experience, we'll get a better sense of exactly how he'll manage the 'pen.

Anonymous said...

30 jays in 31 daya