Rudy Seanez, the Boston Red Sox, and process versus results

June 19th, 2006 → 1:24 am @ // No Comments

In the bottom of the seventh inning of tonight’s Braves-Red Sox game, Rudy Seanez came in to pitch to Jeff Francoeur with two on, two out, and the Sox leading 3-2—and Francoeur hit Seanez’s first pitch over the left-field wall to give the Braves a two run lead. Which means Seanez screwed up, right? Well, not exactly. Jason Varitek gave a target on the lower left-hand corner of the strike zone, and Seanez hit his spot almost perfectly with a nice slider…or he would have, anyway, if Francoeur hadn’t deposited the ball into the stands.

There’s plenty to second-guess here, to be sure. Francoeur is a free swinger—he has only five walks on the year, to go along with 57 strikeouts, 15 home runs, and 52 RBIs—and Seanez’s pitch was obviously hittable. But with two men on, the Red Sox didn’t want to give Francoeur a 1-0 count, on which he’s hitting .481 this season. And Seanez didn’t throw a hanging slider or leave a pitch out over the heart of the plate—it just nipped the outside corner.

Francouer’s 3-run shot certainly won’t be one of the turning points in the season. The Sox scored six two-out runs in the eighth and went on to win the game, 10-7. And Seanez’s role in the game probably won’t be remembered for long, either, except for those fans who’ve already decided they hate the man. But it is a good example of how baseball offers up numerous daily illustrations of how a good process doesn’t always lead to good results. The Red Sox—with a front office that has a well thought out reasons for virtually every decision they make—offer almost daily illustrations of this. After the 2002 season, the Sox let Cliff Floyd walk rather than pay him the eight or so million he likely would have gotten in arbitration; then, in a move that was criticized at the time, they signed Jeremy Giambi, Bill Mueller, David Ortiz, and Todd Walker for a combined $8.8 million. Before this season, the Sox traded Bronson Arroyo to the Reds for hard-hitting outfielder Wily Mo Pena. That move was, for the most part, treated as good news: with the Red Sox’s outfield in flux, the injury-prone, left-handed Trot Nixon manning right, and the need to start turning over a veteran team that was in danger of rapidly aging, picking up a 24-year old power-hitting outfielder who had a couple of years left before he reached free agency made a lot of sense, especially when the cost was a pitcher who threw up a 4.52 ERA last year. Of course, now that Pena’s on the DL, Arroyo’s 8-3 with a 2.51 ERA, and the Red Sox starting rotation appears to be in danger of falling apart, that move is drawing plenty of criticism.

Hindight, of course, is 20-20, and baseball fans (and sportswriters) have a rich history of knee-jerk reactions in response to whatever happened last night (or last inning). But indulging that tendency, especially in regard to a Red Sox team owned by John Henry and Tom Werner and run by Theo Epstein, would mean missing out on a lot of opportunities to think about and learn why a given decision was made. During spring training this year, Epstein told me the reason he loved working for Henry was that both men believed in making decisions based on carefully articulated processes. That doesn’t mean never paying players more than they might be worth according to a strict statistical analysis—there are some decisions that need to be made for stability, or because of excessive turnover. But it does mean coming up with a plan and sticking to it. And if the team decides certain players are only worth risking three years on, well, that’s what they Sox will offer.

“It doesn’t always work out perfectly,” Epstein said that day. “That’s life. But we believe that if we come up with a plan and stick to it, it’ll work out more often than it doesn’t.”

There’s more–lots more–about the Red Sox’s management philosophy and all the roster moves and in-game decisions of the last several years in Feeding the Monster, out July 11.

Post Categories: Baseball & David Ortiz & Jason Varitek & Red Sox ownership & Sports Reporters & Theo Epstein

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