Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox Model

There is no disputing that the Red Sox have had a good business model since the current ownership group took over 10 years ago. The success on the field — 93 wins per season and a pair of World Series titles — is proof in the pudding. Ditto the sell-out streak at Fenway Park and emergence of “Red Sox Nation” as a well-established brand.

Is a segment of that model now being compromised, or even replaced?

With Theo Epstein and Terry Francona at the forefront, the Red Sox organization maintained a steady-as-she-goes focus. It was analytically-driven, collaborative, and relatively free of disharmony and theatrics. The brief departure of Epstein, in 2005 — allegedly triggered by a clash of wills with club president Larry Lucchino — was a notable exception. But if personality conflicts and philosophical disagreements existed beyond the gorilla-suit episode, they remained quietly in-house. That was part of the Red Sox model. Notably, it extended beyond the boardroom and into the manager‘s office: Francona was professional to a fault.

Things have changed. Francona is now gone. So is Epstein. The steady-as-she-goes focus? Joel Sherman of the New York Post recently put it this way:

“The Red Sox have become the George Steinbrenner Yankees, and now they have their Billy Martin, a combustible manager as likely to throw the organization into further chaos as he is to bring championship glory.”

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Change is inevitable within baseball, and given the Red Sox historic September collapse, maintaining the status quo probably wasn’t a viable option. That said, just how much change is needed when you have one of the most talented, and best run, organizations in the game?

Successful businesses need to adapt, but they also need to trust their business model. If the model was built with due diligence, being reactionary and wavering from it due to an unexpected downturn — in this case a one-month swoon — is typically not a good idea. If the model is sound, it should be expected to bear fruit, and incur relatively few losses, over the long term.

Does the hiring of Bobby Valentine — especially if it was a Lucchino-driven decision — represent a remodeling?

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Valentine was asked, during a November interview with the Boston media, how open he would be to day-to-day input from baseball ops regarding on-field decisions and lineups — a major concern of many who follow the team closely. Valentine said that he would welcome it, but also that it would be “a growth opportunity” as he “hadn’t lived it.” He went on to say, “I’ve been outside of the information age of baseball for the most part.”

Contrast that with Torey Lovullo, who also interviewed for the position. A regular reader of FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus, the low-key Lovullo answered the question by saying “The way I view the relationship between the manager and the front office is that we’re one.”

Can Valentine and the Red Sox front office — particularly Valentine and Cherington — form, and maintain, that type of relationship? Can they work together as effectively as Francona and Epstein did for so many years? Does the Red Sox model, as it exists today, expect them to do so?

Cherington was Epstein’s first lieutenant and shares many of his visions. Conversely, the volatile Valentine and low-key Francona are seemingly polar opposites.

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In Thursday’s Boston Globe, Red Sox beat writer Peter Abraham wrote about a 2002 incident in which Valentine, then the manager of the New York Mets, played infielder Marco Scutaro in left field “to make a point” to GM Steve Phillips. Scutaro went on to misplay a ball, directly contributing to a Mets loss and adding fuel to the well-documented Valentine-Phillips feud. The incident came two years after Valentine criticized the organization, including several of his players, in a public forum.

Valentine had no shortage of controversy in New York, which he has had to address not only during the interview process, but also with the Boston media. To his credit, he has admitted a certain amount of culpability and said that he has learned from his mistakes. The question is — and only Valentine knows the answer for sure — is he sincere? Can a 61-year-old leopard, one known for having a big ego, change his spots? More importantly, does Red Sox ownership expect him to? Therein lies the million-dollar question:

Have the Red Sox altered what has been a highly-successful model? Has a steady-as-she-goes, analytically-driven, and collaborative approach been replaced by The George Steinbrenner Yankees? Is a franchise led by one of the world’s savviest businessmen, John Henry, guilty of a misguided business decision?

Henry, as one would expect, does not feel that is the case. Presented with the idea following Valentine’s press conference, he offered the following:

“Every manager has a different style, and we like the style Bobby has. Theo and Tito were both strong personalities; you just didn’t necessarily see it. We don’t really see this as a change of philosophy. We aren’t driven by just scouting, but also by metrics, and I don‘t see that changing.”

One thing that has undeniably changed is the battle-tested dynamic that existed between the manager and general manager. For that reason, only time will tell if the team’s principal owner was accurate in his assessment. Either way, there will be a lot of pressure on Bobby Valentine this season, and the burden of that pressure comes directly from the people who hired him. They’re the ones tinkering — whether Henry wants to admit it or not — with the model.




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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA


29 Responses to “Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox Model”

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  1. Walt in Maryland says:

    Excellent analysis. I’m skeptical of Bobby V. too, but there is reason to be optimistic whether or not he changes his spots.

    There is no questioning Valentine’s intelligence, and I’d much rather have a smart guy running my team. Second, I have to believe that Valentine desperately wants to win a World Series, if only to silence his legion of critics.

    If the Sox have changed their “model,” it is in this regard: this is clearly a move designed to help the team win in the short term. Epstein always stressed that it was his job to keep the team’s short-term AND long-term interests in mind every time he contemplated a move.

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    • Husker says:

      “Valentine desperately wants to win a World Series.”
      It’s a good thing the Red Sox didn’t hire one of those other candidates–you know, the ones who don’t want to win a World Series.

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  2. To be fair to Valentine, though, Steve Phillips is a boob.

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  3. Matt M says:

    As a Blue Jays fan I can see nothing but upside from Red Sox ownership driving away a talented GM and manager while undermining the replacement they hired. Seems like a win for the rest of the AL East for the Sox to take their new business model from the Baltimore Orioles.

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    • HodgyBeats says:

      It’s hard to argue when the facts don’t matter, but they tried to keep Epstein and Theo wanted to go to the Cubs. As a Red Sox fan, I’m glad they didn’t stop an employee who wanted to leave for a better opportunity by changing their philosophy in the middle of the offseason to stop him, like some other AL East team. People should want to be a part of the organization, putting up provisions to stop someone who isn’t truly invested is a poor business model. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Valentine’s contract expires at the same time Farrell’s does, and while I worry about Bobby long term he’s a great fit on this club for the next two years. Either way he’s just the manager, and the Red Sox have enough talent where it shouldn’t really matter who the manager is.

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  4. jcxy says:

    To me, this issue boils down to the question: What kind of impact does a manager have on team WAR? Manager personality and the relationship of a manager to ownership should be largely irrelevant when analytically evaluating whether a manager is “good”. I suppose you’d counter by saying “But why introduce a risk into an equation when you don’t need to?”

    IMO, it’s much more likely that, should the Red Sox fall off a cliff this year–and really, outside of overreacting to last year’s collapse, there isn’t any reason to believe this–the team’s conceived design rather than the manager will be at greater fault.

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  5. www.thehotteststove.com says:

    In “Baseball Between the Numbers” they tried to analyze the amount of runs that managers’ decisions have cost or gained their team over the past 40 years. While the book is from 2005, and the metrics need to be taken with a grain of salt, Bobby Valentine cost his team more runs than all but two managers over the past 40 years according to their data. He appears towards the top of each of their “Worst Manager by ___” tables. They also cite him by name as an example of how sometimes managers can be so bad that it costs the team free agent signings. This is especially possible with Valentine given his strong personality and terrible work on Baseball Tonight for all the world to see…

    All that being said, Boston has so much money and a great roster, so I think they are going to be fine in spite of this hiring.

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  6. Jason says:

    Shouldn’t we get beyond the fiction that “one bad month” cost the Redsox their season? The team wasn’t very good. Perhaps they played over their heads for a stretch in the middle of the season, but over the course of the season this was a mediocre team with no pitching. The truth is if they hadn’t been extremely lucky against the best team in their division early in the season they would have never been anywhere close to competitive.

    The FanGraphs narrative is that the Redsox are a brilliant team because they rely on sabermetrics. It drives me crazy that people arguing FOR objective analysis will repeatedly use small samples when it suits their narrative. This is the opposite of objective. Objectively, over a 162 game sample, the Redsox proved to be a mediocre team that lost out to another medicocre team by a game. They really didn’t have the talent. They were by far the worst pitching team amongst all teams with winning records.

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    • juan pierres mustache says:

      objectively, over the first five months of the year, they went 83-52 and were #1 in the AL. Turns out having the best offense and the 7th best pitching in the league for the full year helps a team be good. sure, I’m using WAR and it’s not exact, but it’s pretty tough to look at these numbers and suggest that the statement “Objectively, over a 162 game sample, the Redsox proved to be a mediocre team that lost out to another medicocre team by a game. They really didn’t have the talent. They were by far the worst pitching team amongst all teams with winning records.” is remotely objective–indeed, it appears to be based on your subjective belief that the red sox pitching was terrible last year. sure, they weren’t great by any means and they collapsed in september, but they were better than you are suggesting.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/teams.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&type=8&season=2011&month=0

      http://www.fangraphs.com/teams.aspx?pos=all&stats=pit&lg=all&type=8&season=2011&month=0&season1=2011

      PS: In my experience, the FG collective does think the red sox are good, but i think we’re all pretty well aware that it’s a combination of having smart front office guys and 30 bajillion dollars to work with. Yes, FG as a whole probably has more of a liking for clubs that adopt sabermetrics, but using them does not certify one as “brilliant”. It just means that you recognize that it makes sense to use information to make decisions, which should be pretty much a baseline expectation at this point.

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      • Jason says:

        “objectively, over the first five months of the year, they went 83-52″

        Why would you throw away the other games in the season??? You know their results!!!!! You are making my point by deliberately dividing a larger sample into a smaller one simply because it makes your point.

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    • HodgyBeats says:

      “It drives me crazy that people arguing FOR objective analysis will repeatedly use small samples when it suits their narrative.”

      “The truth is if they hadn’t been extremely lucky against the best team in their division early in the season they would have never been anywhere close to competitive.”

      Oh, irony.

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      • Jason says:

        Where is the irony? The issue with small samples is that unexpected things happen more frequently simply due to chance (or luck as I called it). The Redsox winning the 10 of 11 against the Yankees (or whatever it was) is the sort of thing you only see with a small sample. If you regress their wins against the Yankees towards their real win expectation against them (close to 50%) it is a huge swing in the standings and the Redsox probably would never have spent even a day in first place all year.

        Noting that chance plays a role in small samples is not the same thing as arbitrarily dividing a large sample into a small one to make a point that the total sample does not support.

        There was no contradiction in what I wrote, and there was no irony.

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    • HodgyBeats says:

      Im 100% convinced this is a troll post after the second reading. Well played.

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    • Franklin Stubbs says:

      idiot

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  7. pft says:

    The last manager this ownership group hired w/o Theo was Grady Little and although he managed to win in the regular season, he may have cost the Red Sox a ring in 2003 sticking with Pedro in game 7 of the ALCS.

    The loss of Francona will be felt most if the Red Sox get to the post season. Tito was at his best in the post season, although the Red Sox have not won a playoff game since 2008.

    Jury is out on Valentine. Maybe he is what they need to get this pitching staff to perform, but the pitching staff looks a bit short unless the Red Sox make some moves this offseason, or Valentine is a miracle worker.

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    • MC says:

      The thing about Francona is his tenure with the Red Sox was the first time he was successful as a manager. His Phillies teams put up atrocious records.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Yea, I think that managers are marginal. If you have an ace on the mound and a great offense and great pinch hitters and a great defense, you can be a “great manager” a lot better. This is going to sound dumb, but there is a quote by some player, about some manager, I wanna say the player was Bob Gibson, along the lines of “yea, I played for him before he was a good manager and after he was a good manager”. Which he was basically saying “before and after he had good teams”.

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  8. YazInLeft8 says:

    Cherington is Epstein 2.0, so let’s not go wiling away in misery because he is gone. And personally, as a Sox fan, I am psyched to see Valentine in the dugout.

    He seemed thrilled in his press conference (even though Cherington seemed kind of pissy).

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  9. Tom says:

    Let’s face it… the performance of the Red Sox is going to come down to player performance and injuries. Valentine’s (or any manager’s) effect on that is probably fairly minimal, especially on a team like the Red Sox where there is not really a lot of in game management with players mostly set at positions and minimal platoon type players (or players they’d be willing to platoon)

    It will come down to how much will they spend for a 4th and 5th starter (I don’t think either Aceves or Bard gets that done) and will they add another decent arm to the pen. And while Crawford will improve, will his defense look more like his road defense when he was in TB or the inflated #’s at the Trop? (I think it’s the former – good to very good, but not elite)

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  10. Darren says:

    What if you don’t start with the assumption that Theo/Tito are infallable? Both had some success early on, but have not had a good couple years. Sticking with them (assuming they both would stay) is a risk as well.

    In the past few years, their model has not done very well. If you judged them on their results, they don’t look good. If you judge them by taking a step back and evaluating the moves they’ve made, they don’t look good either.

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  11. james wilson says:

    Valentine was hired to be fired. Nobody inside Fenway thinks otherwise, except possibly Valentine. He may win in his first year which is one possible benefit, the other being in punishing the slackers.

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  12. I think BV not only wants to win a title, but also have that title be because of his brilliance.

    I think he’s going to go overboard trying to show how smart he is instead of getting out of the way. There’s more TLR in him than there isn’t. Only TLR is more successful.

    The more I think about it, the more I feel BV told them exactly what they wanted to hear in order to get the job. I didn’t hear any sabermetric friendly talk in his broadcasts. I heard him trying to sound smart referring to classic, traditional manager cliches, and using results and 20/20 hindsight to analyze managerial moves. So a lucky or random outcome determined whether something was a right move. Meanwhile he praised players for productive outs and things of that nature.

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    • Franco says:

      Did Bobby run over your dog or something?

      BV is a bad announcer but he’s sabr savvy and has mentioned WAR and other stats in interviews before. The guy also used Benny Agbayani as a leadoff hitter because he took so many walks so he isn’t close minded.

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  13. BSR have two very fast guys. I wonder if BV will bat Ellsbury and Crawford 1-2 so they can steal themselves into scoring position, which is something BSR have not done in the recent era.

    Regardless BSR is likely to make the playoffs, and I know who’ll be there to take their share of the credit, regardless of whether the decisions helped/hurt the team.

    With the players BSR has, it’s difficult for the BSR to struggle. What happened to them in 2011 may have been a 1 in 100 occurrence. They had 5 highly paid players that combined for a replacement level performance. Think about that. If they’re only sucky instead of sh**ty, BSR makes the playoffs.

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  14. Nick44 says:

    There is no way you can call someone one of the World’s Savviest Businessmen when he approves the Andy Carroll transfer to Liverpool.

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  15. MC says:

    I remember Bobby V had a a lot of quirks as a manager. For example he would also require his first basemen to play off the bag. It just looked awkward, but I have no idea whether there’s any value to doing something like that.

    Also Bobby V was able to take (or was it Mike Piazza and Mike Hampton) a fairly mediocre Mets team to the World Series. Eh…the manager probably doesn’t make a whole lot of difference. Wasn’t it Casey Stengel who said that he liked being a manager because he could take credit for home runs other fellow hit?

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  16. Dan G says:

    I’m not so sure that the Red Sox didn’t want Theo out along with Tito, when a team collapses in such a brutal fashion, it is not just the field manager’s fault. Ownership’s claims about not wanting to lose Theo are IMHO just a negotiating tactic to extract better compensation from the Cubs. The Cubs obsiously haven’t bought that line yet and I suspect that Selig won’t either.

    This particular bunch of players appeared to lose the ability to police themselves and without self-disciplined players, Francona’s style of management is risky. The Sox had to go in a different direction. Next year, I’d rather read that Valentine and Cherington and Luccino are at each others throats than more stories about lollygagging players. After last September, I can deal with whatever Valentine does next year. If Dice-K is reasonably productive next year, I’ll give Bobby V all the credit he wants. If he gets Beckett to work quicker, that is real value in my book.

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