Gomes, Nava, Victorino, and Why John Farrell is Smarter than Me

The Boston Red Sox beat the Detroit Tigers tonight and are going to the World Series. It seems an odd time to criticize lineup decisions by John Farrell. That is especially true when his two most-questionable moves turned into gold. Jonny Gomes doubled to lead off the seventh inning. Four batters later, Shane Victorino sent Fenway Park into a frenzy with a grand slam.

Leading up to the game — a 5-2 Red Sox win — I opined on Twitter that Gomes shouldn’t be in the lineup, and Victorino should be moved to the bottom of the order. There was logic behind my opinions. In retrospect, I still think I was right, even though I may have been wrong.

Farrell put it this way prior to the game: “At this point in time, gut feel comes into it a little bit more than numbers on a stat sheet or a given category. The way players respond in this environment has got equal weight, if not more, than what the numbers might indicate, or drive you to make a decision over the course of a regular-season game. This is a different environment.”

The Red Sox manager wasn’t referring specifically to his decision to play Gomes over Daniel Nava. The question posed to him was more general in nature, but for all intents and purposes, that’s exactly what he was referring to.

Tonight marked the fourth time Gomes has started in the ALCS — with Nava on the bench — which is notable because the Tigers don’t have a left-handed starter. Over his career, Gomes has hit .225/.310/.423 versus same-handed pitchers. This season, he improved to closer to replacement level, hitting .258/.341/.404. At Fenway Park, those numbers were .234/.297/.375.

Nava, in 397 plate appearances versus right-handed pitching this year, hit .322/.411/.484. At Fenway Park, those numbers were .343/.434/.515.

By all accounts, Nava is healthy.

Gomes track record versus Scherzer didn’t give credence to his being in tonight’s lineup. In nine at bats versus the Tigers’ right-hander this season, he has gone strikeout, strikeout, strikeout, infield single, single, pop to shortstop, strikeout, strikeout, strikeout.

Gomes post-season numbers are worse than his right-handed splits. Prior to this season, he was 0 for 7, with three strikeouts. Counting this year’s numbers, he came into the game .143/.200/.179, in 30 plate appearances.

Nava had no previous postseason experience. His slash line between this year’s ALDS and ALCS is .273/.429/.273, in 14 plate appearances. His most notable at bat came in ALCS Game One, when his ninth-inning single broke up what would have been a combined no-hitter by five Detroit pitchers.

It has been noted that the Red Sox had won all five post-season games started by Gomes. It has not been noted — but will be here — that the 1927 Yankees won all four World Series games started by Joe Dugan.

Gomes contribution to the five wins was four hits — two of the infield variery — in 19 at bats. He had two RBIs, both coming in a 12-2 win over Tampa Bay in the ALDS. They came against a left-handed pitcher.

In many ways, playing Gomes over Nava is akin to the Red Sox playing Eric Hinske over Kevin Youkilis against left-handed pitchers in the 2007 ALCS. They didn’t do that, of course. It wouldn’t have made sense. Youkilis wasn’t yet in his prime, but he was an OBP-machine. Hinske was a gritty journeyman-type with poor numbers versus same-sided pitching.

Lloyd McClendon, the Tigers hitting coach and a former manager, was asked his opinion before the game — not on Gomes-Nava specifically, but on playing a hard-nosed veteran or the player with better numbers.

“I think you have to go with the guys who have put the numbers up for you,” said McClendon. “You also look at who has been swinging a hot bat. Maybe you go with your gut with to some degree. In the end, you have to answer for [the decisions].”

Farrell — who was somewhat vindicated by Gomes’ seventh-inning double — has been vague about his decision. The best he has done is suggest he may not be as numbers-driven as befits the Red Sox reputation. By all accounts, his gut is overruling logic.

Then there is the Shane Victorino issue. Jim Leyland — regardless of how he approached the decision — went the saber route by moving his best hitter, Miguel Cabrera, into the two-hole in an attempt to jump-start his offense. His struggling lead-off hitter, Austin Jackson, moved to eighth in the order.

Farrell, meanwhile, has steadfastly kept the equally-struggling Shane Victorino in the two-hole. The Boston right-fielder came into the game just 8 for 35 in the post-season, with 12 strikeouts. Exacerbating his offensive woes is the fact he hadn’t drawn a walk in his last 65 plate appearances. An ability to get hit by pitches has been his lone offensive strength.

Farrell was asked on Friday about the possibility of moving Victorino to the bottom of the order — ala Jackson — and batting Nava second. He admitted it has been considered, but he wasn’t prepared to make the move just yet.

Given Victorino’s game-changing home run, that move isn’t going to be made. In all likelihood, neither will a move from Gomes to the more-talented Nava. Are those good things? Only time will tell. The numbers say Farrell made a pair of faulty lineup decisions in the ALCS. Two eighth-inning swings of the bat and a trip to the World Series say otherwise.

——

POST-GAME PERSPECTIVES

Red Sox hitting coach Greg Colbrunn: “Vic, with what he’s brought to us over 162 games — he’s going out there and competing. I don’t know if there was a thought about dropping in him in the order or not, but he battles his butt off every AB. Tonight he went up there and had an unbelievable AB.

“Having both [Gomes and Nava] is a great option. Jonny Gomes brings it every night and tonight he came two feet from going deep. And Daniel Nava has been unbelievable all year. He puts up solid at bats. Those guys are interchangeable pieces, and interchangeable pieces has been a big part of our success this year. Those guys pick each other up.”

Daniel Nava: “Jonny and I were talking about [the lineup decision] today, and we’re both in the same position of all we want is to win. All we want is that ring. If skip wants Jonny out there on a given night, go get ‘em Jonny. If skip wants me out there, I’m going to go get ‘em. We’ve got each other’s backs. It doesn’t matter who’s out there, let’s just win, and we’re going to the World Series.”

Ryan Dempster: “When you’re out there in the bullpen, and you see [Victorino’s] ball go out, you can see all the fans in the stands, and it’s like Fenway Park is bouncing. That‘s how it was. It looked at least off the wall, so I knew we had a chance to score some runs, and it just kept carrying. Wow, man. What a moment.”

Dustin Pedroia: “I wanted to run around [the bases] with him, I was so excited. I had a great view. It was a great swing. [Jose Veras] has a great curveball, and Vic was able to drive it. It was unbelievable. But nobody here cares what they do personally. We’re all here together.”

Craig Breslow: “It’s a fundamental argument: Do you have chemistry and that helps you win, or do you win and that develops chemistry? But it seems like, even from Day One of spring training, we’ve had both. We’ve got 25 guys that prioritize winning above all else. It really rings true. Like Jonny Gomes says, it’s 25 guys tugging on the same rope.”




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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


32 Responses to “Gomes, Nava, Victorino, and Why John Farrell is Smarter than Me”

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  1. Mcbrown says:

    These seem like very different issues and criticisms. Moving Victorino down would be to say that recent results and gut feelings should be heavily weighted. Starting Nava over Gomes would say the opposite. I think Nava should have been used more this series, but have no problem with sticking with Victorino at the top of the lineup. You shouldn’t overreact to a slump in-season, why overreact in the postseason?

    The thing no one is mentioning with respect to Nava and Gomes is that there is some perception that Nava is a pretty lousy fielder, even though the metrics say he is ok-ish. I’m not saying that’s enough reason to keep him on the bench, especially at Fenway where I’d argue your left fielder’s deficiencies can be pretty much ignored. But it might be a factor.

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    • Sam says:

      It’s hilarious how people keep using Nava’s defense as an excuse for keeping him on the bench, when Gomes has for much longer had the reputation (well deserved too) of being a terrible fielder. Nava is slow out there but not any slower than Gomes, and at least Nava has some sort of instincts.

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      • Defense says:

        UZR/150 over the last three years as a left fielder

        Nava (-15.9, -0.1, -14.2)

        Horrible, respectable, horrible.

        Gomes (4.5, -9.5, -6.6)

        Good, bad, bad

        Judging by raw numbers, who cares about defense. Gomes has been trending better so he probably has a slight advantage. When Farrell talks about using his gut, he’s been putting Gomes in all kinds of high leverage situations all year long. Farrell’s gut says that Jonny thrives in clutch situations while you get even keel performances from Nava. That’s why Gomes has seen so much time.

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  2. triple_r says:

    While we’re on the subject of poor postseason managing, why are the Cards still trotting out Beltran and his 2.0 WAR in 600 PAs when Shane Robinson has 0.9 WAR in 171 plate appearances (3.2 WAR/600) just waiting in the dugout? Yes, Beltran has a history of doing well in the postseason, but at this point, he’s in decline, and the dropped on offense from him to Robinson is more than offset by the improvement in defense (as the aforementioned WARs should show). If you aks me, this one’s gonna come back to bite ‘em.

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    • mcbrown says:

      Maybe the Cards don’t believe Robinson is as good defensively as the SSS numbers have apparently led you to believe, nor that Beltran is as bad as his defensive metrics suggest?

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      • triple_r says:

        I was under the impression that the Cardinals were one of the more erudite organizations in MLB, which is precisely why I am so befuddled over this decision.

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        • Guest says:

          Carlos Beltran career postseason stats in 198 PA:

          .337/.449/.724

          Its a top 5 slg in postseason all time, and thats a large sample compared to many postseason numbers. You can convert that slash to ISO/woba/wrc+, whatever stat you like, they are elite.

          You guys aren’t seriously having this conversation? Are you?

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        • mcbrown says:

          As one of the most erudite organizations, they are probably smart enough to not be fooled by a third of a season of results.

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    • zipperz says:

      This is absolutely absurd. If you have even watched a handful of plate appearances, no right minded person would start Shane Robinson over Beltran.

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      • triple_r says:

        A run saved on defense is worth just as much as a run earned on offense. Beltran is clearly a superior hitter, but his defense was, according to Def, the worst in the majors–for all positions. Robinson’s glove compensates for his bat, but the opposite cannot be said for Beltran.

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        • Purple Jesus says:

          I seem to remember Beltran making a pretty nice throw to nail Mark Ellis at the plate early in the series … but who cares because thats too small a sample size right ?

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    • chuckb says:

      The others here need to stop feeding the troll.

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  3. Ron says:

    The grand slam really doesn’t justify much. That ball is a fly out to end the inning in almost every other ballpark. Victorino is still not really hitting well.

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    • gump says:

      there was only one out, a long fly ball would have evened the score

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      • Ron says:

        I am talking about quality of hits. The question is should Victorino be in against a right handed pitcher in that spot? Probably not. Although the park factors should be a consideration, he might not have been the best choice. It worked out but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t dumb luck.

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    • Brian says:

      Gomes and Bogaerts’ doubles were both homeruns in most other ballparks. The Monster giveth and the monster taketh away.

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  4. Ryan says:

    Not a lineup decision specifically, but top 6, 1st and 2nd, 0 outs, Victor and Peralta coming up.

    Buchholz looked spent and I don’t have a problem with a pretty quick hook there. But going to the worst pitcher on the staff? I think you go right to Breslow there, Vic Torino bailed Farrell out IMO.

    This is going to sound hindsighty, but really, I think every pitcher in that pen is a better option than Morales somewhat late in a 1-0 game against Scherzer.

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    • Mike G says:

      The problem is Buchholz can’t last more than 5 good innings in the postseason so far. Can’t spend Breslow in the sixth. Someone from that mediocre middle relief would have to pitch later. Tazawa/Breslow/Koji can’t be expected to get you 4 IP on their own.

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      • Ryan says:

        But you might not get a higher lev situation than that all game – and wouldn’t have, without the grand slam. But it’s a fair counterpoint. Doubront seems like an obvious choice to piggyback Buchholz past 80 pitches for a couple middle innings, but he doesn’t have the best resume and that’s starting to get into Monday morning QBing.

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  5. CubsOfTheNorth says:

    John Farrell is going to win manager of the year…don’t the voters remember he frell all as manager of the my Jays?

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    • Purple Jesus says:

      I give up if Farrell wins manager of the year.. Cherington as exec. of the year maybe but no way Farrell for M.O.T.Y…. Clint Hurdle probably.

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  6. A Nava fan says:

    “Gomes contribution to the five wins was four hits — two of the infield variery — in 19 at bats.”

    Offensively, this is true, but it overlooks Gomes’ biggest contribution from Game 5, which was on defense — throwing out Cabrera at the plate in the first inning. Maybe Nava makes the same play — Cabrera was out by 15 feet — but it’s worth noting.

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    • Jeff says:

      I think anyone makes that play. Maybe a healthy Cabrera can score from 2nd on a hard hit ball to left, but an injured one cannot.

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      • A Nava fan says:

        I agree that any outfielder CAN make that play. Whether they actually will in a playoff game is another question entirely (see: Puig, Yasiel). I generally don’t buy the “intangibles” concept, but maybe, just maybe, this is an example of what Farrell is talking about.

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      • Gerard says:

        Tell that to Bonds and Sid Bream.

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    • marlins12 says:

      Yeah, Jonny Gomes is a great defensive player. That’s the difference…

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  7. marlins12 says:

    I do not understand why the quotes were included.

    Also, Farrell isn’t smarter than anyone for his decision just because of one at-bat.

    It’s amazing how winning just cures everything.

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  8. Grammar Police says:

    Oh the irony of the article’s title.

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  9. Mike G says:

    As a Red Sox fan I had no problem with Farrell sticking with Vic and Gomes. Vic looks injured which is really the only argument for me as to why you’d drop him. But also I think what Farrell did was more along the lines of “stick with what got you here”. The reason the Red Sox won 97 games was because of Ellsbury/Victorino at the top of the lineup. They just put so much pressure on the pitcher and the defense. I wouldn’t have thought he was wrong if he did drop Victorino, but the guy finds a way to get on base (HBP) no matter his struggles with the bat so that probably factored into Farrell’s decision. No one was expecting a GS in that situation.

    As for Gomes vs Nava, Gomes always seems to make a play in big moments. I know that’s not something that can be analyzed, but just from watching most of the Red Sox games this year I could see why Farrell would have a little more faith in Gomes coming up with a big play in a big moment. Not trying to knock Nava, but most of his production came early in the season. I don’t think there’s much of a difference between either of the two in terms of the production you can expect so I wouldn’t have had a problem with either of them playing LF. It’s not like we’re talking Barry Bonds vs Sam Fuld.

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  10. payroll says:

    Might have come down to repertoire. Scherzer’s changeup has been sick lately, and according to your pitch type page for Nava, he struggles most against changeups (-.30wCH/C). OTOH Gomes does okay against sliders (-.03) and obviously being righthanded, Scherzer’s changeup is more or less neutralized. Didn’t stop Scherzer throwing it to him in the 7th though, and sure enough Gomes hit it for a double.

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