The Great Red Sox Panic of 2016

On Monday, April 8th, 2002 Dave Dombrowski fired Detroit Tigers manager Phil Garner after an 0-6 start. If the hope was to change the clubs fortunes, the move failed: his replacement Luis Pujols went a staggering 55-100. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Dombrowski tied the quickest hook for a manager since 1900 – the other unfortunate being Cal Ripken Sr in 1988.

In case there was any doubt, it has become clear over the past few days that John Farrell is aware of this history.

2015 was a difficult year for the current Red Sox manager. The team entered the season with great expectations following a second last place finish in three years, but after a mediocre start (12-10) in April the wheels came off in May (10-19). By the trading deadline, it was all over but the crying, and what few movable parts there were were shown the door for negligible return.

As bad as the on the field situation was, Farrell’s health off the field was the real concern. Shortly after undergoing hernia surgery on August 11, it was discovered that he had stage 1 lymphoma. He would not return that season.

Having staggered to a .439 winning percentage under Farrell, the team’s luck changed shortly after his exit. Buoyed in part by unexpected performances from young players like Bradley or Shaw, not to mention the merciful decision to stop running Hanley Ramirez out in left field, the Red Sox made a run towards finishing .500 by playing .636 ball under interim manager, and former bench coach, Torey Lovullo.

If this had all happened one year earlier, there is no managerial controversy. In 2014, Farrell was fresh off a World Series title and respected throughout the organization, some of his odd tactical decisions notwithstanding. By the time he took his leave of absence last year, however, he was coming off a last place finish and had overseen the club’s steady march towards their second in a row.

Hence the question: who should manage the Boston Red Sox? John Farrell or Torey Lovullo? And if you stick with Farrell, what becomes of Lovullo? The Red Sox answered these questions in early October, announcing that Farrell would return and that Lovullo had been retained as well.

Personally, this was my preferred outcome, because it seemed inappropriate that Farrell not be given the chance to manage again because of his cancer diagnosis. Looking back, however, it may have been kinder to simply fire him.

Throughout this spring, there’s been an undercurrent of desperation. Writers wrote about how the team needed to get off to a fast start, unnamed front office executives were quoted as saying the same, but nothing has confirmed this more than Farrell’s repeated statements that the players performing the best in Spring Training would be the ones receiving playing time when the season opens on Monday – as if Spring Training performances were reliable predictors.

Which is how we find the players expected to be starting at third base (Sandoval) and left field (Castillo) headed for the bench.

For many in Boston, this has been welcome news. Neither Castillo nor Sandoval performed last year – Sandoval was one of the worst regulars in the league, in fact – and three last place finishes in four years means that business as usual isn’t acceptable.

Except that Farrell and the club’s approach so far makes little sense.

The personnel decisions, for example, are clearly the product of panic, not rational planning. Sandoval’s first year was indefensible. Fine. He’s hardly the first big ticket free agent to succumb to the pressure of the contract, however. While populist sentiment is in favor of assigning playing time independent of contract terms, in practice this makes little sense. By putting Sandoval on the bench, you increase rather than decrease the pressure on a player who already struggled with it last year. Which elevates the risk of losing him entirely, at which point you now have seventy plus million of dead money to try and find a home for.

While starting Sandoval and hoping for a return to something closer to his historical performance baselines is the correct decision, sitting him would be understandable if he was blocking a known quantity at third base. He is not. Statistically, in fact, there is greater reason the believe in Sandoval than Shaw, as Paul Swydan covers well.

Even setting the money aside, from a career accomplishments’ standpoint, it would unquestionably be easier to start Sandoval than Shaw. If Sandoval falters, Shaw has his opportunity. If Sandoval bounces back, Shaw can either refine his craft in the minors – where he has not performed particularly well, notably – or serve as the bench bat he was expected to. By starting Shaw, the Red Sox are placing their faith in one good month in the majors and a handful of spring training at bats. If they’re wrong, and Shaw is not a major league regular, their backup option is a mentally fragile third baseman that they just publicly benched.

How does that make sense, exactly?

The decision to start Holt in left field over Castillo, meanwhile, is more defensible but just as puzzling. First, making Holt a near regular contradicts the club’s previous assertion that he performs better when not asked to play every day. Second, it flies in the face of their plan the entire offseason, which was to finally give Castillo an extended opportunity to see if he can make the most of it. Third, they made this decision, apparently, on a few week’s of Spring Training at bats. And lastly, if you’re that desperate to win games early that you need to start Holt over Castillo, why keep the latter on the major league roster? He’s certainly not going to improve by not playing as a fifth outfielder.

Worse than any particular personnel decision, however, is the tone that has been set around the club. As a cerebral game, baseball is not one that is played best under tension, or fear. It’s not good for the individual player’s performance, and it can lead to a poor decision-making which overvalues the present at the expense of the future.

The Red Sox appear fixated on coming out of the gate at a sprint. In a sport that is more of a marathon, however, this approach seems questionable at best. The club has, as Tim Britton writes, completely overhauled its philosophy this offseason. It’s understandable and to be expected that some change accompanies the last place finishes. But the last time the Red Sox over-rotated this far, we went from Tito Francona to Bobby Valentine.

The only consoling thought amidst the current panic, in fact, is that if things do begin to go south, we’re more likely to end up with Lovullo than another season of Bobby V.

In Case You Haven't Been Keeping Up With Current Events

Papi on Deck

We just got our asses kicked, pal. The 2012 Red Sox were 69-93. Anyone see that coming? Admittedly the “just” is a bit of a leap, as the end of the season is a month plus behind us, but you wouldn’t know it from this space: the last post here was September 2nd. And a few things have happened in between now and then. Herewith is a brief examination of a few of said things.

Bobby Valentine

There was no comment here on Valentine’s exit because, really, what commentary was necessary? While the talk show hosts will claim that everyone is stunned that Valentine didn’t work out, that’s not accurate. It was obvious to a great many people – including yours truly – that Bobby V was a bad fit for this job even before he’d really gotten to work. The only real surprise was how swift and total his failure was. All of the anticipated flaws – his inability to relate to players, his need to communicate via the media, his BobbyV-ness – were on permanent display last year, which will presumably be the last time we’ll see them in a dugout. As was said in this space in April, Valentine was nothing more or less than a classic management blunder: an emotion driven over-rotation away from a manager perceived to be a problem, in spite of eight years of unprecedented success.

The only good news about the damage he did during his tenure is that it was so extensive that bringing him back was completely untenable. And so, mercifully, he’s gone.

John Farrell

I have no idea whether Farrell is going to be a good manager: Keith Law, at one point, implied that the Red Sox had dodged a bullet after watching Farrell throw away a game for the Blue Jays. But he’s got one very important thing going for him: he’s not Bobby Valentine.

Given the higher quality of the managerial candidates this time around, it is a bit perplexing that Cherington and company felt compelled to pay the Blue Jay ransom of Mike Aviles (and don’t even get me started on the rumor that Bailey was the other potential trade item). Aviles is quite clearly a player with significant limitations – his liftime OBP is .308, and he missed that by 20 points last season – but in a market bereft of legitimate shortstops, he was an asset with value. His subtraction leaves Iglesias as the only realistic starting shortstop candidate, a season after ZIPS projected him to put up an Ordonez-an line of 251/.289/.311 and he underperformed that, hitting .118/.200/.191 in 77 at bats.

But with Cherington’s job reportedly on the line in the wake of last season’s disastrous finish and two deals that blew up in his face (the Reddick and Lowrie trades), paying Toronto’s premium for an asset they themselves appeared to have mixed impressions of apparently became more palatable. Ausmus et al may have dazzled in their interviews, but all ultimately lacked what Farrell offered: familiarity. Having worked with him extensively for years, they knew who Farrell was. With the would be contenders, they would be guessing.

So while I’m ultimately ambivalent about Farrell’s prospects, it is simutaneously difficult to fault the process. And at the very worst, he’s not Bobby V.

Juan Nieves

The one thing that everyone agrees on with respect to the upcoming season is that the starting rotation is, as ever, the key. And the best improvements that Red Sox can make in that area aren’t likely to be in external additions – although Cherington has said those will be necessary – but in restoring their pitchers under contract to past levels of performance. Farrell’s clearly expected to play a role in that, having been the pitching coach when both Buchholz and Lester enjoyed their finest seasons. But ultimately, the responsibility ultimately will be the new pitching coach’s.

It’s difficult to assess new hire Juan Nieves in that regard, because he’s been the bullpen coach for the White Sox. But the White Sox join the Cardinals as one of the clubs commonly regarded to have the ability to repair and restore pitchers on the decline. So if the Red Sox believe a little of Cooper rubbed off on Nieves during his tenure with the White Sox, this decision has my full approval.

David Ortiz

This exchange on WEEI last week summed up at once my frustration with sports radio in general and fan ignorance of contracts specifically.

sports radio caller: this ortiz signing is awful. it’s just too much risk: the achilles injury changes everything.

sports radio host: ok, but let me ask you: if he hit free agency and the rangers signed him for 2 years @ 24M, would you crush the red sox next august for not signing him?

sports radio caller: [long pause] yeah, well, that’s why i’m just a fan.

Besides trying to have it both ways, this misreads both the market and Ortiz’ actual value. According to Fangraphs, Ortiz was worth $13.3M in 2012, playing 90 games. His contract for the next two years is that times two. Tough to fault the front office for the move. In a perfect world, of course, the Red Sox would go year to year. And writers have (comically) implied that if Theo were still here, Ortiz would not be handed this two year deal. They base this assertion on the fact that Ortiz has been year to year for a few years now. This conveniently ignores both the realities of the market – there was a much greater scarcity of power threats on this year’s market relative to his previous periods of free agency – as well as his actual performance. It was natural to be cautious with Ortiz in 2009 or 2010, because he was not far removed from a period in which it looked like his career was nearly over. In 2012, Ortiz is coming off of two consecutive years of putting up an OPS better than 900.

There are risks to this deal, as with every deal, but they are more than acceptable – particularly given the short duration of the contract. This fits with the new Red Sox mantra: pay the premium for contracts of shorter duration. Kuroda will be an interesting next test of this philosophy.

David Ross

Boston’s best beat writer Alex Speier summed up the consternation following the signing of David Ross best:

The Red Sox need a starting pitcher, first baseman, two corner outfielders and perhaps a shortstop this winter. So naturally, their first move of the winter was … to sign a catcher, David Ross.

But as he explains, it’s a deal that actually makes a great deal of sense. Although the speculation by Ken Rosenthal and others in the wake of the signing was that this meant that Lavarnway was headed back to Pawtucket, count me among those who believe that this is a prelude to a trade of one of our two catchers.

And if pressed on which would be headed elsewhere, my bet would be on a transaction involving Salty. Neither Lavarnway nor Ross could reasonably expect to approximate Saltalamacchia’s power – 25 home runs last year – but both would project to be an upgrade on one of the biggest problems our offense had last year: getting on base. The Red Sox were 22nd in OBP in 2012, one season after being first. Salty’s lifetime OBP is .302, and in 2012 he was at .288. Ross’ lifetime OBP is .324 (.321 in 2012), and while Lavarnway was abysmal in 2012 at .211, Assistant GM Mike Hazen was stressing this week on WEEI’s excellent weekly Hot Stove show that it was important for the club to trust its player development personnel and the player’s minor league performance. Lavarnway’s OBP over five season in the minors? .376.

Add in the fact that Ross was apparently told he would be “more than a backup,” and the tea leaves seem to forecase the end of the Salty era in Boston. Potential trading partners would include the Mets and White Sox, and theoretically even the Braves who just lost Ross and have McCann coming off of surgery.

All in all, what seems initially a surprising move is actually more likely to be the Red Sox creating an artificial surplus in an area of league need at a reasonable cost from which to deal for required assets. Which seems like sound strategy here.

The Case Against Bobby Valentine

Peter Abraham is correct about one thing: firing Bobby Valentine will not fix the Red Sox. Not because our mathematical chances of a playoff spot are down to 15%, but because he – like his predecessor – isn’t the primary reason his team has underperformed.

One popular narrative around this team, as it always is with clubs losing games, is that this year’s failure is simply a function of effort: they’re just not trying. A subset of Bobby Valentine’s critics argue that he’s not properly motivating the players. A second group subscribes to the chicken and beer theory: that this is a function of a lack of effort from players. And a third group believes that all of the above is true.

One thing everyone can agree on is that the players have, in fact, underperformed as a group. If we compare the offense to the numbers the ZIPS system projected for them, it’s clear that those we expect the most from offensively – with the very obvious exception of Ortiz – have been substantially worse than anticipated.

It’s worth noting, however, that relative to the league averages at each position, our offense looks less poor.

We’ve fallen off in the last few weeks, in part because of the absence of Ortiz, but there’s a reason we’re still in the top 10 in runs scored. The offense has not, in general, been the problem.

As with last September, our difficulties stem from systemic problems with our starting rotation. In categories where you want lower values – think low versus high ERAs – our differential versus ZIPS expectations for our starters are alarming.

In categories where higher metrics are favored – think strikeouts per nine innings – we fare equally poorly.

Nor, as we are offensively, are we performing better relative to the league. In areas where you want your pitchers to have lower values, we’re skewed to the wrong side of the chart.

And in areas where we want higher, we’re middling to negative, with the exception of Doubront’s excellent strikeout rate.

The numbers confirm the eyes: our record is no accident. As Bill Parcells might say, we are what our record says we are. As the difference between the ZIPS projections and our actual peformance points out, however, we are most certainly not who we thought we were.

For the casual fan, as typified by talk show callers, the predictable reaction is to look for someone to blame. Fire the manager, as John Tomase suggests. Trade the underperforming players for anything, a bag of balls if that’s what it takes.

The challenge with this narrative is twofold. First, it tends to accrue blame to the wrong person: the manager. I may be no fan of Valentine, but I cannot build the case that he is directly responsible for the horrific charts above.

Second, and more problematically, it leads to “solutions” like Bobby Valentine himself. The problem with the Red Sox last September, it is argued in many quarters, was Francona. So the obvious solution was to hire his polar opposite, even if the players had been promised that wouldn’t occur. Forget the fact that it was a failure of starting pitching that doomed the Red Sox last season – and that those same starting pitchers had led the team to a 20-6 record a month prior – the problem was commonly accepted to be culture. Enter Bobby Valentine, charged with changing that culture.

It is now August, and we’ve seen how well that’s worked out.

Valentine defenders will argue that Bobby Valentine was not empowered to manage. But as Buster Olney asks, what does that mean exactly?

What would have to change to make that happen? A total makeover of a team with one of the highest payrolls in baseball, including the jettisoning of some of the best-paid players? The firing of coaches? The dismissal of some members of the medical staff? A complete restructuring of the chain of command?…

Terry Francona dealt with a lot of the same parameters as Valentine: A team of temperamental veterans, a sometimes dysfunctional ownership, a progressive front office, an intrusive media. He lasted nine seasons, and the Red Sox won a couple of championships.

Managers manage, no matter what they have. No organization places its priorities on a tee for the manager.

For Peter Abraham, the answer is yes: a total makeover of a team with one of the highest payrolls in basell is necessary.

The Red Sox need to significantly change their roster, not their manager.

Which may be so. But that points to the difficulty with Abraham’s defense of Valentine: it’s a straw man. It implies that the Red Sox need necessarily choose one of changing the roster and changing the manager. It also implies that blame here is a binary, yes or no proposition.

It seems clear, however, that Bobby Valentine can be both not to blame for our performance to date and not the right manager for this club, this city and these players. The evidence on that front has, in fact, been accumulating since spring training. Forgetting some of the questionable in game decisions, which are unavoidable for managers, Valentine has distinguished neither himself nor the club with his conduct.

  • In Spring Training, Valentine told the media that Ryan Sweeney didn’t know his own swing, Felix Doubront didn’t have a killer out pitch and that Mark Melancon “backed up the bases well” after a rough outing.

  • Also in Spring Training, Valentine said of Jose Iglesias: “I think [Iglesias] can hit and hit on the major league level.” Iglesias season line at Pawtucket is .247/.294/.280.

  • In February, he publicly claimed that Derek Jeter had ‘never practiced’ the famous flip play. A day later, he was compelled to publicly recant and apologize.

  • Late in February, Terry Francona was asked in his role as an ESPN analyst to comment on the Red Sox ban of alcohol from the clubhouse. His reply was, “I think it’s a PR move.” Valentine’s response to Francona:
    “Remember, you’re getting paid over there [at ESPN] for saying stuff. You’re getting paid over here for doing stuff. I’ve done both.”

  • In March, he told reporters that he wasn’t a “believer in the windup, period.” His pitching coach was quoted later as saying, “He wasn’t a pitcher,” added McClure, “so I don’t know if he’d understand that.”

  • Later in March, Curt Schilling said of Valentine:

    “I thought that the manager that managed the Mets that I was not a big fan of was now going to be a different manager, and I don’t think there’s anything different at all,’’ Schilling said. “And I don’t think that that is going to be conducive to doing well here. There’s a lot of things I think that are happening not just from his perspective, but when you talk to these guys – and I’m still talking to some of these guys – I don’t think this is going well. And I think it’s going bad quicker than I expected it to.”

  • In April, Valentine wrote his left-handed roster onto the lineup card, only to reminded by his catcher a few hours later that the pitcher the Red Sox were facing was right-handed.

  • On April 14th, he told a local Boston TV station that Kevin Youkilis was not “as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason.” On June 24th, Youkilis was traded with cash to the White Sox for a marginal return, with one failed prospect and a utility player who was later designated for assignment. Two weeks later, after dropping the first two games of a series to the New York Yankees with Youkilis replacement Middlebrooks sidelined by a bad hamstring, Peter Gammons tweeted the following:

    “Bobby Valentine simnply wanted Kevin Youklis gone. Sometimes you get what you want, but you get Mauro Gomez.”

  • In June, Valentine disclosed to reporters that he asked Clay Buchholz, a start removed from a 125 pitch game, to pitch a day ahead of schedule and that the pitcher declined.

  • Later in June, ESPN’s Buster Olney characterized the Red Sox clubhouse as “toxic.” He has since stood by those remarks.

  • In July, questioned about the inconsistent schedule of Crawford’s play, Valentine said “Actually, I did a manager ‘no-no’ thing, you know. I went against what I was told to do. Never to be done again.”

  • Later in July, Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan predicted that Bobby Valentine’s tenure with the Red Sox would end in a mushroom cloud.

  • Later still in July, Valentine popped up behind Dan Shaughnessy, who was preparing to be interviewed on TV, and yelled: ““It’s not true. I’m not trying to get fired, folks! It’s not true. It’s not true. It was all made up by him [Shaughnessy]. It’s not true.”

  • On August 1st, Bobby Valentine relayed, unsolicited, an anecdote claiming that after Will Middlebrooks had a two error inning [he’s never had a two error inning], his comment to the player had been “nice inning,” and that someone in the dugout had relayed this to ownership who later spoke to him on the matter. A day later, he said it was the “most stupid thing I ever said…on a radio program.”

If this is the list of incidents that we know about, it’s difficult to imagine what life is like behind the scenes. What impact it has had or has not had on the performance of the players is impossible to quantify, and thus it would be inappropriate to assign blame to Valentine for the club’s lack of performance this season.

But if he isn’t the problem, it seems at least as clear that he is not part of the solution. Peter Abraham would have us credit Valentine with the success of “guys like Mike Aviles, Andrew Miller, Daniel Nava, Vicente Padilla, Scott Atchison, Kelly Shoppach, Marlon Byrd, Scott Podsednik and Pedro Ciriaco.” But it is difficult to see how we can credit him for the success of some players while absolving him of responsibility for the failure of others.

And as for Abraham’s characterization of Valentine being pilloried for “contrived nonsense,” context seems important. If one or more of the above issues is considered in a vacuum, that might be accurate. In their aggregate, however, they appear to represent a pattern. The most charitable interpretation of which is that Bobby Valentine is, at best, a poor communicator.

And if one believes as Cherington purports to that winning and losing is more on the players than the manager, it stands to reason that the best manager is the one that gets the most out of his players. Which presumably requires excellent communication skills. Skills that Valentine quite obviously lacks. Add in the distractions that Valentine seems fundamentally unable to avoid, and his net value to the club seems to be negative.

Which is why he should be replaced, for his sake as much as ours. According to John Henry, however, we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Valentine at the Break

In his eight year tenure with the Boston Red Sox, the clubs that Terry Francona managed averaged a .592 winning percentage over the first half. They won almost 60% of the games they played in, in other words. His worst record at the All Star break, oddly enough, came in 2004, when the club went 48-38 en route to a .558 winning percentage.

His replacement this year, Bobby Valentine, would presumably have jumped at the chance to trade for Francona’s worst year, because his club enters the break at .500, with the same record as third place Oakland: 43-43.

Injuries, of course, have played a major role in the club’s malaise. Just as they did last year, the year before and the year before that, when Francona’s winning percentages at the break were .614, .580 and .611.

For his performance en route to the .500 record, the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo handed out an “Honorable Mention” to Valentine this morning for his “Best Manager” half season award.

This might seem inexplicable in light of the record, the “toxic clubhouse,” the “widespread disdain” the players have the for manager or all of the above – until you remember that Valentine was Cafardo’s first choice as manager. In October, Cafardo said of Valentine:

He’s exactly what this organization needs. If you want a man who is considered one of the best in-game managers and who has control of his team and the clubhouse, there is no one better available.

In that light, today’s recognition of Valentine can be seen for what it is: a simple inability to admit a mistake.

Forgive Bobby or Blame Tito: Pick One

Fenway - Field Of Dreams April 20, 1912 - April 20, 2012 (6)

Through thirty-five games, the Red Sox were officially one game off of last season’s pace. The offense, as anticipated, is fine. The loss of a 2011 MVP runners up didn’t help, but we’re fourth in OPS, fourth in slugging, fifth in OBP and second in runs scored. Just as with last September, the problem so far is pitching – this last solid turn through the rotation notwithstanding. Only six teams in baseball have gotten fewer innings from their starters, and only the Royals are walking more per nine. Which might be acceptable if the starters were striking people out right and left, but that’s not the case either: we’re 26th in K/9. All of which adds up to a starters ERA of 5.46 (second worst in baseball) and an xFIP of 4.45 (third worst).

If you’re looking for an explanation, then, as to why the Red Sox find themselves in the AL East basement, there it is. It’s true, as the excellent Alex Speier documents, that Valentine’s decision making with his pitchers has been questionable, and that the poor numbers above may be exaggerated by this. But even if we were to give the pitchers the benefit of the doubt regarding usage, at best they might approach middle of the pack. The simple fact is that the pitching has been bad.

Which is why most of the Red Sox reporters have been inclined to give Bobby V a pass thus far. The team’s performance is not his fault, they argue – it’s the starting pitching. And they’re correct to do so, because the truth is that as much as I believe Valentine is the wrong manager for the Boston Red Sox, our record to date is not his responsibility.

But here’s the catch, if you’re a reporter. If you take this position – and it is, in my opinion, the correct position – you cannot simultaneously hold Francona responsible for the Red Sox failure last September. You know where the Red Sox starters ranked last September in ERA? Dead last, with a horrific 7.08. The next worst rotation? Baltimore, at 6.09: almost a full run better. How about innings pitched by starters in September? Second to last. Pittsburgh’s rotation pitched one fewer game than we did and thereby eked out the fewest starters innings title. Pick your metric, and the starters were awful. They had the worst BB/9 and the third worst HR/9. The Indians starters were the only ones to allow more runs than the Red Sox rotation in September; which would damn them if they hadn’t pitched thirty one and two thirds more innings than our guys. The average hitter against last September’s rotation put up a .300/.386/.489 line for an .875 OPS. Which meant, effectively, that the average hitter was performing a bit better than Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli or Miguel Cabrera have so far this year.

If you were ever curious as to how you go 7-20 in a month, those numbers are a good place to start. Also, throwing poor, obviously not ready Kyle Weiland every fifth day. But what’s the point of all of this? It’s simple. Reporters, you can pick one of the following: a) the 2012 slow start is not Bobby Valentine’s fault or b.) the September 2011 collapse was Tito Francona’s fault. Last I checked, it’s still a free country, so you’re entitled to choose either one of those options, even if one of them is laughably absurd. You cannot assert that both are correct, however. Throwing one the book at one man without even charging another for the same offense is just too much, even for a profession with a notoriously casual relationship with the facts.

It's Nobody's Fault But Valentine's

No matter what the media would have you believe, Bobby Valentine’s current problems are not about Terry Francona. Nor even Curt Schilling. They’re about Bobby Valentine.

Was Schilling a hypocrite when he popped off about Valentine having never been in the locker room, exactly the kind of move he hated as a player? Yes. Is it likely that he’s unfairly biased against Valentine because of his relationship with Francona? Again, yes. But here’s the problem: none of that means that Schilling is wrong. And in the wake of that controversy, Valentine is doing nothing but proving Schilling correct.

The popular narrative about last season was, and to some degree is, that the Red Sox’ failure was attributable to a lack of accountability that festered under Tito’s free hand. Peter Abraham apparently subscribes to this theory, saying yesterday:

Everybody knows what happened in 2011. The Red Sox weren’t ready for the season to start and then they quit on each other at the end.

Is there some truth to that assertion? With certainty. But was that the reason 2011 ended in disaster? Or is the more likely explanation that normal clubhouse behaviors became magnified in the wake of a historic collapse that was the product of a true perfect storm?

What if, for example, Doubront hadn’t showed up out of shape, then gotten hurt? What if Hill had lasted more than 9 (scoreless) games? What if Jenks pitched in more than 19 games, and pitched like Jenks? What if Drew hadn’t faded so suddenly? What if Kalish and Linares hadn’t been hurt and therefore unable to replace him? What if Buchholz hadn’t had a stress fracture in his back, missing half a season? What if Youk had been playing at third instead of Aviles? What if Bard and Lester hadn’t all lost the strike zone at the same time? What if Gonzalez hadn’t shown the ill effects of the home run derby, a surgically repaired shoulder, or both? What if Carl Crawford had finally, eventually been even 80% of Carl Crawford? Hell, what if Darnell McDonald hadn’t been picked off in the top of the ninth inning that first series in Cleveland after being swept by Texas?

The answer is that the Red Sox probably would have made the playoffs, Tito probably would still be the manager and Theo might even still be the GM. In spite of – or is that because of? – Francona’s leniency.

The popular narrative, in other words, is lazy, not attempting to explain why the Red Sox were the best team in baseball for fourth months, nor to understand the failure as a cumulative event. It’s a gross oversimplification that seeks to assign blame for an event that was the product of dozens of cascading errors. One that mistakes symptoms for cause. If any one of dozens of factors had played out differently, Valentine probably wouldn’t be the manager.

None of that happened, however, which is how Bobby V happened. In a classic management blunder, ownership over-rotated and hired the exact opposite of the manager they determined was the problem – his two World Series titles notwithstanding.

The really surprising thing wasn’t that management’s chosen anti-Francona experienced issues, nor even that they occured so soon. No, the real surprise was that after almost a decade out of major league baseball – an exile due in part to his inability to control his mouth – Bobby Valentine, a sixty-two year old man, was after all these years unable to control his mouth.

What the Globe’s Peter Abraham got right was that Valentine’s bizarre indictment of (and later apology to) Youk was a mistake. What he got wrong was the implication – perhaps born out of Valentine’s own denials – that this was somehow manufactured by Francona’s admirers, or those operating off of Bobby V stereotypes. Bobby brought this on himself, and needed no help from anyone to do it.

There just isn’t a rational defense for his comments. Like so many of the things that come out of Valentine’s mouth – remember when he had to apologize to Jeter in spring training?, there was no upside to them. Whether it was intended as motivation or was the product of someone who can’t help himself, the impact was a media firestorm and an angry, immediate rebuke from the clubhouse in the person of Pedroia. All this, nine days into his tenure. Which begs the question: if Bobby’s as smart as everyone thinks he is, why can’t he just shut his trap?

One other thing that Abraham got right: if Valentine doesn’t learn to keep his mouth shut, it’s going to be a long season. Those who wished for a manager that would be harder on the players are going to discover that it’s best to be careful what you wish for.