Friday, August 23, 2013

John Farrell's Rear View Mirror

 Red Sox manager John Farrell's comments about the differences he perceives between his current club and his former club's scouting philosophies got a fair amount of attention in the Greater Toronto media.
   Farrell, speaking at a fundraiser for the Jimmy Fund (a hugely popular Boston-area charity) entitled Sabermetrics, Scouting, and the Science of Baseball, was a huge hit when he spoke at the event's wrap-up.  His popularity may have had more than a little to do with the Red Sox' surprising place in the standings, as much as it did for his replacement of reviled former skipper Bobby Valentine, who last year downplayed the importance of sabermetrics.  The ever-shrewed Farrell, of course, embraced them, according the website

 "Leading into a game on a given night, some of the pieces of information that you all provide or that is in this sabermetric world or the stats world, probably is rehearsed a little bit in advance of the start of the game," Farrell said. "The reason why it is — think about being in the dugout. You've got probably anywhere from 5-10 seconds to make a certain decision, or, I've got to give some lead time to a pinch-hitter an inning or two ahead of time. I can't be sitting there thumbing through a three-ring binder to come up with that."

   I guess that's a compliment.  "Hey, we use your stuff, but in digestible doses."
Farrell then went on to discuss the differences in scouting approaches between the Sox and the Jays:

   "We can have a seminar on this question -- not just because it's Toronto and Boston," Farrell said. "There are very distinct differences and it starts, I think it starts, at the top. And the reason I say that: I found Toronto to be a scouting-based organization, which to me is on one plane, one-dimensional. You're looking at tools. Here, it's a player-development-based system. It's the paths of the individuals that are running the organization. And that's not to be critical."

  If it's not to be critical, what is it?  Clearly, Farrell suggests that the Jays scout tools, while the Sox scout tools and make-up.
   Farrell, of course, has a strong player development background, so he likely knows of what he speaks.  At the same time, it's interesting that he could pick up on these differences in a relatively short (2 years in Toronto, with his heart, apparently, still in Boston) time span.  Yes, he's a wise baseball man, who has been in the game as a player, front office guy, and manager for 30 years.  It's hard to believe that he would have had a chance to thoroughly know inside and out the players GM Alex Anthopolous and the Jays' scouting department drafted in 2010 and 2011, many of whom are still in the lower levels of the minors, and be able to make meaningful comps with Sox prospects.
   Still, his claims are a little hard to quantify.  Granted, the Sox were ranked as having the 6th best farm system in the majors at the beginning of the year by Baseball America.  And scouting/prospect guru Keith Law has identified their system as one on the rise, with high-profile prospects such as the recently-recalled Xander Bogaerts, Anthony Ranaudo, and Garin Cecchini.  The Blue Jays, by comparison, were ranked 21st by BA - after emptying their farm system of top prospects Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino, and Jake Marisnick.  Given the performance of the first two, the Jays likely would be ranked above the Sox if they were still Toronto property, and Farrell's comments might take on a different perspective.
   If one looks at the 40-man rosters of both teams, the Sox have 19 players that they have drafted and developed, while the Jays have 17 (with the note that several were acquired in trades, but have spent considerable time in the Toronto system).  If you look at homegrown everyday players the Sox have in their lineup, you see the likes of Clay Buchholz,  Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Bogaerts, and Jacoby Ellsbury.  The Jays feature JP Arencibia, Adam Lind, Brett Cecil, and Casey Janssen.  Certainly, the Sox have the Jays in terms of the quality, but not necessarily the quantity, of players they have developed.
  The difference in the won-lost records between the two may be more a product of Boston's ability to buy or take on contracts in trades to fill the missing pieces of their roster.  Certainly, a Pedroia and an Ellsbury help, but the Sox don't have as massive an edge in the homegrown player race over the Jays that Farrell's comments would suggest.
   Certainly, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington has time on his side over Jays GM Anthopolous.  Cherington has been in the Boston front office since 1999, and took over from Theo Epstein in 2011.  AA has been in the GM chair since the fall of 2009, and has had only 4 drafts to be evaluated on.  In fairness, he needs a couple more (if he gets them) before a fair comparison can be made.
  So on the surface, Farrell's comments, while a little hard to take given his history, are probably not that far from accurate, but with a lot of mitigating factors.  Maybe its a little bit of gloating, because it's hard to think Farrell would've made the same comments if the Jays and Red Sox spots in the standings were reversed.  Farrell is still basking in the glow of the post-Bobby Valentine honeymoon.
   And, if nothing else, it was bad form, even if he was in effect saying, "nothing personal," to speak critically of his former employer.  Apparently, even while he was wearing a Blue Jays uniform, Farrell still kept close tabs and ties with his former organization.
   It all just makes this bitter pill of a Jays season that much harder to swallow.

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