Thursday, January 10, 2008

John Farrell An Unsung Hero of 2007

(Brita Meng Outzen/

In 2006, Red Sox pitching was utterly embarrassing. Their staff ranked fifth to last in ERA and was below major league average in quality starts, batting average against, total walks, complete games and shut outs. Although the Red Sox finished third in the AL East, their pitching staff was more comparable to those of basement dwelling teams.

In 2007, the Red Sox saw dramatic improvement in their pitching staff. Among other American League teams, the Red Sox staff's ERA, WHIP and BAA went from 10th or worse to first. The staff's overall walk total decreased by 27 and their strikeout total increased by 79. Newcomers Diasuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima helped, but for the most part the Red Sox returned the same pitching staff from 2006. Of the 13 pitchers who made significant contributions in 2007 (at least 35 innings), all but two of them were holdovers from 2006.

So what was the largest difference to the Red Sox pitching staff in 2007? I'd like to make the case for new Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. First of all, I'll provide a quick background on Farrell. Outside of college baseball he had never coached before 2007. He did serve as the Director of Player development for the Cleveland Indians starting in late 2001. He helped the organization to have 2003's top rated farm system according to Baseball America.

He left the Indians organization to become the Red Sox pitching coach last year, and already he's made some serious waves. In Spring Training, Farrell worked with Josh Beckett to help him standardize his delivery. Beckett posted his lowest BB/9 since he was drafted and had a career year at the major league level.

Farrell also worked with new pitcher Hideki Okajima. In the humidity of Florida Spring Training, Okajima had trouble with his changeup. So Farrell helped him to devliver a new grip on his changeup, which would create more movement. The result was the creation of Okajima's split-change nicknamed the "Okie Doke". And against major leaguers in 2007, Okajima had a lower WHIP than he ever had in the 11 years that he faced Japanese hitters.

Under the tutelage of Farrell, young pitchers Jon Lester and Manny Delcarmen also saw positive improvements in their development. I'm not sure if Jonathan Papelbon really needed all that much tutelage, but in 2007 he lead the majors in K/9 innings pitched.

In 2008, Farrell will look to continue the development of young Red Sox pitchers. Farrell has fallen in love with Jon Lester, and seems determined to make the young lefty his next project. But I'm sure Farrell will also work extensively with Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz. And God forbid if Farrell works on Beckett any more, that would just be unfair.


Michael said...

you know there was talk in yankeeland about having him talk to the steinbrenners regarding managing the team after torre.

Royal Rooters said...

Interesting. Was that speculation by the fans? I never heard about that.

I know Pittsbrugh looked into hiring Farrell but he said he wanted to stay with the Red Sox.

Michael said...

i know i heard it in more than one place. one of the main things standing in the way of even getting to the interview process was that you guys were still in the playoffs.

clearly they had every intention of giving it to girardi or donnie, but his praises were definitely being sung. (and rightly so).

nice idea for a post.

Royal Rooters said...

Ah, I see. Thanks. I really liked Farrell this year. He would have been worth his pay check if all he did was help Beckett.

Michael said...

yeah, and whoever came up with his anti-blister formula too!

it's amazing how the tiniest flaw on a pitchers finger is the kiss of death.

wang had trouble with a cracked nail for over 2 months this year.

Royal Rooters said...

Yeah, I heard Beckett had a skin condition that caused the blisters and now he's treating it. I think his lack of blisters has a lot more to do with the climate though.