Thursday, January 10, 2008
John Farrell An Unsung Hero of 2007
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.