Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Terry Francona is not a moron.

I've seen and heard a lot of criticism, even condemnation, of Terry Francona for not pulling Gagne after he walked the bases loaded last night. Yes, that was a frustrating game last night. Yes, Gagne has been a disaster. Yes, if your primary goal was winning that game, he should have been pulled before the game-tying walk.

But that obviously isn't the primary goal. Francona's not a moron. If we all can see what's happening, he can see it, too. We've got enough of a track record with him now to be able to understand what's happening. That would never happen in a playoff game. But they aren't playing playoff games yet - they're getting ready to go to the playoffs*. One of the things that they need to do is understand, before they set the rosters, whether Gagne is salvagable or not.

That stunk last night, but going into the post-season with the best record (which they still have, by the way) is not as important as going in with the right roster. As we've seen repeatedly. The only goal of the regular season is to win enough games to be playing in the post-seaons. Period. Sometime in the next few days, the Red Sox will have accomplished that this year.

The last time the team with the best record in baseball won a World Series was in 1998, when the Yankees did it. In the last 5 years, the AL representative in the World Series has gotten into the post-season via the Wild Card 3 times. Last year, the AL sent Detroit to the World Series, a team that led its division all year, had a bigger lead in August than the Red Sox did this year, and ended up losing its division late.

None of that means that I want them to go in as the Wild Card. I haven't given up on the division. I want them to win it, and think that there's some importance to doing so. But it pales in significance to setting the roster. And playing well in the playoffs. Last night's loss, in the grand scheme of things, doesn't mean as much as a win with Gagne getting out of that inning would have. So they left him in.

And prepare yourselves, because it (bringing him into a tight situation late and letting him pitch) is very likely to happen again...


* - And don't even bother with panic talk about how that might keep them out of the playoffs. They're 7 up in the loss column on Detroit with 10 to play, the magic number to clinch a playoff berth is 4. They'll be playing in the playoffs.


Update:
Over at Baseball Prospectus, Joe Sheehan agrees with me (though he's coming at the same question from a different perspective.) [Subscription required]
Look at how Terry Francona has managed his squad all month, in the knowledge that his team is going to October. He’s been resting players all around the roster, diddling with his rotation, and trying experiments like "let’s see how many batters Eric Gagne can walk in one inning." ... I can’t quantify the effects of rest on a player’s performance, but I can say that the cost of doing so—possibly ending up as the wild card versus winning the division—is essentially zero...It doesn’t matter who wins the AL East. It just matters that both the Yankees and the Red Sox stay ahead of the Tigers. As long as both are doing that, there’s no reason to care about who ends up with the better seed.

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