Commentary

Bobby V grasping at straws

Red Sox manager calls roster weak, but his moves don't seem much better

Updated: September 17, 2012, 9:05 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- When you announce, as Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine did Friday in Toronto, that you have the "weakest roster we've ever had in September in the history of baseball," the implied balance of that message is: "It's not my fault if we lose. If you're going to blame somebody, blame the no-talent bunch I'm stuck with, and the general manager who stuck me with them."

On Sunday, two days after issuing his pronouncement, Valentine tried to walk back some of his words, suspecting (correctly) that someone would fill in the blanks that way.

"The other day when I made a comment about our September roster, that wasn't meant to be a criticism of any players or anything in the organization," Valentine said Sunday. "It's a statement of fact because of the injuries and our Triple-A team in the playoffs. This is different. We have less people than most September rosters. We have less positions filled than any September roster I've ever seen before.

"Anybody who thought that to be anything other than a statement of what it was, stand corrected on that."

A show of hands from all those who stand corrected. Anyone? You in the back? Anyone else?

[+] EnlargeBobby Valentine
Kelley L Cox/US PresswireAs Red Sox fans have come to realize, Bobby Valentine may try anything these last 15 games.

All right, then, now that we have that straightened out, the Weak Sox are down to their last 15 games of the 2012 season, all against teams still in contention. This week, it's four at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays, who have lost six of their last eight games but know better than to count themselves out after what happened last September, when they miraculously sneaked into the playoffs on their last swing of the regular season -- Evan Longoria's game-winning home run against the Yankees coming moments after the Sox had lost in Baltimore.

Then the Sox come home to play three against the Baltimore Orioles, who have tenaciously remained in the race despite starting the season with a roster manager Buck Showalter neglected to say was weaker than those of the the Sox, Yankees or Rays.

How can the Weak Sox hope to win? Their only chance, it appears, is a manager willing to flout convention and try anything. That was the case Sunday, when Valentine lifted shortstop Jose Iglesias with a 2-and-2 count for pinch hitter Daniel Nava in the seventh inning of a scoreless tie.

Valentine made that move after Pedro Ciriaco stole second, putting himself in scoring position.

Now, understand this: I accept the premise that Valentine, described even by his detractors as a brilliant tactician, has forgotten more baseball than I will ever know. Not even close. Valentine might have seen something during BP or in earlier at-bats that told him there was no way Iglesias -- short of bribing a customs official -- would leave Canada with a base hit. Iglesias has just two hits in 28 at-bats since his call-up.

That said, what were the chances Nava would succeed after being placed in this position?

On the plus side, Nava had two hits Friday. On the downside, he whiffed three times Saturday while going 0-for-4. That was the most recent history.

Now let's break it down further, with the help of the incomparable Baseball-Reference.com:

Nava this season (includes Sunday's at-bat):
• with a runner on second, two out: 1-for-11, .091
• in games that are "late and close," meaning seventh inning or later, the batting team tied, ahead by one or the tying run at least on deck: 5-for-34, .147
• tie game: 10-for-57, .175
• after a 2-and-2 count: 8-for-54, .148 (the league average, by the way, is .191)
• since July 1: 13-for-96, .153.

Those numbers don't exactly scream success, do they? And the move certainly wasn't. Nava bounced back to the pitcher, inning over.

Jimy Williams, when he managed the Red Sox and was asked why he used a certain player just called up from the minors in a key situation, would run his finger across his uniform jersey and say: "What does it say here? It says, 'Red Sox.'"

The message: If the guy is good enough to be here, he's good enough to play, and I trust him.

Williams wasn't stupid. He knew the player was limited, but he managed what he had, in good times and in bad.

Lifting a kid desperately trying to show he belongs here with a 2-and-2 count for a pinch hitter whose chances, at least statistically, weren't much better than the kid's would be? Maybe if the Sox were locked in a playoff race, sure. But in a game that meant little in the standings? A greater victory might have been achieved by giving Iglesias a chance.

Valentine didn't see it that way.

"I don't think it was a make-or-break situation," he said. "He'll have an opportunity to get some hits. It's not kindergarten here. You don't think it was a good decision, so what? I think it was the right thing to do to try to win a game for a guy [pitcher Jon Lester] who's busting his butt out there."

Results often guide the discussion that takes place afterward. If Nava whistles a line drive through for a go-ahead single, maybe Valentine adds to his genius portfolio. But Nava didn't, just as the numbers suggested he wouldn't.

Still, it puts the Rays on notice that Valentine may try anything. Heck, he remembered Daniel Bard was on the roster after the reliever had gone eight days between appearances, not exactly a formula for success. Shoot, Valentine might even pitch Alfredo Aceves again. Aceves hasn't sniffed the mound since he showed up Valentine last Wednesday. The Sox would have been justified in sending Aceves home, but didn't. If he sits through three in the Trop, we'll have a good idea that punishment is being administered in a different fashion.

With the Weak Sox, it's always something.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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