In the vacuum between regular season and playoff baseball, fans and analysts spend an inordinate amount of time weighing which teams have the greatest advantage. Which offense is better? Which starting rotation is more dominant? Which bullpen is the clutchiest?
Anothercategory over which the baseball starvéd spar is the manager of each team. I'd like to take a moment to compare the both the Red Sox and Indians managers. How did they get to this moment? What kind of approaches are they known for? Only at the end of the article will I finally try to determine which of these men — Terry Francona or John Farrell — is the most imposing as we approach the ALDS. I think you'll agree that my comparison uses the most sound methodology available.
Terry Francona grew up in the northeast and got his start playing baseball in high school. This probably surprised no one, as Francona's father played professional baseball, including a stint with the Cleveland Indians. Francona elected to continue playing baseball in college, where he won the College World Series as a member of the Arizona Wildcats.
Drafted by the Expos in 1980, Francona started his career in the outfield but eventually transitioned to first base. He never quite fulfilled his promise as a first round draft pick, but then again few players ever crack a major league roster at all. He finished his career in 1990 with a lifetime slash of .274/.300/.351.
John Farrell grew up in the northeast and got his start playing baseball in high school. This probably surprised no one, as Francona's father played professional baseball, including a stint in the Cleveland Indians system. Farrell elected to continue playing baseball in college, where he did not win the College World Series as a member of the Arizona Wildcats.
Farrell attended Oklahoma State, and the Cleveland Indians drafted him in the second round of the 1984 draft after he graduated. Farrell pitched quite well for the Indians in his mid-twenties, but then his elbow betrayed him. He missed the entirety of the 1991 and 1992 seasons and never managed to regain his early form. He retired in 1996 with a career record of 36–46, an ERA of 4.56, and a WHIP of 1.406.
It is worth noting that Farrell and Francona were teammates on the 1988 Indians.
After their playing careers
Francona began coaching almost immediately after retiring and spent years as a coach in the White Sox minor league system. His first shot as manager of a big league team came with the Phillies. After four years the team fired him, as he never won more than 77 games. He spent some time as a bench coach until the Red Sox tapped him to manage the 2004 squad, which won the first World Series for the Red Sox in 87 years. He then defeated the Indians in the 2007 ALCS on the road to another World Series. Francona remained in Boston until the end of 2012, when the Sox declined the renew his contract after a second-half collapse involving chicken and beer. The Indians snapped him up, and he's remained there ever since. He has never stabbed a duck.
Farrell returned to Oklahoma State, where he coached until the Cleveland Indians asked him to become their director of player development. He remained in that role until the Boston Red Sox asked him to become their pitching coach. He worked alongside Terry Francona until becoming manager of the Blue Jays in 2012. When the Red Sox managing position suddenly became vacant after the 2012 season, he jumped ship back to Boston. While a source initially indicated that Farrell stabbed a duck, further researched proved this to be a fabrication.
It is worth noting that the managers worked closely during their shared tenure in Boston. Both have spent most of their careers coaching or working in the other team's system.
Managing the 2016 season
Using bubble gum, dental floss, and dip spit, Francona managed to assemble an outfield featuring thirty-seven different players, including several infielders. Much of this occurred due to what was essentially a season-ending injury to Michael Brantley, the team's best hitter from the season before. This creativity extended to the bullpen, where he deploys late-season acquisition Andrew Miller whenever he is most needed, rather than save situations. Many believe that he is a leading candidate for AL Manager of the Year.
Coming back from a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment that ended his 2015 season, John Farrell led the Boston Red Sox. This completed a worst-to-first turnaround that relied on an exciting young core of players and a dinger-breathing dragon with an uncanny resemblance to David Ortiz. If coaches were eligible for Comeback Player of the Year, Farrell would sweep the award. As it is, many believe that he, too, is a leading candidate for AL Manager of the Year.
Both would have used Zach Britton in last night's game.
Now that we've gotten to know both managers, we can get to the traits that really matter and will ultimately determine which team wins the series.
Level of fury reached when getting tossed from a game
Here, we see Terry Francona lose his mind in a game that is long gone for the Indians. Fire. Intensity. Chutzpah. By day, he's a mild-mannered manager of 25 who rides his scooter to work at a nationally recognized "business". By night, he's an umpire's worst nightmare.
Farrell shows some excellent intensity arguing a questionable call in a similar situation. However, this game is close, and so it is easier to summon up the hellfire in high-leverage situations. He also avoids eye-contacting with the home plate umpire, which is simply an inexcusable break from fundamentals.
Story Time with Tito. How many low-cal popsicles did he consume last night? pic.twitter.com/gm1IoKf7ir— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) June 24, 2015
We'll consider the chess game first. A lot depends on which side of the board the two skippers sit. As white, I'd expect to see Francona start with something that appears to be relatively orthodox — a simple move of the King's pawn forward two spots. Depending on Farrell's response, Francona would look for opportunities to steal a tempo while controlling the center of the board. It would not be shocking to see a variation of the French Defense unfold. I doubt he would opt for something sharp like the King's Gambit. As black, I'd expect something a bit more with more opportunities to counterattack, like the Nimzo-Indian or the Najdorf. Something akin to whipping a reliever out in the fifth inning.
Farrell isn't mentioned nearly as often in articles as "playing chess" with decisions on the field. This can both help and hurt; while a natural game on the chessboard leads to sound development, it can lead to difficulty against an opponent more versed in theory. Francona's willingness to fold more analytics into his decision making makes me think that against Farrell in something like a Four Knights game or the Ruy Lopez, he would emerge victorious.
It's hard to imagine the two men boxing, as they are friends
outside the ring off of the field. If they did come to blows, Farrell carries both a size advantage and an age advantage. I don't imagine Tito would find many opportunities to step inside Farrell's reach and land solid punches. Plus, Farrell would have a dinger-breathing dragon with an uncanny resemblance to David Ortiz as his cut man. That's tough to beat. This, combined with the Indians injury luck as of late, Farrell gets a slight edge as the boxer.
It all comes down to what happens first: a solid uppercut in the ring or a startling tactic on the chess board.
Final Analysis: It's Five Games
There isn't much either of these managers is likely to do that will completely cost his team the series. Both are competent coaches who bring a talented roster to the postseason after missing out entirely last year. The players almost always determine the outcome of the game; the decisions of a manger (usually) only skew the outcomes slightly. There's some rumbling in Boston about Farrell's bullpen usage, but I think that's more a result of coaching in Boston than trying a few different pitchers in the setup role.
I'm excited to see the series regardless, and it will be interesting to see the old friends manage against each other. Especially if Francona can fork Farrell's rook and queen leaving him dazed just long enough to land a haymaker.