Wednesday, October 27, 2010

John Farrell: Pitcher Developer

A few days ago, I looked at John Farrell's record as a player developer. Continuing down his resume, I thought I'd look at what he was able to accomplish as a Pitching coach, and see how his abilities look in that department.

The Red Sox before Farrell joined, had a pretty impressive pitching staff. They had won the World Series in 2004, with the famous Curt Schilling bloody-sock mess. The pitching staff that year had a team ERA of 4.18, and was second in the AL in wins. The pitchers accounted for 19.3 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and would likely still be an impressive group of starters: Schilling, Martinez, Wakefield, Derick Lowe and Bronson Arroyo.

The next year was a down year for both the team, and its pitching staff. The team ERA balooned to 4.74, and the WAR dropped to 17.4. The caliber of pitchers dropped as well, (Matt Clement replaced Pedro Martinez, an aging David Wells replaced Lowe. Schilling missed most of the year with ankle problems)

Those 2 seasons make up the baseline for what John Farrell was starting with. He came on board in 2006, and immediately inherited Josh Beckett. He also got to work with John Lester in his first full season. To a lesser extent, he oversaw the emergence of Jonathan Papelbon in the Bullpen (I know there is a separate coach for that, but the pitching coach is still the primary guy)

The 06 team was a team in transition. Their ERA ballooned to 4.83, which was 11th in the AL. Amazingly, the pitchers were 8th in wins. The Pitching WAR was down to 13.3, despite the obvious influx of talent.

The next season, the Red Sox brought in Japanese Phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka. They also lost Lester for most of the season as he battled 'the big C'. In the second year of Farrell's tenure, this pitching staff put up some stats that can only be labeled as gaudy: 3.87 team ERA (best in MLB), #1 in wins, A 22.6 WAR!!!! This was a season that also included Clay Bucholz's no-hitter. Overall, this was an incredible turnaround, with mostly the same cast as the previous season.

In '08, the team managed to maintain their pitching success, posting another HUGE WAR #: 22.5, but seeing their team ERA rise to 4.01. The 2009 team was still over 20 WAR, coming in at 21.2, although team ERA was still up again at 4.35. Last season, the Red Sox clung to their injuries on ofense, but the entire pitching staff took a collective step backwards. They lowered their ERA to 4.2, but only contributed 15.1 WAR.

When you look at the improvements that Farrell was able to make, especially during the 2007-2009 teams, and carrying those impressive WAR totals, it is easy to see why he was so highly regarded as a coach. 20 wins from a pitching staff is incredible by any standard. For comparison, this season's Blue Jays only managed a 14.9 WAR, though the Bullpen was a net-negative in contributing to this (see my post on next year's rotation)

Whatever Farrell's involvement with next year's Pitchers, it can only bring good things. For his time as a pitching coach, I'm giving him an A. The 2006 and 2010 teams bring down his overall mark enough that he couldn't ace this test, although it's still very impressive.

I'm really looking forward to seeing if he can mange the bullpen well enough to add another 4-5 WAR, and this team could become a juggernaut in the near future.


  1. Farrell didn't start as pitching coach for the Red Sox until 2007. He was still with Cleveland in 2006. It probably doesn't affect your mark, but that means that his first three seasons as a pitching coach were 20+ WAR seasons, which represents an outstanding transition from the front office to the field and possibly demonstrates an ability to learn a new position quickly. Maybe it represents the great personnel on those three teams, but more likely it's a combination of both, which I think bodes well for him taking the next step.

  2. Oops, you're right.

    That means that in 4 years as a pitching coach, he only had one season with a rotation under 20 WAR.

    I'm going to have to revise my grade to A+