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Theo speaks on offseason, Drew, and philosophies

10.22.09 at 8:50 am ET

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein joined the Dennis & Callahan Show Thursday morning and touched on his team’s approach to the offseason, the value of J.D. Drew, the future of Daniel Bard as a closer. and some of the organization’s philosophies. 

Here is what he said (click here to listen)

(On watching the postseason) It does kind of remind you that the offseason is almost upon us and there are some long phone calls. But I’ll tell you what, it’s hard watching games when you’re rooting for both teams to lose.

If we had to make long-term decisions the next day we probably wouldn’t make great decisions. 

A lot of time if you focus on why you lost a certain playoff series, and what went wrong in that series, you’re not going to make quality decisions. If you look at the season as a whole, what went wrong and what went right in the season and take a look at the big picture and where you are as an organization, where you are in your long-term plans you make better decisions. It’s not as much fun. Having that visceral reaction is sometimes more satisfying, but you have to take a step back.

If you would have told us that Bay would have a big season, Drew would have a big season, Ellsbury would have a big developmental season, a big step forward, Youkilis would have another big season, we would trade for Victor Martinez at the trading deadline and he would be huge for two months, we’d have food performance at the front of our rotation with Beckett and Lester, Buchholz would come in July and become a really good pitcher for two months. All these things went right and we won 95 games I would say, ‘Let’s go, let’s start the playoffs tomorrow.’ I just feel like we didn’t show up in those three games. It wasn’t like we weren’t a team without any issues whatsoever. We had our issues and they manifested and cost us a little bit. We went through mysterious and frustrating stretches where we didn’t hit at all on the road. That happens.

(The premise that it is harder to retain a player once they hit the free agent market) That could happen here. Clearly if a player reaches free agency usually the team that over bids is the one that lands him. That’s not necessarily the case here, but it sure could be. We have to prepare for that contingency if he leaves. I don’t think the negotiation is over by any means.

Certainly there’s a good feeling involved. He wants to be here, and we want to keep him and take a shot it. If it works out, great. If not we’ll move on.

(On the lack of performance on the road) This year for some reason we really underperformed on the road. There are players who don’t have the pop to go out regularly on the road but do at Fenway, and those guys perform a lot better at home than on the road. But there are other players who don’t particularly don’t have characteristics that would make them better players at Fenway that also underperformed on the road. Maybe there’s something to it where we can’t have to many guys who have swings built for Fenway Park, but I think mainly it was just a fluky year almost every player just happened to play better at home than on the road.

(On the personality of the team) We can’t build a team on sort of psycho-babble. We try and get 25 high-character guy. The bottom line is this team had a great personality. It was calm outwardly on the field, very  professional, but behind closed doors they had a ton of fun. There were a lot of leaders who showed up hard to play every single day. We won 95 games in a really tough division and if we had performed better in the playoffs nobody would be talking about our personality.

I couldn’t care less whether they’re emotional and display their personality on the field, or in order to play well they keep their emotions under check. I couldn’t care less as they play well and they’re good teammates to one another.

(On perception of J.D. Drew) There’s always been a descrepency between how valuable a player he is and how he’s viewed by a certain element of the fan base, and the media in particular. There’s been a lot of strides in the game in terms of how people properly value players based on more meaningful statistics. Drew is sort of a touchstone so to speak for that because you actually look at the underlying performance and things that really matter as far as winning games and not winning games, he’s been over the length of the contract one of the 10 most valuable outfielders in baseball. Over the last two years I think he’s been one of the top two or three in the league, and this past year, again, one of the top two or three most valuable outfielders in the American League. And yet if you simplify the game down to what somebody’s batting average was, how many home runs they hit or how many RBIs they had, which is what we all grew up doing but by today’s standards is a pretty primitive way to look at the game.

From a straight objective standpoint, what he contributes offensively and what he contributes defensively, and add in baserunning so it’s the total value of the player, on a rate basis he was outstanding and there aren’t too many outfielders who compare to what he did.

(Is Drew worth the contract?) What he’s done the first three years of that contract, just looking at straight free agent dollars — obviously you can’t compare him to an arbitration market, or a pre-arb player — what he’s done qualitatively and when you even factor in the amount he’s played over these three years, yeah, he’s come out to a tick more than $14 million per year.

(On Drew not driving in runs) This year it was sort of freakish how well he performed offensively and how few runs he drove in in the lineup. Start with the basic premise that that type of player is always going to be better at scoring runs than driving in runs in because while he does have a high slug, his on-base skills, those are his strengths because he’s on base a lot and he’s a terrific baserunner. He’s going to score more runs. When somebody who tends to walk a lot tends to drive in fewer runs than somebody who puts the ball in play a lot. In Drew’s case he’s an extreme because he walks at a tremendously high rate. Ted Williams has been criticized over and over again, hey runner on third and less than two outs you have to expand the zone and swing at something that’s a ball just to drive the runner in. Well, Williams wouldn’t do that. He would take his walk and he was criticized for it. Wade Boggs was criticized for it. J.D. doesn’t do it. Some hitters come out of their approach and put the ball in play in RBI situation and drive in runs and some hitters don’t do that. Drew is the type of hitter who doesn’t do it, and to be honest with you as an organization we don’t mind if guys don’t come out their approach. It might cost you not driving in runs here or there but in the long run, staying in one’s approach which is getting in a hitters count, getting a pitch you can drive and then driving that ball, and if not then taking your walk, in our mind that’s more fundamentally more important. 

There’s labels that tend to happen. People who don’t like Drew will call him uncaring or apathetic or aloof. People who like him will say he has ice in his veins. Then these narratives may or may not even be true, so people who don’t like a player like that will say, ‘He doesn’t care. He doesn’t come through in the clutch.’ They just start these broad labels that aren’t necessarily true. Can you think of a hitter who has had more big hits, more big home runs for us the past three season in the postseason in the last three seasons than Drew? He has more postseason RBIs the past three years than any player that we have. So this narrative sort of takes a life of it own and it’s not always true.

(On not valuing such stats as RBI as some others) If we both grew up in schools that taught us the Earth was flat and then all of a sudden when we went out to get a job as a surveyor and the first thing they taught us in school and the first thing they taught us in school was that the Earth was round it would be tough for you to accept that but over time you would start to operate in which the world is round and make better decisions based on that and that’s sort of the way the game is evolving. I actually don’t believe in extremes. I believe that you have to balance it and don’t look exclusively at any one set of numbers. You have to balance in the human element. You have to balance in scouting with objective analysis. But for something that fundamental like using numbers … if you’re using numbers to access offensive performance than don’t use numbers that don’t correlate to scoring runs which then correlates to winning. You might as well use the numbers which best correlate to scoring runs which correlates best to winning.

(On referencing Ortiz in the post-season press conference) I stated a reality is that to be the team we needs to be, David Ortiz is our DH, he needs to be a force. We’re a different team when he is a force, when he’s hitting all kinds of pitching and hitting the ball to all fields and being a really tough out and driving the ball. That’s just the reality. I’m not trying to send anybody a message. I don’t send messages to the players through the media. I talk to our players a lot about things, but I don’t send messages through the media.

(On whether Daniel Bard is ready to be a closer) I think he has the physical ability to do that and I think we saw as he developed over the course of the year he has the mental make-up to do that as well. At the same time I think he’s a work in progress. This is somebody who performed really well at the highest level but is still working on some fundamental parts of his game. He’s still tweaking his breaking ball. He’s got a good breaking ball but it probably isn’t where it will be eventually. This is somebody who is still really a work in progress and while he may have the ability to do something it might not be the best thing for the long-term and his career if we force him into something.

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