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Why Bobby Valentine really doesn’t matter

04.18.12 at 11:56 am ET

Tattoo this please behind your eyelids and remember it the next time you blame the success or failure of the Red Sox on what a manager says or does not say:

It’s all about pitching.

The 2012 Red Sox are 4-7, and it has nothing to do with Bobby Valentine questioning Kevin Youkilis or any lingering clubhouse disharmony or Liverpool or Linda Pizzuti or even Michael Kay.

Here’s all you need to know: The Red Sox are dead last in the major leagues in ERA, batting average against, hits per nine innings and 28th overall in WHIP.

So far, it’s been September all over again. Instead of Kyle Weiland and Erik Bedard it’s Marc Melanson and Justin Thomas. This team has no shot — zero — of being even semi-competitive without consistent pitching. Now do I think the Red Sox are going to finish the season with a 6.22 ERA? Of course not, and that’s not the point. If Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz stay healthy and Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront are merely serviceable the rotation should be OK (but those are not insignificant ifs — Buchholz has one season with more than 20 starts, who knows about Beckett’s thumb and Bard and Doubront have shown promise in their first two starts but both have a WHIP north of 1.70).

The bullpen is a different story, with Papelbon Replacement No. 1 possibly out for the season and Papelbon Replacement No. 2 currently sporting a 49.50 ERA and – according to his manager – is possibly on his way to Pawtucket. When Scott Atchison has been the best pitcher in the bullpen – and he has been terrific – there are problems, and here’s what would terrify me if I’m a Sox fan: There is no sure thing in that bullpen. Could Franklin Morales keep this up? Maybe, but there is no track record. Who do you trust? Matt Albers? Thomas? Vicente Padilla, 34 years old with back-to-back-to-back injury filled seasons? Longing for Rich Hill and Daisuke Matsuzaka is reality for this team, the Tommy John Twins are a necessity, not a luxury.

Bobby Valentine is fun to talk about, it’s an easy topic, but he’s almost insignificant in the big picture. The Valentine defenders love to bring up Earl Weaver and Billy Martin as fire and brimstone types who were able to shake up the clubhouse – tell it like it is – and succeed. Fine. But we know why it worked, right? Weaver had Jim Palmer and Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally and Pat Dobson and Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson and Paul Blair and Boog Powell. Billy Martin had Ron Guidry and Catfish Hunter and Goose Gossage and Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson and Graig Nettles and Willie Randolph. Both were great managers – Weaver is a Hall of Famer, and I think Martin should be – but like every other manager in history they needed elite, healthy talent to win. In 1971 Weaver won 101 games, in 1986 he won 73. Do I think he got dumber over a decade and a half? Nope. The ’71 Orioles had a team ERA of 2.99 – and four 20-game winners – and the ’86 team had a 4.40 ERA. It’s that simple. Terry Francona was the perfect guy at the perfect time for the 2004 Sox, but he didn’t become a genius overnight. The Phillies stunk (the 2000 Phillies, Francona’s final team, won 65 games and had a 4.77 ERA) and the Sox were loaded.

Pitching, pitching, pitching. It’s not as sexy as chicken and beer, or players vs. pitchers, or Lucchino vs. Theo, it’s just far more important. It’s the reason Terry Francona is working at ESPN and not 11 games into his ninth year as Sox manager, and it’s the reason Bobby Valentine isn’t working at ESPN and is 11 games into his first season as Sox manager. If Clay Buchholz stays healthy or John Lackey is merely lousy instead of historically awful the 2011 Red Sox make the playoffs and Bob Hohler’s out of luck.

Valentine may be able to keep his job longer if he makes nice with the players, but it’s a stay of execution and a stay of execution only his pitching staff doesn’t figure it out this season. I’d stop focusing on Valentine and start worrying about that bullpen.Give me a solid staff and bullpen over communication skills and relationships every day of the week. You can be John McGraw or Butch Hobson and it’s all the same when you have the worst pitching in baseball.

If you don’t believe me, ask Francona. Does anyone have his phone number?

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