MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Pitching is Boston's problem, not Bobby V

Justice: Pitching is Boston's problem, not Bobby V

Bobby Valentine? Seriously? Does anyone really believe HE is the problem with the Boston Red Sox? Sometimes we come up with some real silly stuff, and this is about as silly as it gets.

If Bobby V. is the reason Jon Lester and Josh Beckett have won just 10 of their 41 starts, then by all means let's throw his butt onto Yawkey Way right now.

If he's responsible for those 15 blown saves, go right ahead and change the locks on his office.

If Valentine is why Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury and Andrew Bailey got hurt, he doesn't deserve to manage the Olde Towne Team another day.

The truth is that if you wrote down a dozen things the Red Sox need to fix, Bobby V. wouldn't make the list.

He was competent on the day he was hired. He's competent now. He knows the game. He knows people. He's a very, very decent man.

He didn't get dumb overnight. He didn't lose his touch with people, either. When the Red Sox finish this season, the players are going to say two things about Valentine:

• They respect him professionally.

• They like him personally.

That has been the case at pretty much every place Valentine has worked. Yes, he has an ego. Yes, he's going to be in the middle of some things.

Valentine has also gotten everything out of the Red Sox that is there to be gotten. All things considered, he has done a terrific job.

To make this season's disappointment about the manager is to get way off track. I understand why people write this kind of stuff. For one thing, it's easy. It takes a whole host of issues and boils them down to one easy fix.

Fire the manager, fix the team. Columnists have been playing that game for a century. Simple is as simple does.

It sells. It incites. Also, to analyze everything that has gone wrong with the Red Sox this season is basically pretty bland stuff.

No one wants to try to understand why Lester and Beckett are less effective than in previous years. Besides, there's no easy answer.

If you ask a dozen scouts who've watched them, you'll get a dozen different answers. Arm slot. Mechanics. Pitch selection. Health. Confidence.

Let's face it, the technical stuff is boring. Changing speeds? Wake me when you get to the good stuff.

For instance, there's Beckett. His velocity is down from previous years. Is that because Beckett is getting older? Is he injured?

Why is Beckett not winning? In the past, he had such an ability to locate pitches and change speeds that velocity wasn't critical. And when Beckett needed a 96-mph heater in the late innings, he had it.

This season is different. Everything has faded a bit, and there's no way to know when or if it'll be back.

Lester's season has been a study in frustration. He appears at times to be as good as ever, but there have been games in which he simply put one pitch in a bad spot.

In other seasons, Lester might have gotten away with a couple of bad pitches. In this one, he seems to be paying for every mistake.

Lester could make all the same pitches next season and win 20 games. As the great Orioles third baseman Floyd Rayford once said, "Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you."

None of these problems lands on the manager's desk. Bobby V. has become a lightning rod in Boston because the Sawx are losing and because, well, he's the manager.

Don Zimmer and Jimy Williams would understand. They were both competent. They were both eventually shown the door by the Red Sox because, well, that's what happens to big league managers.

Through it all, the Red Sox are hanging in there, barely. They're 4 1/2 games out in the American League Wild Card race, but they have three teams to pass. That's a tough assignment since the Rays have better pitching and just got Evan Longoria back. The Orioles aren't as good as the Red Sox on paper, but they're on a nice ride of late-inning magic.

Meanwhile, Beckett has won one of his last 10 starts and is hurting again. Lester has an 8.73 ERA in his last six starts.

There have been times when it looked like the Red Sox might go on a nice little run, but that's not happening without better starting pitching. And that's not the manager's fault.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.