We broke down the hiring of Chip Hale on the just-released Episode 2 of The Pool Shot, our podcast, but Hale won’t be the only non-player in the dugout next season. It will be mostly familiar faces on Hale’s D-backs coaching staff next season, as Nick Piecoro reported last week. Double-A Mobile manager Andy Green will be the new third base coach, and Mark Grace will be with the major league club as assistant hitting coach.
That spells the end of Henry Blanco‘s tenure as a hitting coach, although he will remain with the team in a “coach/bullpen catcher role.” To review: in spring training last year, Blanco was in the mix to get the backup catcher spot that ended up going (back) to Tuffy Gosewisch. When he was informed he wouldn’t make it, he retired (or was he released?) and was added to the coaching staff as an assistant hitting coach. The plan had Mark Grace making the staff in that role if Blanco was on the Active Roster, but instead, Grace headed back to the minors as an instructor.
Now it’s Grace’s turn, in a D-backs kind of move that treasures connections to its still-limited history. Grace’s last two seasons, both with the D-backs, were not that great. Over his career, he hit just 173 home runs in 9,290 plate appearances, which is a bit like saying he averaged 11 bombs per 600 PA (about a season’s worth). Nonetheless, he was a well above average hitter in his career, the kind that the Moneyball Athletics might have treasured. His .383 on base percentage is beyond excellent; among all players with 3,000 or more PA, Grace ranks 148th all time. Remember Shin-Soo Choo, the OBP machine that the D-backs flirted with flirting with last winter, who ended up signing a 7-year, $130M deal with the Rangers? Grace has a slightly better career OBP.
Basically, Grace was a great hitter for average and a great hitter for walks. He had almost no platoon split for his career. That’s a good approach to try to learn from. Maybe Grace and Mark Trumbo and Brett Jackson can go on vacation together now and talk hitting approach?
The real puzzle may be Mike Harkey, who presided over a puzzling pitching staff last season that underperformed in almost every way. Yes, Chase Anderson was a huge surprise — but he was called up from Double-A Mobile precisely because he seemed to have made a breakthrough down there. In fact, every D-backs starting pitcher to start the year in the organization did only as well as or quite worse than their pre-season Steamer projection — including Josh Collmenter, although his projection was predicated on him being a reliever. That’s a big topic and one we will definitely revisit, but the fact that pitching plans didn’t seem to be altered during the season raises an eyebrow about Harkey’s continued tenure with the team.
My only other note is about Glenn Sherlock. Returning to one of our big notes about Hale (again: listen to Episode 2 of The Pool Shot!), we hope that the 2015 D-backs will employ fielding shifts more frequently than the 2014 version, especially since Hale has seen up close just how effective that can be. Typically, it’s the bench coach in charge of defensive alignments; is Sherlock the right choice for that? Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, but also note that someone with more recent experience as a bench coach might have been better positioned to better position D-backs fielders next season.
On to the links:
- Jack Magruder has more on the coaching staff at Fox Sports Arizona. Is it just me, or does Blanco look like the oldest guy on the staff? Also, I vote for everyone growing out their hair before spring training so that we can have a Sons of Anarchy-style baseball team.
- At Snake Pit, Paulnh has a really nice treatment of the puzzle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an enigma named Aaron Hill. I still like him as part of a 4-man, 3-position time share, with Didi Gregorius getting the fewest starts of the 4 players. But Paulnh couldn’t be more right: there’s a very wide range of 2015 outcomes. Good to see him writing at Snake Pit; keep up the good work, Paul!
- Bob Nightengale on the Giants winning the NL pennant and heading to the World Series for the third time in five years. Good for them; that’s about as good as it gets in baseball. Not to toot my own horn, but I did write in this space at the beginning of April that they were the team to watch, Dodgers be damned. There’s also very little reason to think they’ll drop off next year.
- In other NL West news (which landed just after last week’s roundup was posted), Andrew Friedman was lured away from the Tampa Bay Rays by the Los Angeles Dodgers (many stories written, but here’s a piece from Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com). This is big time scary. In their first seasons under a new ownership group, the Dodgers were very sloppy in clawing their way back to contention. But they knew that; they were sloppy by design. It can cost money to get better, but getting better through money that quickly means spending money inefficiently. The Friedman hiring itself is a sign that the Dodgers never intended to keep up that strategy, but Friedman also seems like the perfect guy to put the Dodgers on a more long-term path. This really stinks for the D-backs. If they had continued to spend inefficiently, you’d project them to hang around most years, but not necessarily dominate every year. Now, I’m not so sure that the NL West will be an “easier” division than the one that’s been the toughest in recent years: the AL East. In the Dodgers and Giants, the NL West may have two well-run, financial powerhouses like the Yankees and Red Sox. We’re used to the NL West being a crap shoot. Now, it could take some special circumstances for the D-backs, Padres or Rockies to really contend for the division. That can actually happen, as we saw with the Orioles this season; but it can also mean that one of the three teams could fail even if the stars seem to align, as it seemed to so frequently for the Rays, and as the Blue Jays went all-in two winters ago. Damn it.
- Adding insult to injury, Josh Byrnes is being considered for the GM position with the Dodgers, a role that many see as likely being similar to that of Jed Hoyer with the Cubs. That would be a very good move on the part of Los Angeles, it seems. But jeepers, Josh… three teams in the same division? That’s like dating your ex’s sister, then her other sister…
- Paul Swydan’s piece on Carlos Martinez at Fangraphs was really good, and you should check it out. If you do, you might agree with me: this is a guy the D-backs should seriously consider making a serious offer for. The D-backs need upside, and might be better positioned than most teams to fill in the innings that Martinez might miss. I’ve been beating the drum for Martinez here on the site for about a year and a half. They no longer need a shortstop or third baseman, and they are already deep in the outfield. But would the Cardinals package Martinez up with someone else to get Archie Bradley, who may not be as good as Martinez, but who might be a better bet to pitch beaucoup innings? Could they be winning to make a role for Mark Trumbo, despite the presence of Matt Adams? It’s not like there’s a super-obvious fit here. But I’ll maintain that Martinez is exactly the type of pitcher that the D-backs should target: high risk and high reward, with the risk being more about innings than about the quality of those innings.
- At Hardball Times, David Kagan explained the physics behind “Splash Hits” into McCovey Cove in San Francisco. Let’s print out a copy for Paul Goldschmidt to give to Tim Lincecum next time the D-backs are in San Fran. Also — wouldn’t it be interesting to see a similar study for bombs that land in the Chase Field pool? Hmm…
- Back at Snake Pit, blue bulldog has a really great study of GMs and their value. Worth checking out. This comports with what Jeff Long found at Baseball Prospectus: there aren’t many GMs who have so much value that you’d give up a good player or prospect to get him.
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