And Show the World You Love Him...So Joe Maddon is standing by his Guys, his Coaching Staff. But is that the right move? Looking back on the '10 Season, only one Coaching Success stands out. Bobby Ramos' work with John Jaso to bring him from a good hitter who probably was going to have to switch to 1st Base or DH to a Catcher who was serviceable defensively and improved in that area as the season went on. I'm looking for even more improvement and for Jaso to emerge as a Top-3 AL Catcher.
But beyond that success story, what can we point to from the Rays Coaching Staff that warrants Joe's public support? The two most visible events were Jim Hickey's putting Grant Balfour on the DL and Derek Shelton's "Batting Average is an Archaic Statistic" comment.
Reid Brignac and John Jaso come out swinging, Jaso hitting well over .300. Then both dropped off. In Jaso's case, it's easy to point out the need to spend as much time and attention as possible focused on improving his defensive skills and game management. As he's been a solid, well disciplined hitter his whole career, there's every reason to expect his offensive output to be better in '11, with or without significant help from the Hitting Coach. But what of Brignac? If there's a guy who would benefit greatly from an improved approach at the plate, he'd be it. Is Derek Shelton the Man to do that?
The Rays pitching staff is young and likely to get MUCH younger this coming season. Is Jim Hickey the right man to groom a young, highly talented pitching staff? For the Rays to be successful offensively, they are going to have to step up their aggressive running style. Is Tom Foley the right 3rd Base Coach. For most of the '10 Season, he appeared to be far too conservative, particularly for a team that counted on being aggressive on the Basepaths AND had one of the League's Lower Team Batting Averages. Early in the Season when the Rays were hitting lights out with RISP, conservatism on the left side of the Basepaths might have borne some merit. But when the Rays couldn't Buy an RBI, that was the time to get ridiculously aggressive in stretching it, particularly in sending Runners Home.
There's this axiom that the line on whether or not to send a man is when only a perfect play by the defense will get him. But why not send him when even a slightly above average play will nail him? When even a good Average W/RISP is .300, isn't it generally better to count on the defense being just a touch slow or off than on getting that "key hit"? And when a team is known for making the opponents make plays on every play, doesn't that push them to be a step quicker, which often means a bit sloppier?
The Rays are going to be one of the youngest teams in the majors and will rely heavily on stretching everything. Is this the Coaching Staff for that? A great play by Kevin Youkilis all but shut down what had been the Rays famous Squeeze Play. Before then, the Rays could almost be counted on to use the safety Squeeze with a man on 3rd and less than 2 Outs. Afterwords, they used it only a couple times the rest of the Season. This is obviously only an observation. But it seemed in '10 that just when the Rays needed to get more aggressive most, they instead became more conservative.
For all of the talk about players, Free Agents, Arbitration and such, it seems likely that the single biggest factor in the Rays' '11 success is going to be the quality of their Coaching Staff. Maybe JoeM is right to be doing his Tammy Wynette impersonation and singing that he's standing by his Men. But should he? When all is said and done, is it the Rays Coaching Staff that needs to be upgraded moreso than its Roster. For a budget conscious organization, and a Dollars per Win league, it seems, particularly for a young team, that's where the real money is. The biggest bang for the least bucks. We analyze to death how well the rays spend their money on Players. But how well are they spending their money on Coaching?