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Rays plan to retain coaching staff, including Derek Shelton

Derek Shelton admires his creation.
Derek Shelton admires his creation.

Marc Topkin is reporting that the Rays new brass is informing the rest of the coaching staff that served under Joe Maddon that their contracts will be honored next season.

The seven coaches are all signed through the upcoming season, as former manager Joe Maddon was before opting out of his contract Friday, and are being told to plan on coming back under a new boss.

Of course, anything could change once a new manager has been selected.

This news has positives and negatives. The immediate positive would be for bench coach Davey Martinez, who ostensibly has high hopes of being promoted to manager of the club, but is not guaranteed the position. In the same article, Topkin notes that more than 20 potential candidates have already contacted Rays personnel to express interest, some directly, and the list is expected to grow.

For Rays fans, the best of the news is that Jim Hickey's contract can be expected to be continued next season, a source of hope that he might continue to spin pitching prospects like Jake McGee spins a fastball. However, this news also drives ire.

Joe Maddon was the biggest defender of hitting coach Derek Shelton, and among slumping or weak-looking offensive performances, a change at hitting coach (a normally volatile position in baseball) was anticipated. He too can currently be expected to return.

This is a shame, as I had high hopes that the Rays could scoop up one of the free agent hitting coaches from within the division.

The Blue Jays saw a batting revolution this season after hiring hitting coach Kevin Seitzer away from the Royals. His son Cameron is a first base prospect at Triple-A Durham, which could have been bait, but this morning it's reported that he's chosen to sign with the Atlanta Braves.

Elsewhere, former Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, who oversaw the World Series run in 2009, was dismissed this off-season and signed with the Mets last week.

Before you get worked up that good names bounced around and have already been signed away, it's important to ask: How much of the Rays's 77-win record last season can be pinned on Derek Shelton?

We know that good coaching is necessary for team chemistry, which Maddon was a master of in Tampa Bay, and that attention to detail with great communication skills is ideal. We know that hitting coaches can either emphasize pitch-recognition or outcome-driven approaches at the plate, and that the Rays are a team that values the former. We know the Rays have a high expectation of advanced minds in their coaches.

When Derek Shelton was hired, Andrew Friedman noted how, "Derek has proven himself to be one of the better minds in baseball when it comes to hitting... His attention to detail and ability to communicate will be great additions to our group."

At his hiring, Joe Maddon agreed that Shelton was the ideal choice to overhaul hitting for every level of the organization.

"I believe he is the kind of coach who can create a hitting program that will benefit the organization both at the Minor League and Major League levels," Maddon said. "In our conversations, I found that we share the same philosophy on a number of different areas. He was very clear and concise on his intentions and in the end it was an easy decision." []

So there's much behind the scenes we are not seeing.

Statistically we can take a pulse and see that the Rays' approach at the plate changed to far more swinging outside the zone than in 2009, the season before Shelton was hired with +4% O-swing in each season by comparison -- but the offense has not come close to its offensive production that year either:

Season wRC+ wOBA lg wOBA
2009 109 .342 .329
2010 106 .326 .321
2011 103 .319 .316
2012 100 .311 .315
2013 108 .324 .314
2014 99 .305 .310

When the offense struggled over the course of the season in 2012, the Rays retained Shelton. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice...?

Quite simply, the 2014 iteration of the Rays offense was the worst we've seen under Shelton's guidance, in a season where much of the injury concerns were with the pitching staff. Even if you call 2009 an anomaly with the breakout performance of Ben Zobrist, the only "success" for Shelton was the saving grace of 2013.

Shelton wasn't fired in 2012, but in a down offensive season he still led the Rays to be above average from a run-creation perspective. In 2013, run creation nearly matched 2009, but the offense responded this season by dipping below average for the first time, with it's second venture below league average wOBA.

All of this running in circles is to say that the Rays have yet to perceive the offensive misfortunes of the offense to be the fault of Derek Shelton, and as they have the insight to know otherwise, in Silverman we trust. That doesn't mean you have to like it, but that's the rub.

We really have no idea what's happening behind the scenes, if the players are learning and growing, if they trust Shelton's guidance, if the specific nuances are there to support his continued employment. We just see a bad season, and say "burn it all to the ground!"

There has to be a better way,right Ian?