The Tampa Bay Rays have, unexpectedly, relieved Derek Shelton of his duties as major league hitting coach. In his place, Chad Mottola has been promoted from minor league hitting coordinator to take his place.
The Rays have not give specific reasons for parting ways with Shelton, but as far as I can tell it had nothing to do with his performance as a coach, in the clubhouse, or anything on or off the field.
Here’s what Rays President of Baseball Operations Matt Silverman had to say about the change at hitting coach:
“We are grateful for all that Derek has given to the Rays for the past seven seasons. He brought great energy to our clubhouse and his work ethic with our hitters was outstanding. We decided it was time for a new voice.
It’s quite possible the Rays simply wanted a different offensive approach and with it, a new perspective from their hitting coach. Hitting coach positions are notoriously short lived in baseball.
A little digging, however, shows why, statistically, this move makes sense.
The Rays changed offensive strategy late in 2015, becoming a far more aggressive team at the plate and years of preaching patience and plate discipline. They followed that up by acquiring players like Brad Miller and Corey Dickerson to punch things up a bit.
Instead, neither was able to increase their contact rates when they joined the Rays, and the team’s overall contact rate plummeted to the worst in baseball this season.
That’s not good.
Shelton spent the past seven seasons in his position, and was the longest-tenured hitting coach in Rays history. He was brought in after the Rays failed to make the playoffs in 2009, despite a 109 wRC+, but the Rays have not replicated that mark since, and have managed only one season above average in the last five years (2013: 107 wRC+, all others 100 or below 2012-2016).
Cash and Silverman both heaped praise on Shelton for how hard he worked, how good of a rapport he had with the players, how much he knew about hitting and how well he adapted to the different assignments they gave him. They said he did nothing wrong, that they had been talking about doing this for several weeks. The Rays did go to the playoffs three times on his watch, and there were success stories to offset the hitters he failed to reach or make better.
And they made it clear that this change was not being made to facilitate the installation of a new system or plan of attack. "We're not looking to revamp or overhaul anything," Cash said.
But Cash hinted that Shelton's message to some players may have been getting stale, noting in that role there is "a shelf life" and "it was time" for that new voice.
Shelton previously served five seasons as the Cleveland Indians hitting coach, and will be sure to find another job elsewhere soon. As his contract with the Rays runs through 2017, he will still be paid through next season.