Which MLB Coaching Staff Has The Best Players?

  • Friday, April 22, 2011 6:15 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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An arms race has broken out in the NL West, and this one has nothing to do with Clayton Kershaw, Ubaldo Jimenez or Tim Lincecum.

No, this has to do with men who write lineup cards, flash signs, hit fungoes and toss batting practice. This has to do with coaches, not in terms of coaching ability, but in terms of former playing ability. Having a successful big league career has never been a prerequisite for landing a job as a coach or manager, not should it be, but coincidentally or not (OK, almost certainly coincidentally), the NL West is leading the charge of teams hiring former MLB regulars.

Here are the top coaching staffs in terms of playing ability, based on Baseball Reference’s wins above replacement (WAR). Only coaches assigned a uniform number were considered.

1. Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-backs might not be a very good team, but if the players didn’t show up one day and an old-timers’ game broke out instead, I would like their chances. Manager Kirk Gibson hit one of the most memorable home runs in baseball history and won an MVP award. Don Baylor also was an MVP. Matt Williams produced six 30-homer seasons and made five All-Star teams. Eric Young stole 465 bases, and Charles Nagy had a decent 14-year career outside of allowing the winning hit in the 1997 World Series. And last but certainly not least, Alan Trammell has been vastly overlooked as a Hall of Fame candidate after a terrific 20-year run as a shortstop with the Tigers. (Total WAR: 217.0)

2. Los Angeles Dodgers
With Bud Selig now stepping in to put the organization under league control and Juan Uribe signed to a three-year deal, first-year manager Don Mattingly is probably thinking, “What did I get myself into?” The good news for Donnie Baseball, other than being able to write Matt Kemp’s name in the lineup every day, is that he leads the second-most-talented coaching staff in MLB. Mattingly, of course, was a phenomenal hitter who won an MVP award and retired with a .307 batting average, his career cut short by injury. Davey Lopes was a rookie of the year who made four All-Star teams in a 16-year career. Tim Wallach made five All-Star teams, while Rick Honeycutt made two and won an ERA title. (Total WAR: 153.5)

3. Colorado Rockies
Yes, another NL West team. Skipper Jim Tracy managed only 213 mildly productive big league plate appearances, but his staff is solid. Carney Lansford was a rookie of the year who went on to become a key contributor on the great Athletics teams of the late 80s and top 2,000 hits for his career. Vinny Castilla, one of the original Blake Street Bombers, hit a Coors Field-aided 320 home runs, including three straight 40-homer seasons. Glenallen Hill combined a sweet name with big-time power, once crushing a home run that flew out of Wrigley Field and landed on a rooftop across Waveland Avenue, about 500 feet away. (Total WAR: 79.7)

4. Cincinnati Reds
Yes, there was a day when Dusty Baker taxed pitchers' arms from the batter's box rather than the dugout. A lot of days, actually, as Baker played 19 seasons while posting a solid 116 OPS+ and 242 home runs. Chris Speier faded after a solid first five seasons during which he made three all-star teams but went on to stick around for 14 more years. Brook Jacoby made a couple of All-Star teams and in 1987 managed to hit 32 homers while driving in just 69 runs. (Total WAR: 76.2)

5. St. Louis Cardinals
For some reason, the top five teams are all in the NL. In the case of the Cardinals, that is almost entirely due to home run king turned PED exile turned hitting coach Mark McGwire. I guess you could say McGwire's numbers should be discounted, in which case you would look to the Blue Jays (with Pat Hentgen and Dwayne Murphy) or White Sox (with Harold Baines and of course, Ozzie Guillen). Otherwise, McGwire's prolific career, combined with jack-of-all-defensive-trades Jose Oquendo, is enough to overcome the mediocrity of Tony LaRussa, Dave Duncan and company. (Total WAR: 75.7)

30. Florida Marlins
Skipping to the end of the line, several teams have little in the way of coaches who enjoyed big league success. But nobody can match the Marlins in that regard. Only three staff members, Edwin Rodriguez, Randy St. Claire and Reid Cornelius, ever made The Show. Rodriguez had 25 plate appearances, while St. Claire and Cornelius combined for fewer than 500 innings pitched. Only Cornelius generated positive value. (Total WAR: 0.2)

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