Which MLB Coaching Staff Has The Best Players?

  • Friday, April 22, 2011 10:15 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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MLB Predictions: What WON'T Happen In 2011

  • Wednesday, March 30, 2011 9:02 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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Months of waiting are finally over, and the 2011 season has arrived. To mark the occasion, everyone is making their predictions, saying what they think will happen this season.

What a boring, glass-half-full approach. Here is what WON’T happen in MLB in 2011.*

* To answer your first question, yes, I hate your favorite team and am out to get them, and no, I don’t know what I’m talking about. Just wanted to be upfront about that.

Last year’s World Series participants get back to the playoffs.
Since the six-division wildcard format was introduced in 1995, 19 of 30 World Series teams have returned to the postseason the next year, with five returning to the championship round. This will not be one of those years. Rather, this will be like 2006 or 2007, when neither World Series participant from the year prior played extra ballgames.

To be clear, I don’t think what the Giants or Rangers accomplished last season was a mirage. Those were both talented clubs, and they certainly have a good shot to reproduce their success. But a lot of things – not everything, of course – broke right for both teams last year, and that rarely happens twice in a row. Both San Francisco and Texas are flawed teams, flawed enough that I have them being overtaken this year by Colorado and Oakland, respectively, and finishing behind the second-place team from the East for the wild card.

The Yankees and Red Sox both make the postseason.
Sorry, TV network executives! For the seventh straight year, your dream ALCS will not come to fruition. Now, you certainly could argue that the Yankees and Sox look like the two best teams in baseball, and that would be hard to dispute. There are concerns with both, but you also know they will do what is necessary to address any issues with in-season trades.

That said, whether it’s my NY-BOS fatigue or the fact I’m currently reading Jonah Keri’s fascinating The Extra 2%, I’m going to say the Rays find a way to steal one of the two playoff spots that will almost certainly go to the AL East. Losing Carl Crawford to Boston and the whole bullpen to various other teams were tough pills to swallow for Tampa, but I think additions like Manny Ramirez and Jeremy Hellickson will push the Rays through.

The Phillies starting rotation proves to be the greatest of all time.
No, I’m not invoking the SI cover jinx. And I do believe the quartet of Halladay-Lee-Hamels-Oswalt is good enough to drag the Phillies’ wounded lineup into the playoffs and maybe even the World Series. That said, I think expectations probably have gotten a bit outlandish in the off-season.

The Big Four have been a pretty durable bunch in recent years, but of course it’s not hard to imagine one of them going down with an injury somewhere along the line. Pitching is a tough business. And consider this: The 1997 Braves had four starters with an ERA+ of at least 138 (100 is league average). The Phillies’ four have combined to reach that number in 15 of 29 seasons in which they made at least 20 starts. So while it’s certainly possible all four will enjoy great years, I think it’s pretty reasonable to believe at least one will get hurt or have a down season. And I’m not convinced run support will be in abundance, which means that those paying attention to pitcher wins might be disappointed.

The Reds take the next step toward building an NL Central power.
Those were heady days in Cincy last season. Joey Votto was NL MVP, Jay Bruce took a step forward, Scott Rolen managed 537 productive plate appearances, and Dusty Baker and company cobbled together a decent pitching staff. The result was a division title and the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 1995.

Granted, the Reds played as well as their record indicated last year, based on run differential. And they are a young club with room for growth. But as we’ve seen in recent seasons with teams like Arizona, young and talented teams can hit some speed bumps after initially finding success, and I think that happens with the Reds in 2011. The rotation in particular has some blow-up potential with Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey likely starting the year on the DL, Edinson Volquez not too far removed from major arm surgery and the rest of the bunch awfully short on big league credentials. With the Brewers improved, the Cardinals still dangerous and the Cubs likely to be better, I think someone overtakes Dusty’s crew this time around.

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A Tony-Dusty Dust-Up: Who Ya Got?

  • Wednesday, August 11, 2010 11:08 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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Although last night's "brawl" between the Cardinals and Reds started with comments from Brandon Phillips, escalated with a confrontation between Phillips and Yadier Molina and featured Johnny Cueto kicking Jason LaRue in the face, it was the two managers who were ejected from the game.

This was both a reasonable move on the part of the umpires, who would have had an extremely difficult task in deciding to eject certain players over others, as well as a fitting one.

Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker are two of the most accomplished and also controversial managers in the game. They both have enjoyed a lot of success but gone about it in different ways, and it's often said the two longtime rivals aren't exactly BFFs. Certainly this is not the first time their teams have clashed over the years.

So who would have the upper hand if this schism between skippers ever went to the next level? Let's take a look at the tale of the tape.

                    Dusty Baker                  Tony La Russa
Age 61 65
Real First Name Johnnie Anthony
Hailing From Riverside, CA Tampa, FL
Teams Managed 3 (SF, CHC, CIN) 3 (CHW, OAK, STL)
Managerial Record 1378-1263, .522 (17 seasons) 2615-2226, .536 (32 seasons)
World Series app/titles 1/0 5/2
Career games as player 2039 132
Positions OF/1B 2B/3B/SS
Career WAR 34.8 -1.0
Playing size 6-2, 183 6-0, 175
Alternate profession TV analyst Lawyer, animal rescuer
Book You Can Teach Hitting Three Nights in August
Personality Warm Prickly
Dugout activity Toothpick chewing Scowling, Glowering
Managerial Quirk Young pitcher abuse Batting the pitcher 8th
Personal drama Batboy son almost run over DUI
Best player coached Barry Bonds Albert Pujols
PED posterboy coached Barry Bonds Mark McGwire/Jose Canseco
Beloved bad player Neifi Perez Aaron Miles
Lineup weakness Low OBP leadoff men Pujols always hits 3rd
Bullpen strategy Let starter go, blow out arm Use > 6 relievers/inning
Key to success Good players, magic toothpicks? Good players, Dave Duncan
Go-to uniform accessory Sweat bands Sunglasses
Probable weapon Baseball bat Quick thinking
Fighting tactic Swing away Changes constantly
Victory spoils Lifetime supply of toothpicks Animals rescued from pound

So, who ya got?

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2010 Preview: Cincinnati Reds

  • Thursday, March 18, 2010 10:28 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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2009: 78-84, 4th in NL Central. Pythagorean record of 76-86.
Key Additions: SP Aroldis Chapman, SS Orlando Cabrera, IF Aaron Miles
Key Losses: IF Adam Rosales, CF Willy Taveras
2010 Projections: PECOTA – 76-86, 5th in NL Central. CHONE – 81-81, 3rd. CAIRO – 85.5-76.5, 2nd (Wildcard).

Pitching: 2009 – 4.63 FIP (26th in MLB), 4.91 for starters, 4.09 for relievers
2010 – Edinson Volquez won't return until late in the season from Tommy John surgery, leaving room for Chapman to make his mark. The Reds need Homer Bailey to step up behind Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo.
Hitting: 2009 – .313 wOBA (27th in MLB)
2010 – The infield, led by the highly underrated Votto, should be solid, but the Reds' fortunes rest with the outfield. Willy Taveras and his .275 OBP are gone, which helps. Still, Jay Bruce and Co. have to make some serious strides if the Reds are going to be legitimate playoff contenders.
Fielding: 2009 – UZR of 52.6 (3rd in MLB)
2010 – With back-to-back UZR's of 14 and -15.3, Orlando Cabrera underscores the lack of dependability in one-season UZR totals. He's probably somewhere in between those numbers. His double-play partner Brandon Phillips, however, has put up good numbers three straight years.

Reasons to Watch
1. Aroldis Chapman: .The left-handed Cuban fireballer has been wowing observers so far in Spring Training with his 100-mph heat, his movement and his command. There are two big questions, however. First, where will Chapman begin the season? Second, how will Dusty Baker handle him? The Reds' manager doesn't have the best track record preservingyoung flamethrowers.
2. Joey Votto: He didn't get a lot of attention outside Cincinnati (except when he missed time to deal with depression issues), but Votto put up the fourth-highest wOBA of any player last season, trailing only guys named Pujols, Mauer and Fielder. He might have been a little lucky with a .372 BABIP, but with his blend of power and patience, Votto figures to be an elite first baseman for a while, as long as he is able to stay on the field.
3. The outfield: The Reds have put together an interesting outfield. There's Jay Bruce, a 22-year-old with monstrous power who hasn't quite put it together at the big league level. There's Wladimir Balentien, a former top prospect with the Mariners who has struggled mightily in the majors. There's Drew Stubbs, a former first-round pick with a glowing defensive reputation and solid plate discipline. Plus, the Reds have Chris Dickerson, Jonny Gomes and prospect Chris Heisey. It's a crowded but intriguing situation out there.

Paint By Numbers: Bruce had a strange 2009. Among players with at least 300 plate appearances, he had the third-lowest BABIP (.221) but also the second-lowest line drive rate (13.0 percent). That said, his .246 isolated power was 20th, and he improved his walk and strikeout rates from the year before. It would hardly be surprising if 2010 turned out to be a breakout year for Bruce. ... Aaron Harang has compiled a record of 12-31 the last two seasons after going 32-17 in 2006-07. True, he's giving up more home runs and walks and getting fewer strikeouts, but his FIP last year was a decent 4.14. For the sake of comparison, Andy Pettite had a 4.16 FIP for the Yankees but went 14-8. ... Despite that .275 OBP, Dusty Baker started Willy Taveras in the leadoff spot 85 times. Taveras' other 14 starts came in the No. 2 spot. The good news is that most of the other starts at leadoff went to Chris Dickerson (.370 OBP) and Drew Stubbs (.364 career mark in the minors).

Blog Jog: Red Reporter's Slyde takes a look at the "butterfly effect" of baseball defense. ... Red Reporter also does a fascinating interview with Jaime Cevallos, the swing coach who worked with Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist last season and also is working with Cincinnati utility man Drew Sutton. ... The great Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News addresses an important question: Which Reds player would you want on your side in a fight? ... Cincinnati Enquirer beat writer John Fay presents three questions about Aroldis Chapman to GM Walt Jocketty.

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3 Teams To Keep An Eye On

  • Monday, February 15, 2010 9:55 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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Note: this post was scheduled to run Sunday but got delayed. The next post, "2 Things I Want To Happen In '10" will appear a little later today.

There are now just three days remaining until the first Spring Training camps open, which means at this point, every team out there possesses a sense of hope. Of course, for some that sense is built on nothing more than some wild optimism and a crossing of fingers. Here's to you, Royals.

But outside of the teams everyone expects to be in the postseason, there are plenty that have a legitimate shot, if a few things go their way. Here is a quick look at three of those clubs.

Texas Rangers -- Really, the whole AL West could be fascinating to watch this season. The Angels appeared to go backward this offseason, while the Mariners made some stellar acquisitions and the A's signed Ben Sheets to head a good young pitching staff.

The Rangers didn't do anything too flashy, but they did enough to build off a promising 2009 season and possibly dethrone the Angels. Last year, Texas led the division as late as July 10 and was still within 3.5 games on Sept. 4, before finishing 10 games out, with 85 wins. The Rangers then signed old nemesis Vladimir Guerrero to DH, added Rich Harden to the starting rotation, brought Colby Lewis back from Japan and inked Darren Oliver to help out in the pen.

Offensively, the Rangers need bounceback years from Chris Davis at first base and Josh Hamilton in center field, but mostly they need their starting pitching to hold together. Harden has to stay healthy, while pleasant surprises like Scott Feldman and Tommy Hunter have to avoid sliding backward too far.

Cincinnati Reds -- If people don't pick the Cardinals to win the NL Central, they will probably go with the Cubs or even the Brewers. But don't sleep on the Reds.

Cincy produced the fourth-worst OBP in the majors last season, but that figures to improve simply on the basis of Willy Taveras no longer being around (although Dusty Baker might find a way to bat him leadoff anyways). Joey Votto already is an excellent hitter, Jay Bruce could be one soon, and young outfielders Drew Stubbs and Wladimir Balentien have some upside. The rest of the lineup is filled with solid veterans like Brandon Phillips and Scott Rolen.

The pitching staff surprisingly finished in the top 10 in ERA last season. Edinson Volquez won't be back until sometime midseason after having Tommy John surgery in August, and while that's a big blow, the Reds could have enough arms around to overcome it. Nobody stands out in the current rotation, but Aaron Harang is way better than his 31 losses the last two years indicate, and there is room for vast improvement in guys like 23-year-old Homer Bailey.

Arizona Diamondbacks --When the D-backs made it to the 2007 NLCS, then started the next season 20-8 with a host of promising young players on the roster, it seemed as though they were poised to dominate the NL West for years. It hasn't happened. Arizona went on to miss the playoffs in 2008 and then last season finished last in the NL West, somehow falling five games behind the lowly Padres. Still, this season could be different.

If Brandon Webb comes back strong, Arizona has a premiere one-two punch with him and Dan Haren, while newly acquired Edwin Jackson should be a decent No. 3. Offensively, Justin Upton is already a star, and while Mark Reynolds isn't likely to hit 44 homers again, he should still be a solid middle-of-the-order contributor. Kelly Johnson was a solid acquisition at second base.

The D-backs do need a couple of guys to step up in the back end of the rotation, and young hitters like Stephen Drew and Chris Young must get it together. But with the Dodgers stagnated budget-wise, there's room for Arizona to rebound in the NL West.

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