The Giants continued their game of Musical Coaching Chairs yesterday, with former hitting coach Hensley Meulens officially moving to bench coach, former bench coach Ron Wotus moving to third base coach, and former third base coach Phil Nevin moving to the list of guys you’ll someday miss on a Sporcle quiz about Giants coaches. With Dave Righetti, Mark Gardner, and Steve Decker being kicked upstairs, it’s a total revamp of the coaching staff, which is unprecedented in Bruce Bochy’s tenure as manager.
On the one hand, this may seem like a natural move after such a disastrous season. On the other, what can it really accomplish when the core of the team, which failed spectacularly all year, isn’t especially likely to change? Let’s examine the possibilities.
I wrote about the possibility of Meulens being fired midseason, and then he wasn’t fired. That must have been very nice for him. Of course, he had to suffer the worst punishment imaginable for the repeated failures of his charges: he had to spend the entire year watching the Giants play baseball.
Blaming coaches for their players being bad is a time honored baseball tradition, and making changes when the team’s not good enough is just how things work. When it comes down to it, what is even their job if not to make players play well? They’ve spent a year and a half not doing that, and it’s time to blame them instead of taking a hard look at why those bad players were on the team in the first place.
Or, to put it another way, here’s something that I cut from an article a few months ago:
I will admit it's kinda funny that the Giants called up Slater on a day when I wrote this and then cut it from my article pic.twitter.com/IAxTUGOG67— Doug (@moonwalkmcfly) June 1, 2017
These specific coaches can help more elsewhere
Bob Nightengale said that Meulens is being groomed to be the manager after Bruce Bochy is gone, so it makes sense to make him the bench coach and get him major league experience on a different part of the coaching staff. That left Wotus having to move to third, which he hasn’t regularly coached since Danny Darwin’s last year in the majors, but it keeps his experience and knowledge on the staff.
Meanwhile, the Giants had just as miserable a season last year in the minors as they did in the majors, and they needed to shake things up there as well. So it does make some sense to take Mark Gardner and use him to help develop pitching prospects who might have stalled or taken a step back in 2017. It makes sense to take Dave Righetti and have him look broadly at the way the organization uses pitchers. It probably also makes sense for them to do other things that I’m not making up on the spot as examples of possible duties. The point is, these are talented coaches, and there are a lot of ways for the organization to use them other than in the dugout 162 games a year.
Their time had passed
It’s not that these guys are bad coaches or bad at their jobs. It isn’t. But the game evolves and it’s entirely possible that coaching strategies that had worked for 5 or 10 or 20 years are out of date. It’s entirely possible that the juiced ball is something that Righetti’s not especially good at dealing with, or that Meulens is a good communicator in a lot of ways, but he’s not especially skilled at changing hitters’ swings to increase their launch angle. That doesn’t mean that they haven’t done great work or they don’t have fantastic skills, but it could make them not the right coaches for this moment right now.
Then there’s the other side of this, which is that maybe the players started to tune them out. Maybe Mark Gardner was out in the bullpen with Steven Okert saying, “Remember Steven, you’ve got great stuff, you’ve got to get ahead of Bellinger first pitch,” and Okert was all, “Screw you SQUARE, I’m actually Josh Osich,” and then he threw a ball a foot outside and Bellinger was able to look fastball on the ensuing 1-0 pitch and hit it a thousand miles. When that happens, it’s not that the coaches don’t know anything worthwhile, it’s that they’re not the right people for that particular job anymore. Times can change, and like Every American Worker in the upcoming age of machines, that means some people get left behind.
You gotta do something
What else can the front office do?
Well, okay, what else can the front office do that there’s any chance of them actually doing? Do you want them to cut the underperformers? That’s everyone except Buster Posey. Do you want them to get rid of the guys who were worst last year, get rid of Matt Moore and Hunter Pence? Matt Moore and Hunter Pence had reasonably encouraging finishes to the year and besides, it’s not like there’s anyone necessarily better waiting in the wings. Do you want them to overhaul the bullpen? Great. Done. The only guys still in the bullpen who saw significant time in 2015 are Osich and Hunter Strickland. The team has brought in a lot of new relievers, and most of them haven’t been that good, and it’s not especially likely that the next crop of new relievers is going to be all that good.
Do you want them to get a bunch of new guys for the lineup? Who? The upper minors are barren, and to get talented players from other team, they’d have to sell their talented lower minors players in a way that’s incredibly unwise for a team that was so far from respectability last year. The sad answer is, there probably isn’t an answer.
So what’s left for the front office? Hope. Hope that changing coaches can mix things up enough to get the team back to where it should be. Hope that Johnny Cueto — who was bad even after he came back from his blisters, by the way — can regain his form and that Jeff Samardzija can start preventing runs at the rate Fangraphs is sure he should be preventing runs at and that literally anyone in the outfield looks like they know what baseball is. Hope that it’s a problem of communication, not talent, hope that getting through to these guys will solve everything, and hope that there’s anything left to get through to.
If you’re wondering how this is different than the first category, the scapegoats one, it isn’t, really, other than in intentions. Scapegoating someone is blaming them when you know it’s unfair, while this is more of a blindfolded Hail Mary out of pure desperation. Neither one reflects well on the front office, but then, this whole team doesn’t reflect well on the front office, so here we are.