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A “shake up” can just be cosmetic

Larry Baer’s comments can be taken one of two ways. So can yesterday’s termination of the team’s strength & conditioning coach.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t know Carl Kochan but I certainly wish him well as he looks for a new employer. Yesterday, the Giants fired Kochan, their strength and conditioning coach of the past seven years, in a move that was tagged with the “shake it up” notion Larry Baer floated in a KNBR interview the other day.

Part of why the Giants moved on from Kochan now instead of after the season was because of a linger concern involving his shoulder that required surgery. In one sense, that seems like reasonable “cover” for the organization — they certainly don’t want to hamper his efforts to find work elsewhere, and if he has the surgery now, then chances are he’ll be done with post-surgery rehab by the time teams begin the next round of hiring searches.

On the other hand, terminating lower level employees is what higher level employees do all the time to hold onto their jobs. It’s exactly why there are hierarchies. Of course, at some point, the people above the higher level employees can simply look at their immediate subordinate and ask, “Are you the cause of our problems?” too, but for now, it’s been decided that this move makes the most sense.

In case it’s not clear what a strength and conditioning coach does:

Strength and conditioning coaches have two primary goals. The first is to improve athletic performance, which usually means improving athletes’ speed, strength, and power (although specifics vary according to athlete and sport). Conditioning coaches develop systematic training programs for both teams and individual athletes, often working in close association with coaches. This usually includes teaching proper lifting techniques, supervising and motivating athletes as they work out, and assessing their performance before and after the program.
The second primary goal is to reduce athletic injuries. To that end, conditioning coaches often design regimens to strengthen body parts that are prone to injury in a particular sport.

The Giants would often joke about Carl relating to the first part of that job description.

As for the second part of that description, it’s hard to know what he could’ve done to prevent torn hamstrings, labrums, and elbows, but the Brandon’s “quirky” knees and Madison Bumgarner’s diminished velocity and spin rates could all factors that led to Giants making this very cosmetic move.

And that’s mainly what it feels like in the moment. The Giants aren’t “strong”, so they remove their strength and conditioning coach. It’s not impossible to believe that the Giants didn’t like his performance overall and you have to at least wonder why he wasn’t a part of a series of moves. If the front office were to be shaken up remarkably after the last game of the season, moves like this that would purge the lower levels of the organization would almost be expected, and as much as people would be surprised by the moves, they wouldn’t have much room to complain — after all, you wanted the front office gone.

So, this move sticks out because it feels like a bacon-saver, even if there’s no evidence that removing the strength and conditioning coach will save anyone’s bacon. We also don’t know exactly how it will help or hurt the actual team, even if the players were shocked by the news. It’s just as likely they were shocked by the timing of it all.

Going back to Larry Baer’s interview, what stood out to me most was this bit:

Can you finish 28th in home runs, or 29th or 30th in home runs and win the World Series? Maybe you can, but I think that’s called into question now, because of the way the game has changed. So, I do — I would acknowledge that we have to think differently about how the team’s constituted. And, as a ballpark, I don’t think we can overplay the ballpark. You play half the games in other parks.

There was a lot of stuff prior to this direct quote about changing mindsets and looking at different ways of building the team. A real shakeup might be removing Bobby Evans from his role and you’d have to believe that’s certainly in play, but the most vocal proponent of “Our beautiful ballpark is a garbage place for hitting” has been Brian Sabean. Now that would be a shakeup.