On Saturday, Jon Heyman dropped this tweet:
Pedro Grifol is on the #SFGiants manager list and is expected to get an interview. The well-regarded Royals quality control/catching coach is also a candidate in KC.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) October 5, 2019
Heyman has been, historically, a fairly well-connected and accurate source of rumors and breaking news and in the case of managerial candidates not currently on playoff teams, it’s probably not that difficult to find out who’s up for which job(s); but, the team hasn’t confirmed anyone beyond Hensley Meulens and Ron Wotus, so for now, we’ll treat this as a rumor — like, a 97% confirmed rumor.
That brings the total list (including known and rumored candidates) to five:
- Hensley Meulens
- Ron Wotus
- Mark Kotsay
- Pedro Grifol
Like Mark Kotsay, Pedro Grifol is in his second season as a quality control coach. He’s been with the Royals for seven years, beginning as a “special assignment coach”, hitting coach, and catching coach, a position he still holds in addition to quality control.
What does a quality control coach do? In my Kotsay assessment, I was perhaps a bit glib or unclear about what they do, so here are various baseball sources commenting on what their quality control coaches do.
Via Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 2016:
Quality control is a pretty good title for the role. The Dodgers have a similar role, and other teams have either discussed adding one or have folded the responsibilities into more familiar titles. I’ve spoke to the folks about this yes. We were just talking to Mozeliak a little bit about it here in Arizona, and he was talking about the things that [Mike] Shildt does in the majors will start influencing how they do things in the minors. They want this role and the things developed by this role to really start influencing how they teach and develop and maintain standards, and not just at the major-league level. Yes, this is in response to the previous year and the sense that fundamentals have really degraded over time. During the game Shildt will work with defensive positioning. He’ll report to Matheny.
“Juan had been in the system working with the infield, and he had the rapport with a lot of Latin players,” Roberts said, “and I think his ability to teach was attractive to me. So I think for me, as the puzzle kind of played itself out, and (as) I looked at a staff that doesn’t have anyone who speaks Spanish, it only made sense to have Juan on board, help (third-base coach) Chris Woodward out with the infield defense, (and) sit in the suite and watch from above during the game to help us with things like that.”
“Whether he’s watching the game in the clubhouse on the screen, or up top and seeing the whole big picture,” Roberts said, “right after the game we can talk about things from his perspective.
When the Blue Jays announced their hire in 2018:
Longtime Blue Jays Minor League instructor Mike Mordecai received a long-awaited promotion to the big league club when he was named Toronto’s new quality control coach on Wednesday.
The quality control coach is essentially responsible for helping Blue Jays players prepare for games. He works with the advanced scouting department both in terms of scouts and analytics to make sure information is properly conveyed to players.
And, finally, from this Baseball Prospectus article:
An office full of analysts can’t make the most of their research without clubhouse buy-in; when we try to evaluate a team’s brain trust, we should ask not only what the number-crunchers know, but how well they can communicate.
The challenge for the front office is to funnel information to the field without alienating anyone. Managers aren’t used to being told where to position their fielders, and they aren’t all receptive to input from upstairs. Even those who welcome assistance are careful to combat the perception that they’re just the general manager’s mouthpiece. If the players don’t believe that their skipper is pulling the strings, his clubhouse influence could be compromised.
All of which explains the way [Brad] Ausmus [then-manager of the Tigers] introduced [Matt] Martin [as the team’s defensive coordinator]:
He’s a baseball guy. He’s not a number-crunching guy. His background is playing and coaching in the minor leagues. He’s not a sabermetrician.
Message received: no nerd to see here.
So, yeah, as glib as I might’ve been about Kotsay, it was still accurate: a quality control coach is a front office trojan horse designed to push their proprietary predictive data into the clubhouse’s collective consciousness. Their job is inception, along with changing hearts and minds. That’s why it’s a lot easier if they’re just the manager.
I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s very easy to understand why players would distrust orders from the home office that would seemingly contradict their experience on the field. On the other hand, we’re in, like, year 30 of algebra being a part of baseball decision-making.
I don’t know what to make of that combination. Both would seem to be emotional reactions to situations — in the case of the ditching statistics concept, his point was that in the postseason it’s about managing based on “the feel” of the game. Are players not human beings guided by their emotions? Yeah, they are! What’s the value in emotionally getting up for spitting on numbers, though? It’s a weird power move.
And that’s definitely what this “stats vs. old school” battle is all about. As front offices bulk up their analytics departments — with some even beginning to number as many players as there are on an active roster — the battle between theoretical baseball and applied baseball will only grow. A quality control coach can be an emissary and ally simultaneously. Theoretically, a former QC coach turned manager can be the same with even greater effect.
In Grifol’s case, he’s also rumored to be a candidate for the vacant Royals job and in competition with Mike Matheny. He managed the Mariners’ A-ball team in 2012 which featured Brad Miller, John Hicks, Mike Carp, Timmy Lopes, Roenis Elias, and Stephen Pryor — you know, really young Mariners. That team went 83-57.
No, I’m not trying to draw a line from a successful minor league season from seven years ago to a successful succession of Bruce Bochy’s tenure, just pointing out that he’s managed a full season before, a rare quality in the modern era. The other big feather in Grifol’s cap — his catching coach title — seems a little suspect, though, as the Royals’ catching defense since he took over hasn’t been distinguished: just +18.9 Defensive Runs Above Average for the position, and a -72.9 runs in Framing Runs Above Average.
That means while they’ve been decent at catching the ball and throwing out baserunners (+16 runs above stolen base average), they haven’t excelled in pitch framing and making above average plays. And that’s with Salvador Perez and Martin Maldonado on the team.
Grifol’s Twitter page suggests a man of faith who digs motivational speakers and phrases, the kind of background a talk-up quality control coach would need. We’ll see how that speaks to his potential leadership abilities should he actually become a part of the interview process. Motivation isn’t the only quality a manager needs.
If the current list is accurate, and the Giants plan to interview 8-10 candidates total, then half the candidate pool is comprised of first-time major league managers. Hensley Meulens did manage a national team for the WBC, of course, and Grifol has the aforementioned experience in High-A, but otherwise, the Giants seem to be setting themselves to have to make what Zaidi considered “a leap of faith” with a first-time manager.
That might not matter much if all the decisions are made for him.