Bruce Bochy’s final day marked the final days for his coaching staff, too. In ancient Egypt, when a manager retired, his coaches were entombed with him. That’s no longer the case, and so for these nine guys — Hensley Meulens, Alonzo Powell, Rick Schu, Curt Young, Jose Alguacil, Ron Wotus, Matt Herges, Shawon Dunston, and Taira Uematsu — the departure of their Hall of Fame skipper means in all likelihood they’ll be looking for work elsewhere.
Since we’re outsiders, we can’t know the extent of Zaidi’s interest in maintaining any semblance of continuity now that the figurehead has left and the team remains a loser. The contracts for a lot of these guys were timed to expire with Bochy’s anyway, but in the cases where they might not have been, a new manager will bring in his own guys anyway.
Now, that’s not always the case — Mark Gardner, Joe Lefebvre, Dave Righetti, and Ron Wotus all transitioned from Felipe Alou’s staff to Bruce Bochy’s — but with after a couple of years of change and turnover in the front office, it’s not difficult to imagine coaching changes and more on the horizon.
These are all baseball lifers, the people who do the thankless work that sets up all the success that gives us those wonderful end-of-season ceremonies. They’ve been as much a part of the Giants’ culture as the manager. As responsible for the success as the active roster. In Hollywood, they’d be the “below the line” guys without which there’d be no show.
Surprisingly, the boost in analytics has not led to a Matrix-like scenario (yet) where players are slid into biochambers and hooked up to devices that downloads coachable skills directly into their brains. Coaching staffs across the league have gotten bigger, even in the minor leagues. This group of non-Bochys aren’t representing the last of the Old School ways — they’re a part of baseball’s present. Where might they go to be a part of the future?
Without knowing who the next Giants manager will be (although, there’s certainly plenty of speculation) or the next GM for that matter, here are some really bad guesses.
Dunston has been around since the Dusty days and that alone would suggest a target on his back. We don’t know just how much Farhan Zaidi plans to reformat the organizational culture — or how much Larry Baer will allow him to — but it seems like a safe bet that holdovers from previous Baseball Ops regimes (his exclusive purview, per his contract) are the most vulnerable.
Dunston and Chad Chop were the video replay coordinators back in 2014 when they threw a flag on the double play that wasn’t until it was in Game 7 of the World Series. Chop bolted for the Dodgers in the offseason to become their replay coordinator, leaving Dunston as the solo man in the booth.
Since replay became a thing (2014), the Giants have a 61.8% success rate; but, if you’ve watched any Giants game where there’s been a replay review, you know they’ve been totally hosed by the system at least once a week. Over five years, that really adds up. Can’t blame Shawon Dunston for the New York umpires being asleep when a review call comes in.
On the other hand, if ever there was a role that a young, data-driven front office might revamp, it’s probably the replay coordinator. I can imagine the next iteration of the role coming with some sort of in-game analytics refresh and dissemination. We know the Giants have quants who convene with players before games and series, but having a coach who can give players detailed data in such a way that it can be processed in the moment might be something the new front office desires.
With Brian Sabean set to stick around along with other scouts and front office types who’ve established themselves over the years, Dunston still has many friends in the organization; combined with his primary responsibility being replay, it’s hard to imagine him become a target for replacement, but if it happens, I suspect he has more friends around the league.
A bullpen coach is responsible for getting pitchers warmed up (before and during the game) and assessing that pitcher’s effectiveness during that time. Per the Giants’ website, Herges is also “responsible for series advance analysis.”
Herges worked for the Dodgers in their minor league system as a pitching coach for a couple of seasons prior to coming over to the Giants. The Giants had a good bullpen for most of the year, and I can’t recall any situation where a guy wasn’t ready to go when Bruce Bochy needed him — something I’m nearly certain is the bullpen coach’s responsibility.
In the event that the new manager don’t come in and make wholesale changes next year, this seems like a situation that might not change much.
Uematsu’s tenure began in 2008 when Keiichi Yabu joined the team, as he’s bilingual Japanese/English. I don’t pretend to understand the politics of bullpen catching and if a team likes a guy and the guy still wants to do the job, then I don’t see why this particular marriage should end.
That’s the tricky thing about management transitions though, right? We don’t know how detailed the new front office will get. We don’t know how deep the changes will run until the damn bursts. Maybe the Giants have partnered with a tech company to put in a robot catcher.
His standing feels tied a little bit to Hensley Meulens, who employed him as the bullpen coach for the Netherlands in the 2017 WBC. He seems very popular with the Giants players, though. Prediction: If Meulens goes on to manage another team, he’ll go with him.
All the Giants have done since Alonzo Powell became the hitting coach last year is post the third-worst OPS+ (85) in baseball, behind just the Tigers and the Marlins. So, we’ll never truly know what a hitting coach does, because it’s clear they have very little impact.
Still, front offices seem to like Powell. The Astros hired him as an assistant hitting coach for 2016-2017 (which is why he got the job with the Giants) and before that, he had the same job with the Padres from 2012-2015. We know what the Astros did with the bats, but how did those Padres teams do? A 92 OPS+ — fifth-worst in baseball. The Giants were fifth-best during that time with a 102 OPS+.
It’s almost as though a good offense starts with a good lineup . . . and that a hitting coach’s results only really matter when a team is hitting well. Guys like Posey, Crawford, Longoria, and Belt aren’t likely to listen to what a hitting coach has to say or make any meaningful adjustment to their swing in-season because there are too many things going on in that situation for the actual instruction to sink in.
Think about: a new swing requires a change in routine after acknowledging that something that’s always worked no longer works as well as the humility to be open to change. Rare that something so profound happens during the grind of the regular season.
A genuine point in his favor though is that guys like Yastrzemski, Dubon, Dickerson, and even Austin Slater were able to come up and get through some tough stretches. Jaylin Davis never quite got on track nor did Michael Reed and Connor Joe, but some pretty okay hitters managed to stick.
I wonder what, if any, influence Powell had on Kevin Pillar’s swing, as Pillar was pretty consistent all year long, and even improved over last year in terms of contact rate (83.4%), contact inside the strike zone (93%) while swinging at more pitches inside the strike zone (career-high 74.6%).
Bench coach, hitting coach, and pitting coach are three of the most visible members of a manager’s staff, but ones he might actually have the least say on in the new front office environment. Still, it’s hard to see Alonzo Powell — a Sabean/Evans holdover — fitting in with whatever new situation Farhan Zaidi seems poised to unleash. But Powell has been doing this for a long time, and will surely land on his feet elsewhere.
Schu has been the assistant hitting coach for two seasons after coming over from the Nationals. His pro coaching career has been in both the minors and majors, with a very long stop in Arizona (12 years) before his five seasons in Washington where the Giants credit him with tutoring Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rednon, and Trea Turner.
Some of the potential credit I just gave Powell could very well go to Schu, too, as the younger and newer players might’ve been better receivers of his advice and coaching. For some reason, I’m getting a very “winds up on the Mariners” vibe here, because like the Powell situation, a revamp of the hitting coach area of the staff seems like an obvious move.
I was surprised when Bruce Bochy didn’t mention Young by name during his initial thanks in yesterday’s ceremony, but he also mentioned very few coaches specifically, so, there’s probably nothing to it.
Curt Young’s tenure was marked by not being Dave Righetti. It sure seemed like the Giants hired him hoping he’d unlock warp levels in pitcher development to make up for whatever mire the organization’s actual development program had gotten itself into, and while the team didn’t get anything out of Tyler Beede last year, they did this year. And last year, Dereck Rodriguez and Andy Suarez were able to come up and be sort of okay.
Remember: the Giants hired him to throw at the young pitchers they had on hand because of his success with the A’s. There was also some talk about how Righetti didn’t incorporate analytics in a way the front office had hoped — Young did. The two seasons prior to his arrival saw a steady decline from the championship years. The staff was worth 14.2 fWAR in 2016 and 11.4 in 2017. That combined 25.6 fWAR was just 17th-best in baseball, tired with the Pirates and Rays. Not great, not terrible.
In Young’s two seasons, the Giants amassed 20.7 fWAR, sixth-worst in baseball. The collective staff was also the sixth-worst in K/9 (8.10) and just 19th in xFIP (4.39). Unremarkable to bad.
Of course, again, it comes down to the talent on hand. Maybe Curt Young didn’t transform Suarez and Rodriguez into rotation anchors, but the Giants were probably the only team in baseball that would’ve given them the combined 410 major league innings they’ve received over the past two years.
I was tempted to perhaps give him some credit for Logan Webb’s strong finish, but then I remembered this tweet —
Logan Webb got advice from veterans like Ryan Vogelsong, Matt Cain and Jeff Samardzija who suggested he slow his game down. It’s paid off. #SFGiants— Julie Parker (@insidethepark3r) September 28, 2019
Even with a strong A’s background, I still think pitching coach along with hitting coach is the most obvious change the next manager can make to certify that the clubhouse is his.
Aguacil has been a Giant for nearly his entire pro career, signing with the club when he was 20. He’s been an instructor and managed in Richmond and Sacramento. The Giants have stolen 200 bases since he became the team’s first base coach, just 22nd in baseball (the A’s are worst over the same span with just 141).
The Giants have generally been better than league average when it comes to things like not getting picked off at first base, the exception being last season, when they had the likes of Andrew McCutchen (6 caught stealing/pickoffs), Gorkys Hernandez, Alen Hanson, and even Brandon Crawford making outs on first or in attempting to steal second.
Along with baserunning, Alguacil was also responsible for bunting instruction and infield defense. Just using anecdotal evidence, yesterday’s finale went to poop because of defensive overshifting that gave room for bleeders to kill the Giants. Statistically — where it matters most — with Farhan Zaidi looking over his (and Wotus’s) shoulder, the Giants had basically an average defense (+2.3 Defensive Runs), and a slightly below average baserunning team (-3.3 runs). Bunting-wise, you’ll recall that the Giants pitchers were awful bunters last year. They were slightly better this year.
Base coaches are usually another obvious change a new manager makes. It’s unclear where he might wind up if a change is made. The Giants are basically the only organization he’s ever known, but it’s unclear if the development changes suddenly limit or bar other opportunities in the system.
Now we come to one of the big two. Before the season, Andy Baggarly checked in on Meulens’ status within the organization after the front office turnover. Meulens was supposed to be the heir apparent, made Bochy’s bench coach after Reds President Bob Castellini called the Giants and advised them to not let Meulens get away.
I have to admit: if I were Zaidi, I would not be keen to walk into a new position where I have the final say on what happens in Baseball Ops only to be handed a frontrunner for a list I’ve yet to compose. To his credit, Zaidi walked into the situation with an open mind.
And Zaidi already has touched base with Meulens to let him know what to expect.
“I’ve had conversations with Bam Bam, understanding his managerial aspirations,” Zaidi said. “I know he’s interested in that position here. And I just said, ‘You know, the best case you can make for yourself is doing the bench coach job as well as I’ve heard you’ve been doing it.’ Because when you’re the bench coach, you’re just one seat away, one step away, from being the manager.”
Unless there’s an expose or candid interview, we’ll never know just how much Farhan Zaidi scrutinized Sir Hensley Meulens’ performance this year. The industry buzz strongly suggests that he’s on the cusp of crossing the threshold from coach to first-time manager and it seems like such an obvious move that the Giants should just do it.
But we know Farhan Zaidi doesn’t just do things. You might look at the last-minute adds of Michael Reed and Connor Joe that quickly flopped and think that he’s a reckless kid who doesn’t know what he’s doing, but those players were added because his way of viewing baseball told him the Giants needed players who could do what those two could do, in theory, and in reality, those were the best versions of the theory he could acquire at the very end of Spring Training.
He might have a very specific set of requirements for a baseball manager. Maybe Hensley Meulens passes the more subjective qualities that he’s open to, like demeanor, sense of humor, and favorite Simpsons episode. But maybe there are some qualities he just knows he can’t find inside the Giants. For a President of Baseball Operations, the manager is the emissary. Maybe Hensley Meulens has all the qualities necessary to be that emissary, but maybe Farhan Zaidi is looking to bring in someone detached from the Giants’ recent history.
Which brings us to Ron Wotus. Like Meulens, he’s had bites of the apple, been the bridesmaid, come close but no cigar to becoming a major league manager. For 22 years he’s been a Giants coach, ascending as high as bench coach before shifting back to third base coach this year. He was a great third base coach, too! The Giants were thrown out at home just 14 times — as many times as the Astros — though 13 times at third (the league average was 11).
It wasn’t his first time there, of course — that’s where he started — and from that perspective, he took a demotion back to the beginning of his coaching career like a pro. He’s the longest-tenured coach in the entire history of the franchise. He’s worked under Dusty Baker, Felipe Alou, and Bruce Bochy. He’s seen it all. He knows more about the Giants than any of us ever will.
And he hasn’t Forrest Gump’d his way through Giants history here — he’s been a crucial part of the whole damn thing. The bench coach for three world championship teams. Joe Maddon was the bench coach for one Angels championship and he parlayed that into national celebrity. He took his demotion like a pro but it was still a demotion, meaning that even before the front office changeover he was no longer Bochy’s heir apparent.
The new GM, the new manager, this new front office could value that perspective and those accomplishments along with his institutional knowledge and insight or it could make a conscious decision to part ways with all of that to really start fresh. Bruce Bochy has already mentioned that he plans to find a way to get Wotus onto his World Baseball Classic French team coaching staff, and that alone suggests that as the Giants close the book on an era, they’re ready to part ways entirely with the way things used to be.