As we finally emerge from the boredom that is playing out the string of a losing season, things are getting interesting again. Lots in the news, perhaps related in surprising ways. Let's delve in, with the assistance of bullet points!
- The biggest news in Brewers world is that Davey Nelson, Butch Wynegar, and Rick Spenner won't be returning. I'm not sure whether this is a surprise or not--Wynegar doesn't seem to have been worse than he was last year. The biggest offensive failure on the season, of course, was Geoff Jenkins, and he seems to have been unreceptive to the coaching staff. (Who helped him? His brother.
Anyway, I don't know how much of this year's results can be laid at Wynegar's or Nelson's feet, but it's clear that something had to be done. While it's a cliche, Ned gets it right:"Sometimes, a different voice can get the point across," Yost said.
(I'll refrain from commenting on what other voices might need to be replaced...)
It hadn't crossed my mind that Davey Nelson's job might be in jeopardy, but then again, I didn't realize he was the designated "bunting coach." In that case, he's a more obvious axe than Wynegar. Ned didn't comment specifically on that, but he did say this:"Like our approach at the plate, we still make far too many mistakes on the bases," Yost said. "Our stolen base percentage is way down. Stealing bases is not all about speed."
Thank you, Ned. (I've quoted Yost twice in a row without any criticism? Whoa.) Carlos Lee is a perfect example of the kind of baserunner you want--not necessarily fast, but he picks his spots as well as anybody. Lee, despite looking injured whenever he played left field, has stolen 18 bases in 20 attempts this year. If he suffers a career-ending injury this offseason, I say we bring him back as our first-base/baserunning coach.
Given that El Caballo probably won't be available, who can we get to fill these spots? Ned says he will look at internal candidates, and Adam McCalvy points out that the obvious ones are Frank Kremblas (Nashville's manager), Gary Pettis (Nashville's hitting coach and an AFL coach last fall), and Don Money (Huntsville's manager). There will also be a slew of other guys available once other teams start their staff juggling.
- Let's start with the first-base/baserunning/bunting job. Bunting, clearly, is a sore spot. It's tough to define what type of baserunning coach we need: it would be great to have a speedster around to help Rickie Weeks turn into a top-notch base stealing threat--such a guy would be able to help Bill Hall, Tony Gwynn Jr., and maybe Corey Hart, as well. On the other hand, the Brewers always have their share of plodders--Prince Fielder, Kevin Mench, Gabe Gross, catchers--and sometimes those are the players who need the most baserunning help.
If there's an obvious choice for either of the jobs, it's Gary Pettis for the first-base coach role. He was a top-notch defensive outfielder, a high-percentage base stealer (77%, which for 350 career SBs is very impressive), and he has worked with most of the young players in the system. That he had such a good SB% indicates that he wasn't just fast: he developed into a very smart baserunner.
Pettis's track record at Nashville bodes well, also. The Sounds were successful in 73% of stolen base attempts this year, and I'll bet that several of the CSs came from failed hit-and-runs. Under Pettis, Hart was 11/13 on the bases, Gwynn was 30/41, and Dave Krynzel was an astonishing 23/27. I say sign him up.
- The hitting coach position will be a much trickier fit. As Jacob has pointed out many times, guys like Wynegar and Yost were not power hitters--for much of their careers, they weren't even good hitters. As a result, they teach what they know: how to make the most of being a bad hitter: hitting the other way, moving the runner over, bunting, blah blah blah.
Of course, the Brewers have many very good hitters who don't need to know how to be bad ones. As frustrating as it can be to watch Bill Hall go up hacking, I'd rather he do that and hit 35 HRs and 40 2Bs next year than change his approach, ratchet up the batting average 20 points, and become a singles hitter. Same goes for guys like Hart, Fielder, Weeks, and to some extent, Gross and JJ Hardy. We need a hitting coach who can teach those guys to take the next step toward becoming great hitters, rather than helping them become better mediocre ones.
I'm afraid Don Money is not that guy. (Kremblas is the odd man out here: he's going to break in to the bigs the next time the Brewers need a 3rd base coach or something.) Robin Yount would be pretty darn good at that job, I think, and I hope he's freely dispensing such advice to our best hitters already.
I would guess, then, that our hitting coach will come from outside the organization, and it'll be awhile before we find one. As usual, I have a brilliant, out-of-the-box idea that probably won't happen, but absolutely should. A manager who may not have a job next year, is one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, and the kind of guy you want in your corner.
He'd probably be a little bit expensive for a hitting coach, to be sure. I don't know whether Robby would be interested in a "demotion," but he may be able to view it as a natural step in the direction of retirement. He's clung to managerial jobs for three decades now, so clearly he's married to the game of baseball. He may be better suited to that job than managing, anyway: he's been quoted saying he "hates pitchers," and I don't think he's joking.
Those of us who are concerned that Brewers hitters are being taught to suck couldn't imagine a better scenario. One Yost may be bad, but two Hall of Famers in the dugout?
- One thing that has occurred to me a couple times in the last few weeks is that, this year, the Brewers are a much less lily-white team than they were even a year ago. In 2004, the non-white portion of the team was Junior Spivey, Bill Hall, and a couple of Dominican pitchers. Now, the pitching staff still looks about the same, but we could have four African-Americans (or more, depending on possible free-agent pickups) in the Opening Day starting lineup in Gwynn, Weeks, Fielder, and Hall.
I bring that up now because the coaching staff is all white. I don't know whether that matters one bit to any of our young African-American stars, but it's worth considering. From everything I've heard, it seems like Weeks, Fielder, and Hall have great relationships with their coaches, but perhaps having Gary Pettis or (dare I dream) Frank Robinson around would be better still.
- I don't know much about Rick Spenner, or whether any of the Brewers injury problems can be blamed on him. If anything, it seems like Damian Miller's current state might have been helped by a strength and conditioning guy. He might have just been the scapegoat for an awful season, health-wise. I was telling my friend Marc about the other firings, and he caught on immediately:
Marc 32155 (10:41:57 AM): Where's your traumatic freak injury coach?
phocion26 (10:42:05 AM): rick spenner. he was axed, too.
That says it all, I think.
- One last thing: something that will haunt your dreams for weeks to come. As you probably know, Dusty Baker is likely to be fired very soon. This article addresses his possible destinations--maybe the Nats after Robinson leaves, maybe San Fran if Felipe Alou retires--which include the following:
If Baker doesn't get a managerial job, he figures to draw interest from ESPN as a baseball analyst.
I don't even have a television, and that horrifies me. If Dusty Baker and Joe Morgan were allowed to talk to each other on the air for more than a 30-second interview, I think my head would explode.
- One more one last thing. The Astros are now a half-game back of the Cardinals, thanks to Roy Oswalt's excellent performance last night and Jason Marquis's disgusting one. The Astros now go to Atlanta to play their final three games. The matchups tonight would seem to favor Houston moving into first place:
- Roger Clemens (7-5, 2.35) vs. Chuck James (10-4, 3.94)
- Chris Capuano (11-11, 3.87) vs. Jeff Weaver (4-4, 5.21)
I'm no Astros fan, but it's tough not to root for a team that comes back from nearly 10 games back with two weeks to play. And of course, if the Brewers swept the Cards (even 3 out of 4 would probably do the trick) to keep St. Louis out of the playoffs, it would make my month.