Friday, October 24, 2008

My Take on the Nationals' New Coaches

So we have a coaching staff. In addition to hold-over pitching coach Randy St. Claire, we have:
* Bench coach: JIM RIGGLEMAN
* First base coach: MARQUIS GRISSOM
* Third base coach: PAT LISTACH
* Hitting coach: RICK ECKSTEIN
* Bullpen coach: RANDY KNORR
My reaction is... who cares? Coaches have a marginal impact at best. I've never seen any study showing anything but thin anecdotal evidence that coaches have any consistent impact on the performance of their players. The studies I've seen looking at the impact of managers show that the gap between the absolute very best and worst in the league is a difference of only a handful of wins. The value of coaches I suspect is well nigh undetectable statistically.

Casey Stengel said, "Managing is getting paid for home runs someone else hits." If that's true, then coaching is getting paid for sitting down and scratching yourself next to the guy getting paid for home runs someone else hits.

Does a team even need coaches at all? Personally, if I was commissioner I'd get rid of first base coaches and third base coaches and let the players make their own decisions about when to run or not. Overall I bet teams would do no worse, and it would be more fun. I suppose otherwise coaches serve some purpose, although again it's probably 90% just babysitting a bunch of guys, many of whom have the emotional maturity of 13-year-olds.

I guess it's good we have the jobs filled, but it never made sense to blame the likes of Lenny Harris for the awful performances of the talentless mass on the field, and it would be foolish to expect that there's going to be a measurable improvement on the field as a result of these hires. Even if Lenny was the worst hitting coach in the history of baseball (and perhaps he was), my hunch is that he didn't cost us more than a fraction of a win over the course of his entire tenure.

Bottom line, I'm just left shaking my head that wholesale firing of the furniture we call the coaching staff is all the accountability we're going to get for the disaster of 2008.


Will said...

I think you're really underestimating the value of good coaches. Have you ever played baseball?

Obviously the coaches beside the manager aren't as important as the actual manager, but a good hitting coach or a good pitching coach can make an enormous impact. Don't give me this BS about studies. There's a reason why so many washed-up, seemingly no-good pitchers have performed well in St. Louis. Dave Duncan is an excellent coach. Same thing goes with hitters. There's a reason why all of our hitters sucked last year.

Steven said...

You're right there's a reason why most (not all--you didn't like Dukes's line?) of our hitters sucked. Most of them suck. But there's no evidence that Lenny's responsible for that. There's no consistent change in approach or team-wide pattern of underperforming or overperforming. For every underperforming WMP you have Willie Harris or Ron Belliard or Anderson Hernandez. Zimmerman was hurt, got healthy, and was the same guy he'd always been. Etc., etc.

If Duncan or any other coach has an "enormous impact," you should see a consistent, measurable, ENORMOUS difference in the performance of pitchers with and without Duncan. This should be statistically measurable, not just anecdotal. If it doesn't show up in the stats, then it's not there.

Dave Duncan may be a brilliant guy, and from all accounts he's as good at his job as anyone can be, but anecdotal evidence about Chris Carpenter or Braden Looper isn't all that compelling. How come Joel Piniero was better in Seattle than he is in St. L.? Explain how Anthony Reyes put up a 1.83 ERA in Cleveland after leaving St. L.? Why was Jason Marquis's worst season in St. L.? Why was Jeff Weaver better in LA than in St. L.?

Now, these are stupid anecdotal examples I'm throwing out that mean nothing. Just as anecdotal examples about Todd Wellemeyer doesn't mean much.

Show me data showing a pattern correlating between coaching and performance, and I'll care.

Will said...

My point is just that your question of whether teams even need coaches at all is ridiculous. Players haven't reached their full potential when they reach the big leagues. I'd like to see how bad Lastings Milledge would have been in center field had he not worked with whoever the outfielders' coach was.

I'm in high school. Why don't we get rid of teachers? Because I can't learn everything on my own. And I can tell you that when I have a good teacher, just like when I've had good baseball coaches, I've performed much better than I have under lousy ones.

ckstevenson said...

Steven, in this time of electuions let us remember that perceptions of action are worth more than real action. It's change for change's sake.

However, it is great to have Marquis back with the franchise. I loved him and Delino and Larry.

Wil Nieves said...

Although it is against my professional best interests to say so, I do love the (occasional) stolen base. Apparently Manny and Jim Bowden do as well, judging from the stats on some of these guys. Maybe they can help Lastings get his caught stealing percentage under control. And, look at it this way, although maybe the new coaches won't help us, they can't hurt...

JayB said...

Interesting thoughts…………….
Baseball without base coaches is not something I have thought of....... I must say that just as you know that if no statistical study has been done to show that coaches matter, I know coaching does matter, a lot......One thing I do agree with you is that more than the coaching staff needs to be held accountable for 2008......Jimbo is still my number one problem, followed closely by Acta.

Steven said...

My position isn't that coaches don't matter at all. My position is that the difference between the value of a great coach and a bad coach is marginal.

The question "how much worse would Milledge have been..." is a great question. Defensive positioning is a really quite subtle part of the game, and averaged out over the course of the season, the difference between perfect defensive positioning and really bad defensive positioning is worth maybe 2-3 runs over the course of the whole season. After that, it's all LMillz.

You need to have someone stand there and do the job of providing encouragement, reminding players about some basic principles, but that the perfect, ideal coach can't have more than a fraction of a win's worth of difference total over the course of a whole season.

Hence, who cares?

JayB said...

I think you are over simplifying the issues. It could be that there are so many variables and the people doing the few studies on coaches impact do not have the model right….it can not be just wins or runs scored….just more complicated than that in my view. You have to have controls and those are hard to come by during a MLB season.

Do you contend that Managers do not matter either? I know that Acta caused losses by playing Kearns, Lopez and WMP day after day after day……

Steven said...

If I have time I'll look at a guy like Dave Duncan and look at the ERA of every guy he's ever had with him and without him and see what we come up with.

Jayb-really what we'd need is a way to have 2 equally matched teams and have them play each otehr 1000 times, one team with a hitting coach and the other with none, and then we could see how many games the hitting coach is worth. I'd bet that the series would be a 500-500 split, but we'll never know.

Dave Nichols said...

Steven, usually we think a lot alike, but in this instance i think you're off base.

the main thing that coaches are responible for, other than technical instruction and adjustment, is motivation. and while the former is important, the latter is critical, and one of the place most lacking with the Nats last year.

baseball coaches are part teacher, part drill sergeant, part mommy and part svengali. they are the manager's conduit to the players. they help impart the consistant message of the organization.

and the primary function of MLB coaches today is motivation. the Nats are full of young players from drastically divergent backgrounds that need to have their attention focused at all times, and last year's coaching staff had lost the ability to keep many of those young players properly focused--they tuned out.

Grissom, and to a lesser degree, Listach, are recently retired players that are still relevant, and that will go a long way in helping the message get through.

Knorr and Eckstein both come out of the organization, where most of these guys actually played for these guys, so the players already know and trust them.

so yes, i think it does matter. and i think for the most part, the Nats got it right--for now.

Steven said...

@Dave--Actually I agree with pretty much everything you said. Coaches are mostly about motivation. Pep talks. Mommy. Exactly. And it's needed. But the difference between a good mommy and a bad mommy isn't more than a fraction of a win over the course of the whole season. I'm not saying they don't matter at all, just that the gap between a good coach and a bad coach is hardly measurable. Maybe you still disagree, but again I think you'd be hard pressed to show any hitting coach or pitching coach who has consistently gotten better performance from their players than those guys got elsewhere.

JayB said...


I think your comment is correct....."we will never know"..... thus I am not sure why you keep saying with certainty that coaches matter less than 1 win a season......does not seem to match up with the facts that no valid study exists......oh well if that is what you think then that is just as valid as what I think.....I would say 10 wins a season between the best coaching staff and the worst coaching staff for a young team like the Nats.

Steven said...

Wow really? 10 wins?

That'd be double the value of turning Tim Redding into Jake Peavy.

Here's the math: Redding's 08 VORP is 3.1, and Peavy's was 51.5, in nearly the same number of innings (Redding pitched 8.1 more). So that's a difference of 48.4 runs saved by swapping Redding for Peavy. In '08, the Nats scored 641 and allowed 825 runs for a Pythagorean record of 62-99. Subtract those 48.4 runs, and the Pythagorean record climbs to 67-94, a gain of 5 wins.

You really think that the coaches, not even with the manager, just the coaches, have enough influence to turn TWO Redding-caliber players into Peavy-caliber players?

Dave Nichols said...

the coaches may not factor in adding wins (a la turning Reddings into Peavys) like that. but it's their job to help certain multiple players develop, and we have several that can still develop, over the course of time.

there are certain coaches that have had extended "success" in the big leagues (such as Dave Duncan, Rick Peterson, Charlie Lau, etc.) but you are correct in that it's extremely difficult to place a win number on the quality of coaching.

JayB said...


Not sure I buy the run differential theory when you apply it to individual players contributions to teams. It might work for overall team numbers but something tells me that Peavy on the Nats is worth more than 5 wins.....guys play harder and they are more focused when a top pitcher is on the mound. Opposing hitters outlook is changed. Game is crisper and errors tend to not happen as much. Hitters focus more from their first AB to the end because they feel they have a chance to win.

My 10 wins is for coaches only and on a team like the Nats that lead the league in errors, were clueless about situational hitting, bunting, base running and working the count.

Yup I still say 10 wins.....that would make them 69 wins and 92 loses......with a team that would have made progress from April through Sept with the best coaches working with them unlike the 2008 Nats who just never improved as the season went on with what unnamed sources called the worst coaching staff in baseball.

My 10 wins my sound high but understand you less than 1 win sounds very wrong to me.