Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A Post on Coaches

Was reading the latest post from the great Joe Posnanski about cycles and the Great Pos mentioned Rich Gedman, the former Boston Red Sox catcher. The great thing about reading great writers is that they promote thought and the first thought concerning Gedman was that he was once a great catcher who seemed to go down the tubes due to bad coaching. Coaching in the major leagues is hardly ever mentioned. We all hear about the manager but seldom about coaches. Some seem to be brilliant and other just seem to cause more harm than good. Let's see where this post goes from here.

Let's go back to Rich Gedman. Gedman was a Worcester, Massachusetts native that became a free agent amateur, something you don't see very often. He made his debut with the Red Sox at the age of 21 in 1980. He came in second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1981 as he batted .288. He regressed a bit in 1982 but came back strong in 1983, batting .294. He was a platoon catcher those first three years but in 1984, he became the full time catcher and though his average went down a bit, he hit 24 homers and posted a respectable .818 OPS. He was even better the following year (1985) when he made the All Star team and posted his career best .846 OPS to go along with a .295 Batting average. Then the Red Sox hired Walter Hriniak as its batting coach.

Hriniak was a disciple of the great Charlie Lau, who is often credited with making George Brett the kind of hitter he became with the Kansas City Royals. Lau's theories had to do with staying back in the stance with all the weight on the back foot and exploding into the pitch. It is certainly hard to know if Lau made Brett or if Brett made Brett, but Lau was the hitting guru of the period and as baseball is trendy by rule (look how many pitchers now throw the splitter), teams were scouring the land for Lau disciples. Walter Hriniak was one of those and the Red Sox turned to him.

Ted Williams hated what Hriniak taught. Williams felt that Hriniak's teaching robbed players of their power especially by taking the upper hand off the bat at the end of the swing and trying to hit everything up the middle. In fairness, Wade Boggs and Dwight Evans, two pretty darned good hitters gave Hriniak credit for their success and participated in Hriniak's book on the the subject. Gedman did too, which is amazing as Hriniak probably ruined his career.

The Fan watched all the Red Sox games back then. It was the early days of cable and we in New Hampshire got to see all of the Red Sox games on Channel 38 (pre-NESN days). Gedman always seemed to be an aggressive hitter with a fluid and easy swing. But in 1986, things changed. And the Fan noticed. Gedman's swings began to look like practice swings where he was thinking more about the mechanics of the thing instead of letting it happen. His average fell to .258 and his OPS dropped .107 points.

It got worse from there as Gedman never hit again above .212! And he was done as an effective major league player. The Fan has always thought to this day that Hriniak ruined Rich Gedman.

Jeff Pearlman wrote a book about the 1986 Mets called, "The Bad Guys Won." The book also has a ridiculously long subtitle that won't be repeated here. The book was hugely entertaining. For us to stay on point for this post, one of the assertions Pearlman made in the book was that Mel Stottlemyer, one of the most revered men in baseball, tinkered with Doc Gooden and lessened his effectiveness. According to Pearlman, despite the amazing season Gooden had in 1985, Stottlemyer, his pitching coach didn't like his release point and his arm angle and worked on them.

Pearlman's report is backed up by circumstantial evidence. Gooden gained more than a run a game on his ERA and was not as dominant a strikeout pitcher and never was again. But can Gooden's loss of "stuff" be blamed on Stottlemyer or on drugs or simply on the fact that Gooden was required to throw so many pitches so early in his career? Who knows.

A recent blog post (might have been Buster Olney) was discussing the problems Oliver Perez was having with the Mets. One of the suggestions the post mentioned as a possibility was the Mets bringing back deposed pitching coach, Rick Peterson, because he was regarded as the reason why Perez had so much success in 2007. The suggestion was that Perez flourished under Peterson and maybe Peterson could get Perez back to that place.

Many of the Dodgers young hitters credit Don Mattingly for their development. Most point to the development of Kemp and Ethier and point to Donny Baseball.

The Fan thinks that coaches are a lot like managers. They get more credit than they probably deserve and more blame than they deserve. There are good ones and there are bad ones. Most are probably paid pretty well and have a pretty good life. But they are one of the overlooked aspects of the game. They work with infielders, outfielders, hitters, pitchers. They throw batting practice or spend countless hours hitting fungos to guys on the field. But they are hardly talked about.

Here are a couple of suggestions to fix that. How about a player-based vote on the game's best coaches? The players (and managers) could vote and select the Coach of the Year. How about if those same players and managers voted for coaches for the All Star game instead of having a bunch of managers filling out the All Star coaching staff?

It just seems right that more "ink" be given this bunch of the major leagues' silent staff. Some of us Fans would like to know more about who is good and who is not.

1 comment:

Josh Borenstein said...

Yeah, I've heard about Gedman from other Red Sox fans. Kind of sad. Catchers who can rake are rare. Rarer still are catchers who can rake for a long time.

What's happened to Oliver Perez is the exact same thing that happened to Rich Hill last year. They both have completely lost their command. Hill was fun to watch, when he was on. His hook was like vintage Zito's. Probably good for him to get out of Chicago and try to get it together in a smaller market like Baltimore.