Last week, Jake Smail wrote about the departure of hitting coach Jeff Branson (and assistant coach Jeff Livesey). While the Pirates may have had some of their best offensive seasons in recent memory under his tenure, that is due more to the talent he had rather than his actual coaching.
Jake also brought this damning quote by Branson from 2017 back to light:
?Obviously, there is something to the launch angles, ? Branson said. ?I ?m not smart enough to figure that out. I don ?t know how to teach it, to be honest. I wouldn ?t know where to start, so I don ?t go there. We ?re going to teach and talk about things we ?re familiar with, things that we know work. Other people can do what they want. ?
Branson couldn’t keep up with the game and it was time for a change. And would you look at that, I have an arbitrary list of six people I wouldn ?t mind being his replacement! What a coincidence!
Here are the factors I looked at while coming up with candidates:
A. Past success- This doesn ?t necessarily have to be as a major league hitting coach, but they have to have done exemplary work in whatever position they held.
B. SABR inclined/accepting- The game is evolving at a rapid pace. Being able to stay at the cutting edge is basically a league wide prerequisite now.
C. Familiarity with organization/current Pirates- This isn ?t essential, but a plus. Knowing who you will be working with can make the transition easier.
D. It ?s a promotion- Let ?s just assume that all non-assistant hitting coaches are happy with their current teams and don ?t want to move. I ?m only going to consider minor league coaches, free agents and current assistant hitting coaches.
Disclaimer: I don ?t have any inside scoops on the search. Take this as ?good names to throw against the wall ? rather than ?serious frontrunners. ?
Albert is the most progressive choice on this list. He is about to complete his first season as the assistant hitting coach for the Houston Astros, and he spent the previous four seasons as their minor league hitting coordinator. In those four years in the farm system, Albert worked with plenty of elite minor leaguers, including Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, George Springer and current Pirate Colin Moran. Moran may not have the ceiling of those other three players, but he still was a top 10 prospect in Houston ?s factory of talent. He can still be an important part of the offense, and Albert could help him reach the potential he showed in AAA in 2017.
Outside of baseball, Albert has a master ?s degree in kinesiology from Louisiana Tech University. To illustrate why that ?s important, look at this swing by Josh Bell:
A human body isn ?t supposed to bend like that. This type of swing is a fairly common occurrence for Bell. Albert can help fix that. If the Pirates really are committed to Bell and Moran as their corner infielders in 2019, Albert seems like the best bet to help them reach their potential.
Banister held a variety of coaching positions within the Pirates ? organization from 1994-2014 before leaving for his first managerial job four seasons ago. While he lead the Rangers to two division titles and an above .500 record in his tenure as their skipper, he was fired in late September. Now a free agent, it would make sense for the Pirates to bring him back.
Banister has shown a willingness to implement what his analytics department has presented to him, so he is a future proof hire. Speaking of the future, Banister was once viewed as the successor to Clint Hurdle. It feels like we ?ve been speculating on his retirement for a couple years now, but I think this is Hurdle ?s final contract as a manager. If the Pirates still think highly of Banister, he can get reacquainted with the people in the organization before a potential promotion.
Barkett ?s first season as the assistant hitting coach in Boston has been a rousing success. The Red Sox are the most improved offense in baseball, and not just because of J.D. Martinez. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogarts and Andrew Benintendi have all bounced back this season, and Barkett deserves some credit for that.
Barkett served as the Pirates ? assistant minor league hitting coordinator in 2016 and Indianapolis Indians manager in 2017, so he has history with the club. There ?s only one downside: the SABR angle. This quote is taken from a story by Christopher Smith of MassLive in January:
“I think Alex was looking for a diverse coaching staff; guys who have a way with people,” Barkett said. “I can’t give you a dissertation on launch angle and exit velocity. My strengths would be more relationships.”
How are launch angles this confusing to coaches after four years of Statcast?
I don’t want to downplay the relationship part of the equation. That’s why Barkett is still on this list. After all, we’re basically looking for “co-coaches,” not necessarily just a “coach/assistant” dynamic. He ?s proved he can pair well with a more data driven partner. If the Pirates want brains and muscle, he can be the muscle.
My ?out of left field ? candidate hasn ?t worn a Pirates uniform since he failed to throw Sid Bream out from left field.
Bonds is a project hitting coach. He only has one year of experience: 2016 with the Marlins. And great players don ?t always great coaches. And he said…this…last week.
Bonds isn ?t a fan of launch angle, and all those strikeouts, but he gets it. ?If someone told me I could get $200 million and hit .220 and strike out 200 times and hit 20 home runs, I ?m going to do that. ?
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) October 12, 2018
That sound you hear in the distance is me screaming into a pillow.
But after disappointing power seasons from lefty bats Moran, Bell and Corey Dickerson, Bonds seems like a good guy to have in the room. Match him up with a good SABR assistant coach and it could be a quality ?Odd Couple ? pairing.
If you would prefer a more traditional former player coach, I ?m a Matt Stairs fan and he ?s available.
Someone had to fall on the sword in Chicago once the Cubs threw away the division and were bounced in the Wild Card round, and Davis drew the short straw. Much has been made about the Cubs ? drop in offense from 2017, but the league as a whole took a step back. The Cubs’ non-pitcher team wRC+ went from 108 to 107 this season, and that ?s even with Kris Bryant being sidelined and slowed down with injuries most of the year. He ?s also considered to be the driving force in Javier Baez ?s leap to MVP candidate this season. Let’s call it a mixed bag.
On the flip side, Cubs players made it clear during their exit interviews that bringing back Davis would be “counterproductive”.
#Cubs source says that player exit-interview feedback against Chili Davis was "too strong to ignore," and it "would have been counterproductive" to go into next season with him. 1/2
— Dan Bernstein (@dan_bernstein) October 11, 2018
That ?s hard to ignore, but the team still hit about as well as they did the year before. He also had a very good run in Oakland when they were a playoff mainstay earlier in the decade. Chicago just might not have been the right fit for him. Pittsburgh seems much more Oakland-like in terms of roster construction than the Cubbies.
Mike Ryan is a good company man. He ?s served as the Altoona Curve manager for the last two seasons, but his current gig is just a stepping stone to a major league coaching job in the future.
Look at all of the players who have had breakout seasons at the dish in AA the last two seasons. Ke ?Bryan Hayes finally had a strong season offensively to go with his Gold Glove defense. Jordan Luplow learned how to translate his raw power to game situations. Kevin Kramer became a top 10 prospect in AA. Jason Martin had a huge season at the dish. Will Craig finally started to put the ball in the air. Bryan Reynolds is more patient at the plate and is drawing walks.
AA is a major step in a player ?s development, and Altoona has been a good environment for hitters these last two seasons. Rewarding the man in charge seems like a good idea. If they don ?t, another team may steal him soon.