On Sunday night, news broke out of the Domincan Republic that Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, along with his girlfriend Edilio Arvelo, had passed away in a car accident. I was hoping that it wasn’t true — probably like many of you — that it was one of those rumors somehow spread via social media that turns out to be a vicious hoax or some type of misunderstanding. As you certainly know by now, the story was confirmed and reported by Ken Rosenthal during the World Series, serving as a somber reminder that sometimes the escape that we call sports doesn’t always comply with our wishes. Taveras, a consensus top-three prospect over the last few years, was just 22 years old (his girlfriend 18) and had his whole career — and more so, his whole life — ahead of him. It’s a tragic, jarring loss, even though similar accidents and untimely deaths happen countless times each day. The fact that we’re part of a community — baseball fans in general and/or prospect hounds more specifically — in which Taveras played a prominent role makes his loss stand out, triggering all of those age old questions about life, and death, and things we don’t understand. Condolences to the family and friends of both Taveras and Arvelo, along with the entire Cardinals organization.
Now, on a much lighter note, let’s discuss some news and notes in and around Padres land.
Joe Maddon speculation … commence!
Our continued focus on moves that might affect the Padres indirectly — like Andrew Friedman going to LA and the D’Backs front office shake-up — shifts to discussing Joe Maddon’s abrupt departure as Tampa Bay Rays manager. Maddon, who had amassed a .517 winning percentage and an America League pennant in nine years with the Rays, exercised an opt-out in his contract on Saturday that allowed him to walk away from his deal if Andrew Friedman left the Rays.
The immediate speculation was that Maddon, one of the game’s most respected managers, would take over as skipper for the Dodgers, reuniting with Friedman in LA and ousting Don Mattingly. Mattingly, despite two straight 90-win seasons, is firmly entrenched on the managerial wobbly chair with an early playoff exit in 2014 and an ongoing power struggle with right fielder Yasiel Puig. That narrative took a bit of a turn when Friedman issued this statement on Saturday:
As I said last week, Joe and I enjoyed a tremendous relationship working together in Tampa Bay, and I wish him nothing but the best, wherever his next stop will be. However, nothing has changed on our end. Don Mattingly will be our manager next season and hopefully for a long time to come.
With Maddon now essentially a free agent manager and the big spending Dodgers apparently out of the mix (at least for this year), you’ve got to ask yourself: why couldn’t Maddon’s next destination be San Diego?
Bud Black has spent the last eight years with the Padres, though his resume doesn’t shine quite as brightly as Maddon’s — just a .476 winning percentage, no better than second place in the division, and no trips to the postseason. With that said, Black hasn’t had the talent that Maddon’s had in Tampa Bay, making a head-to-head comparison mostly fruitless.
Black has his pluses as a manager and they mostly revolve around handling a pitching staff, which perhaps isn’t a surprise given that his track-record includes former major league pitcher and pitching coach. He’s also praised for being a players’ manager and All-Around Nice Guy, which are both not so unimportant traits in a job that involves managing 25-plus egos on the field (not to mention, dealing with front office executives off it). On the other hand, lineup order, an overeagerness to surrender outs, and his low tolerance handling of young players stand out as weaknesses in Black’s managing style.
With just one year remaining on his contract, not to mention coming off another disappointing season and with a new general manager in place, Black’s future in San Diego seemed in doubt until AJ Preller gave him his vote of confidence in September. That was before Maddon became available, of course, so there’s no telling how much that changes the equation for Preller and company.
The Cubs seem to be generating the most buzz for Maddon’s services*, but they’re coming off a surprisingly good (read: 73-win) season in which rookie manager Rick Renteria led a young, generally overmatched roster toward respectability. Other logical contenders include the Mets, Twins, and Angels (or maybe not). Reports say that Madden is looking for a five-year deal worth roughly $25 million, which would make him — along with the Angels Mike Scioscia — the highest paid manager in the game.
*As Matt Mirro of Friars On Base discusses in that article, Maddon going to the Cubs would likely make current Cubs manager and former Padres coach Rick Renteria available, and he could also be an intriguing potential hire for San Diego.
Okay, so considering that price tag and Preller’s comments on Black, the Padres are probably at best a dark horse candidate to land Maddon. Still, it’s impossible to know how Preller values a manager, and while $5 million a year sounds like a lot for a non-player, even if Maddon provides one or two wins more than the average manager per season (which is certainly possible) that deal could be entirely worth it. Plus, Maddon’s wife lives in Southern California, so there’s that.
My guess: He ends up sitting out 2015, taking an analysts role with MLB Network or ESPN, and waits to see how things play out in LA and other potential destinations of note next season.
Josh Byrnes … to the Dodgers?
There hasn’t been much talk about this since it was originally reported well over a week ago, but it appears that Josh Byrnes — former Padres and D’Backs general manager — hasn’t finished his tour of the NL West, emerging as the clear favorite for the Dodgers GM role. It’s hard to imagine that any GM in any major sport has worked for three* division rivals, without any interruptions in between stops. Kind of strange, to say the least, but I guess it says something about familiarity.
*Byrnes was also the assistant GM for the Rockies in the late-’90s. When Brian Sabean and the Giants part ways, we know who will fill that role.
Byrnes tenure in San Diego has obviously been much dissected around these parts and the rest of the Padres blogosphere, and like his time in Arizona, it’s probably best described with one word: confounding. There was plenty of good, mostly involving a series of deft trades that acquired the likes of Ian Kennedy, Jesse Hahn, Seth Smith, and Tyson Ross on the cheap.
But there were plenty of negatives, too. The whole Mat Latos–Anthony Rizzo–Yonder Alonso–Andrew Cashner shuffle hasn’t exactly worked out well, though Cashner, along with the likes of Yasmani Grandal, can still turn that deal in the Padres favor. And many of the extensions signed under Byrnes’ watch, although most of them were more than defensible at the time, went disastrously wrong. Further, the farm system, which was often touted for its overflowing talent, failed to produce consistent results. Oh, and all those injuries, up and down the organization.
How much of those negative points go squarely on Byrnes’ shoulders? That’s impossible to answer, but it’s fair to say that he deserves some of the blame while also acknowledging that luck wasn’t exactly on his side. In his potential new role in LA, it’s easy to see how things might turn out better. With a strong front office already in place and plenty of money to go around, Byrnes might be able to specialize in trades and smaller-scale moves without having to necessarily run the entire ship — that’ll be Friedman’s gig.
Speaking of former Padres GMs, the speculation about Kevin Towers possibly returning to San Diego in a front office role can probably end, as he’s expected to join the Reds as an assistant to GM Walt Jocketty.
Sam Geaney scouts the Cal League
As Kevin noted last week, AJ Preller and the Padres hired Sam Geaney, former Athletics coordinator of international scouting, to be the Padres new director of player development. There are plenty of interesting things about Geaney, a couple of which Kevin discussed: he’s only 29 years old and, not only that, but he’d been with the A’s for eight-plus years.
But more interesting, to me anyway, than Geaney’s age or meteoric rise through the A’s front office is the website, calleaguers.com, that he launched back when he was attending grad school at the University of California. Geaney’s website is no longer active, but some of its pages were archived by the Internet Wayback Machine, allowing us a glimpse at some of his early scouting work.
On his old site, Geaney scouted (in great detail) plenty of current stars like Felix Hernandez, Troy Tulowitzki, and Nelson Cruz, along with current Padres like Carlos Quentin and Rene Rivera. On one page, Geaney listed all of the games that he attended in 2004 (115) and 2005 (118). If I have my hashtags correct, I believe you can classify that under #want.
Baseball’s a hard sport to get into, with so many people with so many different backgrounds willing to work for peanuts. Geaney’s entrepreneurial approach at a young age — creating a website, writing up hundreds of scouting reports, and attending 25 Cal League games a month — makes you wonder what he’s capable of now.
Add Logan White, too
Note: Kevin discussed this news yesterday, as well.
AJ Preller has already retooled his player development staff, hired Don Welke, Chris Kemp, and, as mentioned above, Sam Geaney to front office positions. Yesterday news broke that Preller has wrangled longtime Dodgers executive Logan White away from the Dodgers. You may remember White as an outside contender for the Padres GM position. From his Dodgers bio:
Prior to being promoted to Assistant GM in 2007, White served as the Director of Amateur Scouting for the Dodgers for five seasons. In that role, he headed up the draft selections or signings of 22 players, including three All-Stars, who have appeared in the Major Leagues for the Dodgers over the past four seasons – Tony Abreu, Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, Blake DeWitt, Scott Elbert, A.J. Ellis, Chin-lung Hu, Eric Hull, Kenley Jansen, Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Andy LaRoche, Brent Leach, James Loney, Russell Martin, James McDonald, Russ Mitchell, Xavier Paul, Eric Stults, Ramon Troncoso, Cory Wade and Delwyn Young. Along with his staff of amateur scouts, White’s history of success in the draft helped lead to the Dodgers being named Baseball America’s 2006 Organization of the Year.
White’s current role with LA was vice president of amateur scouting, and his previous roles with the organization include assistant GM and director of amateur scouting. He worked for the Padres from 1993-’95 as West Coast supervisor. Dustin Nosler of Dodgers Digest has a detailed report on White’s draft history, as well as some comments about his involvement in LA’s very active international program.
While the Dodgers have added Andrew Friedman and potentially Josh Byrnes to an already talented front office ensemble, they’ve also lost head of player development De Jon Watson to the D’Backs and now White to the Padres. If there was any question about how much AJ Preller valued scouting and development, it’s been answered.
Petco consumes another hitting coach
Since Petco Park opened in 2004, the Padres have gone through six different hitting coaches, with Phil Plantier being the latest to get the ax. Meanwhile, pitching coach Darren Balsley has been in his role since 2003. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Padres weren’t justified in firing some of those hitting coaches or that Balsley isn’t an excellent pitching coach, but it does suggest that one of those two jobs is probably more difficult than the other.
Even after adjusting for Petco’s run-suppressing ways, the Padres offense in 2014 was the worst in the majors and tied (with 2011) for the worst Padres offense in the Petco era (by OPS+, anyway). What’s interesting, though, is that the Padres offense since Petco opened, as a whole, hasn’t really been that bad. Sure, a cumulative 94 wRC+ isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s 19th in the majors and not a far cry off from teams like the Braves, Dodgers, and A’s.
Either way, major league coaches are often the first people to take the blame for struggles, before managers or general managers eventually take the fall. And while it’s nearly impossibly difficult to isolate a hitting coach’s importance to a group of major league hitters, some studies* indicate that their impact may be more sizable than you’d imagine. So with a new GM in house and a terrible offensive season in the immediate rear-view mirror, it isn’t surprising to see that Preller is looking in a different direction for 2015, even if Plantier isn’t entirely to blame for the Padres hitting woes.
Interestingly, assistant hitting coach Alonzo Powell will be retained for next season, and he’s in running for the full-time job.
*That study by Russell Carleton of Baseball Prospectus concludes:
- Just like with pitching coaches, hitting coaches can have a very big impact on a team, and at a very small cost. Even if the results I’m finding here are twice as big as they really are, the best hitting coach can be worth two wins. Not bad.
- Hitting coaches appear to have much more effect on whether or not hitters take a more aggressive or more passive approach at the plate than teaching them actual pitch selectivity.
- Hitting coaches also seem to be divided into those who teach hitters to put the ball into play and those who encourage a three-true-outcomes approach, although which one of the three true outcomes the hitter will see more of is something of a crapshoot.
A note on Rene Rivera and stolen bases
Last week in my article about Yasmani Grandal, I mentioned a somewhat interesting factoid:
For what it’s worth, teams ran most frequently on Rene Rivera despite his above average 36 percent CS clip, which is interesting and perhaps deserves more attention in another article.
I had cooked up a quick-and-dirty stat to measure stolen base frequency, which was simply stolen base attempts per 1,000 innings. Innings is an unsatisfying denominator there for a number of reasons, and thankfully Baseball Reference has stolen base opportunities for each catcher, which is simply defined as “plate appearances through which a runner was on first or second with the next base open.” How does Rivera rate in this category, you ask?
Among catchers with at least 500 stolen base opportunities against in 2014, which left a total of 51 backstops, Rivera ranks tied in first place with John Baker and Hank Conger in stolen base frequency against. Here’s a table that includes the top and bottom five:
Yasmani Grandal, for what it’s worth, had a six percent stolen bases against rate which, despite his ugly 13 percent CS% last year, put him right in the middle part of the league.
You’ll notice there isn’t a huge gap between the most and least run on catchers — from seven or eight percent up top to three or four percent at the bottom. You’ll also notice that some of these guys seem out of place. Wilin Rosario — and his 16 percent CS percentage — is tied with Yadier Molina for the lowest SBA%? Rivera is run on frequently despite his well above average caught stealing percentage? There are a number of potential reasons for these oddities:
Run environment – Runners probably don’t steal much on Rosario not because he’s a great thrower, but because he plays a lot of his games in Colorado, where the price of a caught stealing is ultra high. On the opposite end of the spectrum, runners may go more frequently against Rivera because many of his games take place in a lower run environment in plenty of tight, low scoring match-ups.
Pitchers – Another factor that can have a large impact on these numbers, whether simply because of lefty/righty splits or due to each pitcher’s inherent ability to hold runners. Rivera, for instance, caught Tyson Ross in many of his games. Ross ranked third in the majors, behind both Scott Feldman and AJ Burnett in both categories, in both stolen bases allowed (31) and stolen base attempts against (41). That didn’t hurt Ross too badly because Rivera (and company) were able to nail 10 of those runners, but it’s something to watch going forward.
A bunch of other factors – Stuff like the speed of the runners, the score of the games, the counts on the batters, and the opposing team’s stolen base tendencies (among many other things) are all going to have different affects on these numbers.
In the end, Rivera’s SBA% probably doesn’t say too much about him, other than illustrating that despite being run on frequently mostly due to reasons out of his control, he’s plenty able to hold his own in stifling would-be base thieves. Not that we didn’t know that already.