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The need for more coaching continuity

Nov 12, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT

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The Nationals can’t begrudge Trent Jewett for leaving the organization and accepting a job as the Mariners’ new bench coach. Jewett has longstanding ties to Lloyd McClendon and wanted to become the new Seattle manager’s right-hand man, giving up his third base coaching job in D.C.

There’s nothing wrong with that, and the Nationals won’t hold it against Jewett.

But Jewett’s departure does leave Washington searching for another third base coach, yet again. If it feels like there has been a change over there every offseason, you’re not far removed from reality. Incredibly, the man who replaces Jewett will become the Nationals’ seventh different third base coach in 10 seasons.

Dave Huppert held the job in the inaugural 2005 season before being let go. Tony Beasley replaced him in 2006 but left to rejoin the Pirates organization the following year. Tim Tolman was Manny Acta’s choice to coach third base in 2007 and survived two seasons before former GM Jim Bowden forced a change and hired Pat Listach in 2009. Listach left for the Cubs after two years, at which point the Nationals brought in Bo Porter. Porter did a nice job during the 2011-12 seasons but then was named manager of the Astros, leading to Jewett’s move across the diamond this year.

That’s a lot of turnover for one coaching position over a decade. And the thing is, similar scenarios have played out at nearly every other position on the Nationals’ staff.

The Nats have employed five bench coaches, five hitting coaches, six bullpen coaches and seven first base coaches since arriving in town in 2005. The only position of stability throughout that time has been pitching coach, a title that to date has been held by only two men: Randy St. Claire (2005-09) and Steve McCatty (2009-present).

That can’t be considered good for an organization’s long-term health.

Mike Rizzo has talked numerous times over the years about establishing continuity throughout the organization, about establishing a “Nationals Way.” He has done an impressive job building up the franchise’s reputation, mostly through the scouting and player development operations.

Perhaps now it’s time to try to establish some continuity on the big-league coaching staff. It starts with the manager, who needs to be in this for the long haul. Davey Johnson wasn’t. Matt Williams certainly could be. It’s not far-fetched to envision a scenario in which Williams, currently 47 years old, holds this job well into his 50s.

Can Rizzo keep the rest of the coaching staff together throughout Williams’ tenure? That remains to be seen. Some use coaching jobs as stepping stones to bigger and better things, often with other organizations. But there have been plenty of cases of staffs staying together for many years, especially those tied to a particular manager. Tony LaRussa had Dave Duncan, Dave McKay, Jose Oquendo and others by his side in St. Louis. Jim Leyland had Gene Lamont, McClendon, Rafael Belliard and others with him in Detroit.

The Nationals certainly seem to be making an effort to build some continuity now, with the vast majority of Johnson’s staff (including McCatty and bench coach Randy Knorr) staying to become part of Williams’ staff. But they now find themselves in the market for a new third base coach. Yet again.

They can only hope the man they ultimately select will hold this position longer than any of his six predecessors. It won’t take much; all he has to do is survive more than two seasons.

  1. nats128 - Nov 12, 2013 at 7:59 AM

    While continuity is great, many posters here suggested the need for a new 3rd base coach and reassign a new coaching position to Jewett anyway and that may make it an addition by subtraction after all.

  2. Theophilus T.S. - Nov 12, 2013 at 8:11 AM

    This is a strange article. With all due respect to our host, last summer he was telling us that all of the important teaching is done at the minor league level and by the time these players reach the majors they are pretty much impervious to learning anything, at least from hitting coaches. I’m in favor of teaching “a Nationals way” but the minors in fact are where that needs to be done and, by the way, a lot of players are still reaching the majors with a lot of rough pots on their games. With Jewett, Knorr, McCatty, Schu and now LeCroy the Nats have done a lot of promoting from within and have in fact fostered a lot of continuity between their minor league and major league teaching teams. We can only assume that eventually all of the lessons that have been pounded into the players’ heads from the minor league level on will blossom and they will finally learn to not run into outs or overthrow the cut-off man, how to hold runners on base, how to foul off close pitches until you get one you can handle, and how to not roll over every pitch into a 6-4-3 double play. Putting a new 3B coach (or 1B coach) into the mix does not seriously jeopardize that kind of continuity. In a post yesterday I opined that 3B coaches are essentially fungible (and 1B coaches probably more so). What’s important is how they fit into the day-to-day teaching that should be important.

    I’m guessing the Nats will move Tarasco to 3B, because he knows the Nats’ players — as baserunners — and has absorbed the team’s scouting Bible on opposing outfielders. It seems they maybe need someone to teach infield, if that was Jewett’s specialty. DeRosa being unavailable is unfortunate but they might be able to pick up a recently retired infielder, e.g., Alex Cora, who could serve well in that capacity (and has more of a future on the field than on a television set).

    • Theophilus T.S. - Nov 12, 2013 at 8:13 AM

      Self-wrist slap for not proof reading. What I meant was “teaching that should be going on.”

      • Doc - Nov 12, 2013 at 11:16 AM

        Actually Theo, they did hire an infield coach.

        Mark Weidemaier came from Arizona along with Williams to handle all things defense.

        Jewett, a former catcher, apparently handled the C’s.

  3. NatsLady - Nov 12, 2013 at 8:34 AM

    I’m trying to remember which new 3B coach/former minor-league manager I heard interviewed yesterday, but he offered the following tidbit.

    When he was managing in the minor-leagues, he was his on 3B coach (as is customary) and he called his own games, flashed his own signals. As a 3B coach in the majors, he now has to keep up with and transmit signals for someone else’s game, which adds an extra level of difficulty.

    IOW, he has to pay attention not only to runners, outfielders, etc., but to the dugout. And the game strategy doesn’t go directly from his head to the players, but from the manager’s or bench coach’s head to him and then to the players.

    Bottom line, you don’t want a complete dummy as a 3B coach.

    • NatsLady - Nov 12, 2013 at 8:34 AM

      make that “he was his OWN 3B coach.”

    • Candide - Nov 12, 2013 at 8:59 AM

      Fair enough, but what are the 3rd base coach’s duties, apart from sending stop/go signals to runners and relaying signs from the bench? I assume he does a lot more with the players and the manager both before and after the game. Probably varies from team to team. Work on drills? Organize poker games on team flights?

      As to the churn in Nats coaches, I wonder if there’s something of an exception to the Peter Principle here. The Peter Principle says that in an organization, talent keeps getting promoted until it reaches its level of incompetence, at which point it stops getting promoted. In baseball, when it reaches its level of incompetence, it (usually) gets fired; you may get a second chance (Manny Acta?) but GMs and owners generally won’t tolerate a long term failure. Presumably, the Mariners didn’t regard Jewett as being incompetent at third, and promoted him, though one might argue that going from being the third base coach on a good team to being the bench coach on a lousy team isn’t much of a promotion.

      • NatsLady - Nov 12, 2013 at 9:12 AM

        One interesting thing about the Mariner’s situation is that Detroit conducted a managerial search and didn’t select McClendon, going instead with a young “novice”–just as the Nats didn’t select Jewett and went with Williams. (I wasn’t the first to point this out). So two guys with experience are going to Seattle. Worth watching.

        According to the preliminary schedule, we play the M’s in their house at the very end of August. A lot will be sorted out by then.

      • Candide - Nov 12, 2013 at 12:57 PM

        NatsLady – Jewett is only two years older than Williams, FWIW.

  4. DaveB - Nov 12, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    With all due respect, I think continuity at one particular coaching position is a completely artificial measurement of organizational stability. The implication here that coaches are turning over almost every year seems to be misleading … I’m curious both what the average tenure of a coach has been (e.g., Trent was on the coaching staff for 5 years … I’m not sure it matters that much that he rotates thru various positions in terms of being able to convey the “Nationals Way”), and alternatively the inverse metric of what percentage of the coaching staff has turned over each year. The one position where I think stability is probably more critical is the pitching coach as that is presumably a more unique skill set, and that has been quite stable. On those metrics, I wonder how the Nats compare to other teams?

  5. Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 12, 2013 at 10:01 AM

    I hear the Cubs want Rendon as a central piece of a trade for Samardjia. I say NO BLEEPING WAY! 2 years of Samardzija for 6 full seasons of Rendon plus the Cubs want a MiLB or Rookie pitcher is nuts.

    Samardjia is a 4.23 ERA as a starter and is as consistent as EJax. The only reason you would take him is for upside and if he had tremendous upside the Cubs would keep him as they desperately need starting pitching.

    Samardzija of course looks great to Nats fans as he has a lifetime 2.35 ERA against the Nats and a cool nickname—Shark. Against the rest of the NL East he has 95 full innings and a combined ERA north of 6.00! Yes, small sample sizes but the 4.23 ERA as a starter is over 66 games and he will be 29 when the season starts. He isn’t young.

    Please Rizzo, you are 0-2 in your last 2 big starter signings (EJax and Haren) , don’t make it 0-3.

    • NatsLady - Nov 12, 2013 at 10:26 AM

      I would rather have Scherzer than Price or Samardzija. Just my opinon, haven’t looked at stats or what it would cost. If you trade Rendon, then you have to pay Cano. If you trade Span (plus prospects), then you have to pay Ellsbury or Choo.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 12, 2013 at 10:43 AM

      Speaking to someone in the know, he feels the more names Rizzo can attach himself to helps in negotiating for his #1 guy which is David Price. We all know that the Ray’s GM Andrew Friedman only wants young cost effective players which would include names like Giolito, Rendon and Goodwin and doesn’t care about that Rizzo has other options as a divergence tactic. I think he will see right through that. Any trade with Tampa will be painful.

      Again, starting pitching wasn’t the issue with the 2013 Nats sans Haren. The issues were bench, corner defense, 1st base production, and front of the bullpen and an effective #5.

      To trade away a future batting champ like Rendon who is just in the acclamation faze of his career creates a hole that is huge to fill. You have to be real careful to fill a need and create another hole in the process.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 12, 2013 at 10:49 AM

        NatsLady, the other alternative is to stick to FA and look to July 31 trade deadline if there is a hole to fill. I like trades of blocked players not the future depth.

      • NatsLady - Nov 12, 2013 at 11:20 AM

        The more I read about Giolito, the more I feel he should be untouchable, especially since we already gave up Alex Meyer and A.J. Cole’s future isn’t certain.

    • Doc - Nov 12, 2013 at 11:25 AM

      Ghost, if Rizzo trades ARen for some pitcher, any pitcher, I’m going on strike!

      Yo Rizzo, forget about SP, we have enough talent in that department. As stated, previously, lets look at the bench.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 12, 2013 at 12:52 PM

        Doc, remember my stat that the combined 2013 ERAs of Nats starters of Roark (only starter stats), Stras, JZim, Gio, Ohlie, and TJord was 3.199. That is exceptional while some would say its cherry picking since I excluded Det and Haren.

        Starting pitching isn’t the problem here. It’s corner defense, bench, 1st base, and the front of the bullpen. All doable fixes except 1st base where offensive production and defensive range was poor.

        If Mauer can move to 1st maybe the former MiLB catcher and 1st baseman would consider a similar move?

  6. scnatsfan - Nov 12, 2013 at 10:11 AM

    While continuity would be nice, its not like Porter and Jewett were let go; it shows the guys we had there were wanted. And I don’t recall a single instance last year where Jewett struck out with men in scoring position or walked a leadoff batter.

  7. Faraz Shaikh - Nov 12, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    off-topic but does anyone else find similarities between how redskins and mike shanahan’s season is going and how nationals and davey’s season went?

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 12, 2013 at 10:52 AM

      Both under achievers but nobody picked the Redskins for the Super Bowl because of the RGIII situation.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Nov 12, 2013 at 10:54 AM

        but they were expected to take that ‘next step’ after last season’s playoff appearance or so I keep reading.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 12, 2013 at 11:05 AM

        They were certainly supposed to beat teams like the Vikings and be more respectable and they haven’t done that. I just see the parralel as another under achiever along with the Caps and please don’t tell me that the Caps made the playoffs because in hockey you have to be real bad not to make their playoffs.

        Of all the DC teams, the Nats are the most fixable IMHO.

      • scbilly - Nov 13, 2013 at 12:32 PM

        I thought a step back to 8-8 would be a good season for the local NFL team for three reasons – RGIII having his preseason through week 4 or so, lack of depth due to the salary cap penalty and the difference between a last place and a first place schedule. Looks like that was a bit optimistic. I don’t understand what the people who expected a better record than last year were looking at.

    • Candide - Nov 12, 2013 at 4:56 PM

      What is this “redskins” of which you speak? Is it the Barves new name to go with their new stadium, mayhap?

      Truly I find all manner of new learning on this blog.

  8. Section 222 - Nov 12, 2013 at 2:28 PM

    Does anyone think that this supposed “lack of continuity” has had any effect whatsoever on the Nats performance the last few years? If Matt Williams can find good coaches who are willing to be coaches for life under his managerial reign, good for him. But I think having coaches who have the skills and personality to be managers someday is probably a good thing.

  9. letswin3 - Nov 12, 2013 at 5:14 PM

    Nats Lady, Ghost and Doc, I’m with ya on both Rendon and Giolito. It would be myopic to look for a starting pitcher by tossing around two future stars. I think Ghost is on target when he calls Rendon a possible future batting champ that is just starting to get his feet wet. And the entire organization regarded Giolito as an overall number one pick in the draft if his health wouldn’t have been an issue….we still took him with our first pick, nursed him through TJ and rehab, and now he’s progressing even faster than they hoped…..and he already has some very impressive stuff. These two guys are untouchable. If they want to package Span with prospects to pick up a “quality” starter, I’m okay with that, because I still want a Choo or an Ellsbury in the outfield (money is not for me to worry about). And, as Ghost pointed out, that starter position (Haren/Jackson) wasn’t very good, but it surely wasn’t the cause of our absence from the October festivities.

    • Joe Seamhead - Nov 12, 2013 at 7:36 PM

      I don’t get the whole Ellsbury or Choo thing. Ellbury is a great player but he has not had a history of staying healthy. Sign him and you are going down the road of being overly longterm committed to too many players. Werth and RZ are likely already going to each be albatrosses. Ellsbury is looking for a Werth like deal. No thanks. As to Choo, he’s an on-base machine, but have you watched him play the outfield? He’s not in the same class as Span, who though slow to do so, seemed to be coming into his own at the plate and on the base paths after a horrible middle part of the season.I detest lousy defensive outfielders. Keep Span, get another pitcher, and a decent bench player, imho.

  10. pchuck69 - Nov 12, 2013 at 7:14 PM

    Mark DeRosa is retiring and we need a third base coach..

    …just sayin’

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