After 7 years, Rays change hitting coaches

by Gary Shelton on September 7, 2016 · 4 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Rays

Wednesday, 6 a.m.

Now, we can assume, someone takes the cobwebs off the bats.

Now, we can believe, the Rays will leave marks on home plate.

Rays dismiss hitting coach Derek Shelton../JEFFREY S. KING

Rays dismiss hitting coach Derek Shelton../JEFFREY S. KING

Now, the Rays turn into Murderer's Row. Outfielders will hug the fence. Married men will get out of the infield.

In what is sure to be a popular move with their fanbase, the Rays have fired hitting coach Derek Shelton, who was in his seventh season at the team's hitting coach.

I am sure the parade will start at Central. Look, there is nothing to celebrate here. Shelton was a good guy who worked hard. It's up to you if a different hitting coach would have been better

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The first question is why.

The better question is why now.

The Rays stuck with Shelton through a horrible 2010, an abysmal 2012k a woeful 2011, a laughable 2013, a regrettable 2014, a terrible 2015 and much of this lousy season. But this, evidently, was enough. The Rays canned Shelton, and here come the runners home. Whee.

Okay, I kid. I imagine the Rays, last in the league with a .243 batting average, will continue not to hit or steal or to score. The key in baseball is to have good hitters, not good hitting coaches. Bluntly put, they don't do what most fans think they do. They don't tell a hitter to tuck in his elbow, and voila, the guy turns into Ted Williams.

I've said it before. Being a major league hitting coach is basically being a sounding board and conducting drill work. Sure, it's important drill work, but there is no coach under the sun who can touch the bat of a hitter and make him go from .217 to .317.

You want to know why the Rays often have bad hitting lineups? They have bad hitters in their lineups. Period. A good hitter is  a rare thing, and therefore a pricey thing. Most available hitters -- the good ones -- simply cost too much.

Because of that, I wasn't that hard on Shelton. His batters were needy here, and they were needy when they went somewhere else. Oh, it would have been popular for the Rays to dismiss Shelton at any time, and it wouldn't have cost that much.

In five of Shelton's seven years, the team hit less than 250. In all seven of them, they hit less that .258.

And now, with a month to go, the Rays noticed.

The key question for the Rays is this: Why now? The Rays own the deed to last place. The season is lost.

So what could it be?

Is Shelton making too much money? It's hard to fathom that a hitting coach would be, but remember, part of the reason the Rays let go of Lou Piniella and Joe Maddon is their paychecks grew too large. It is possible that Shelton exceeded his limit.

Is it a Kevin Cash thing? Shelton joined the team under Maddon. It's entirely possible that Cash wanted to have more to say to his hitters.

Is it a style of hitting? That seems to be the most logical. The Rays have gone to a power lineup over the last year. Perhaps they wanted a fresh voice to guide their hitters with that approach.

Cash said that now was the right time so Mattola would have time to adjust. As simple as that.

Regardless, the most polarizing person in a Tampa Bay uniform is gone. You can blame someone else. That Melvin (B.J.) Upton didn't here or elsewhere, or that Desmond Jennings didn't here or elsewhere, or that the catchers never hit here or elsewhere.

Because I have often shrugged over the impact of a hitting coach, I was once asked about Jim Hickey the pitching coach. To me, it's a different game. A pitcher starts the play with the ball in his hand. It is up to him to set strategy and decide on pitches and locations. Not so with hitters, a reactionary position. And the Rays are well-invested in quality pitchers.

Again, I liked Derek. I thought he caught more flak than he deserved for not turning his players into Babe Ruth.

But no one is a coach-for-life. No one is bulletproof.

As for Derek, he finally struck out Tuesday.

The next guy, I'm sure, will be a Svengali.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller September 9, 2016 at 10:50 pm

Thanks for the insight. I never thought of it that way but it makes sense. You mentioned Bill Martin. I lived in Detroit when he managed there and what an incredibly intense manager he was. I think every umpire in the league and probably most players hated his guts but he won. The Tigers were always in the playoff mix when he was there. One of more memorable stories I remember about him was when he would go drinking with some of his players, get drunk with them & then challenge them to a fight in the back alley. Can you imagine anyone lasting 1 day in the league with that kind of behavior today? Those were the days!!

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Gary Shelton September 10, 2016 at 12:57 pm

There are a lot of stories about Billy. But you’re right. He would take over a team, and that team would win. I don’t know if he would fit with the modern game, but I’d give him a chance if he could stay off the booze.

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Larry Beller September 8, 2016 at 5:40 pm

You bring up an interesting point about the Kevin Cash dynamic to all this. It seems like he is just a conduit of the front office and doesn’t have any significant impact on important policy decisions but just maybe he does. I’d like to think that’s the case but it’s more likely that the most significant issue was the salary component. Maybe the guy that is replacing Shelton was making so much that they needed to get him with the big club to justify his salary. In any case it’s a move that was way overdue. I like some of the things the Rays have been doing lately with the demotion of players for lack of hustle / inept play and now firing Shelton. We can only hope these moves that seem small and insignificant will have a positive impact down the line.

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Gary Shelton September 8, 2016 at 10:53 pm

These days, I think the field manager is one of several voices to be hard when evaluating players and performances. There was a time (Billy Martin, Earl Weaver) when it was almost alwalys the province of the manager. But as analytics and other evalutations ahve taken over, it just isn’t all up to the manager anymore. That’s true on most teams these days. The manager can get his say on this player or that strategy, but it’s a consensus that is mostly responsible. That was true during the Rays best days, and it’s true now.

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