Manager - Walt Weiss
Managers in Major League Baseball are virtually guaranteed to make their fans upset at some point or another. After all, most of the tactical maneuvering done by managers (like lineup construction, sac bunting, calling the hit-and-run, and bullpen management) has a very small effect on a team's ability to win ballgames. In fact, most of that tactical maneuvering actually decreases a team's ability to win a game - but since every manager in MLB does it sub-optimally, it's not a noticeable impact from team to team.
No, the major impact of a MLB manager is the ability to get the most out of his players' considerable talent. It's giving players the right coaching, motivation, and tools so that they can perform to the best of their abilities. The problem then with evaluating a manager's performance is then figuring out what the benchmark their team should be shooting for is.
In Colorado's case, the Rockies were coming off of the worst season in franchise history in 2012, a 64 win campaign marred by injuries and poor performance across the board. That's the situation Walt Weiss found himself in upon being given a one year contract to be Colorado's manager - leaping from coaching at the high school level to the big leagues.
Here was Rox Girl's profile of Weiss after the team hired him just over a year ago:
- Is competitive, desires to win.
- Is at the very least competent in the baseball intellect department.
- Works well enough with the media to deflect attention from players if needed.
- Played a significant chunk of games with the Rockies, so he knows the effects of altitude.
- Worked for the organization for a long time, so he's familiar with the team's culture.
- Has been outside the org. the last couple of years, so maybe he's gained some additional perspective they lack.
After a year to evaluate Weiss as a manager, there's not a lot to quibble with the above summary of Weiss as a manager. Under Weiss in 2013, the team was less injured and in general performed better, hitting 74 wins this year - but what if anything did Weiss have to do with it?
His star players were a little more healthy - particularly the pitching - and the fielding was vastly improved, but the hitting was noticeably weaker on the whole. Some of the fielding improvement might have been due to some pointers from the former MLB shortstop, but it's probably more from inserting Nolan Arenado and DJ LeMahieu into the lineup more often.
In my brief experience in the Rockies clubhouse, I didn't hear any players mention Weiss at all unless directly asked by me. Maybe that's normal for a MLB clubhouse, but it just didn't seem like Weiss had a big role with the team last year one way or another.
Weiss didn't make too many cringe-worthy decisions but the management style was probably a little too conservative on a team that needs to really take advantage of their strengths to succeed. Either way, under Weiss the Rockies were just about the team I expected them to be coming into the year.
Weiss did enough this year to get a three year contract extension. How can Weiss justify Colorado's faith in him as a manager?
A more nuanced look at starting pitching will help Weiss get more out of his bullpen late in the year. Weiss noted that he'd look to let starters pitch deeper into games (less of a hard 100 pitch count), reducing the amount of wear and tear on the bullpen - which of course is a fine strategy if the starters are able to do so. Still, I think the Rockies had three pretty great starting pitchers last year and the team wasn't able to capitalize. A repeat performance will be needed to take advantage of this leeway.
I hope that next year the Rockies will have better talent for Weiss to work with, but whatever the talent level, I think we'll continue to wonder if he's having much of an impact as manager.
The Rockies got the band back together in terms of coaches in 2013, bringing former Blake Street Bomber Dante Bichette in as hitting coach. As I said when Bichette was hired:
There's not a whole lot of incremental value to be gained with a hitting coach at the major league level. After all, the players that comprise a major league team have already had 18-20 years of baseball instruction and have developed habits that make them effective hitters. A hitting coach just needs to make sure that players maintain their mechanics. Though Bichette is obsessed with hitting, it's not a job he'll do much better than his predecessor.
No, the main utility the Rockies are getting with this hire is a recognizable, popular face through whom the fan base can relive the halcyon days of 1995.
Bichette happened to the Rockies at the plate in 2013 - or rather, it didn't happen enough. Bichette's approach didn't seem to lead to any major breakthroughs from the key offensive players and under his watch the bench production was abysmal. Dante left the job after one year and I'm very much fine with that.
Meanwhile, the most of the 2013 staff appears to be returning for 2014. Jim Wright and Bo McLaughlin got an overall much better year out of the pitching staff and should be solid next year. In terms of the rest of the coaches, I'd prefer that the base-running coach be upgraded to anybody who can make Dexter Fowler an effective base-stealer and I'd like the infield coach to employ the shift a little more, but on the whole I don't have a problem with the coaches the Rockies have in place.
Oh wait, the Rockies hired Eric Young Sr for the baserunning thing already? Okay. New hitting coach Blake Doyle has no prior experience as a coach but I like the idea of hiring an innovator with some potential to surprise.
One other coach the Rockies put in place this year that I'd like to comment briefly on is Mark Wiley, who was named the organization's pitching coordinator (a brand new position) entering 2013. Under Wiley's regime, the Rockies saw excellent years from their top pitching prospects (particularly Eddie Butler), but they also fired a couple of highly successful minor league managers in Lenn Sakata and Joe Mikulik (last year). Time will tell if the new development director position created at each minor league affiliate will pay off.
Could the Rockies have gotten better efforts out of their coaches in 2013? I think there's always some room for improvement in terms of maximizing matchups, reducing the amount of outs given up, and getting players to play their best day in and day out over 162 games. Still, I think this group of coaches did a decent job of shepherding the Rockies through a bounce-back 2013.