If the Rockies are going to take steps forward instead of back in 2017, they cannot simply hire (Bud) Black or (Alex) White [too soon, too soon], instead the Rockies need to hire (Jon) Gray. Okay, so enough with that but the Rockies really do need to hire a manager that helps Jon Gray (and the whole pitching staff) take the next step. Whenever you think of teams looking for new managers, it usually is not a good thing. It is usually because the team sucks and lacks potential. That could not be any less true for these Colorado Rockies entering 2017.
The Rockies are in a buyers' market thankfully. With the Diamondbacks as the only other team looking for a manager, Jeff Bridich should have his pick of the lot. We have all heard the likely candidates and have our hopefuls that probably will not be hired. In Patrick Saunders' last mailbag article, he says his choice is Bud Black. So, let's look into that more.
If you are split on him, you should be. One side should be he is not really the right guy for this young core heading into a contention window, he does not stand out as analytically minded, and he was not overly successful in San Diego. He seems similar to Weiss in the sense that he would want control over in-game decisions and would do what he thought was best, even if that bumped up against what the analytics say. That is just conjecture though.
Looking back from 2007 through 2015, here are some interesting statistics according to Fangraphs from Black's oversight in San Diego: the Padres ranked 18th lowest in sacrifices; they ranked 21th lowest in out-of-zone swinging; they ranked 9th highest in base running value; they ranked 17th lowest in fielding value; their pitchers ranked 9th highest in K/9 and BB/9; and they ranked 23th lowest in shifts. Now, all these statistics do not necessarily tell us anything. We can gather that the Padres were neither on or off the cutting edge of analytics. Probably just somewhere in-between. The biggest factor in understanding Bud Black's thoughts on analytics is honestly going to come from an interview, if he even gets one. If he really wants the Rockies managerial job, he is going to have to sell Bridich that he is open to adapting analytics to his strategy and exactly how he sees that playing out.
Being split on Bud Black is normal and you should find comfort in that, but he could be a steal too. He did a pretty exceptional job with what is widely considered average talent and budget in San Diego. Any talent that was in San Diego would probably be said to be their pitching staffs. So, while you could say Black was not the reason for their pitching success, at the same time you cannot say he was not a part of that success either. Pitching is Bud Black's modus operandi. The Padres succeeded in pitching, so Black should be commended for succeeding with that talent and not derailing it.
If Black can help take Jon Gray to the next level (and not take him out of a game just because he does not want Gray to get the loss), that is going to go a long way in whether the Rockies are contenders or not. The Rockies need that pitcher that can go up against the Kershaws and Bumgarners of the NL West. He needs to be the guy the Rockies send out for a win or go home Wild Card game. The Rockies could really use progression from the rest of the staff as well. Bettis needs to stabilize. Hoffman (Black has experience with Hoffmans...) needs guidance to blossom as he approaches a full season in the MLB. An Eddie Butler reversal would be a nice surprise. Let's not even get into the bullpen, but Black has shown the propensity to put his best relievers in the game during the highest leverage situations. That could go a long way in playing to the strengths of what is a weaker bullpen. If Black can get the bullpen to the trade deadline, Bridich can send reinforcements to take them over the hump.
Black is very experienced in the NL West which should not be swept under the rug. While this fact may be overblown, the Rockies are in a unique situation where they are entering a contention window. Any time wasted adjusting to opponents and their stadiums takes the Rockies that much further from that window. This is why the prospect of hiring a manager with little managerial experience is intimidating. There will be an adjustment period and that is worrisome. There is definite potential Bud Black could be the next Clint Hurdle or Joe Madden (who he coached with while with the Angels). The prospect of that is exciting. Keep in mind that Bruce Bochy was only slightly better than Black during his time in San Diego - .494 winning percentage vs. Black's .477.
Black probably has a good idea of how to attack road games, which is always a struggle for the Rockies. While he seems like a guy that wants to call his shots, he is at somewhat of a crossroad in his career and might be willing to adapt to changes in the game. If he shows any dishonesty with adapting, he will be dismissed as a candidate for Bridich. It is as simple as that. This is the "Gray" matter that Black will have to decide whether he is on board or not. Likewise, Bridich has to decide how much he wants a candidate to conform to his staff's data. Bridich should be looking for a partnership with someone who challenges him, and that he can openly challenge back.
Let's look at some of coaches that have served under Black's tutelage. Darren Balsley seems to be a well respected pitching coach, although there will be those that say the Padres' pitching staff success has more to do with Petco and the actual players more than it does his coaching skills. Tyson Ross says Balsley made the biggest difference in his career. Then there's Dave Roberts, who is one of the game's up-and-coming managers that served as Black's bench coach. You can tell his Dodgers team believes in him and respects him. That says a lot for a team that generally has its share of drama year in and year out. Rick Renteria also served as a bench coach for Black and just landed the White Sox managerial job. Many thought he got ousted in Chicago really for no reason. He did well, and simply got replaced for one of the, if not the best, managers in baseball in Joe Madden.
Another area that gives Black an edge is his ability to surround himself with a great coaching staff. Now maybe all the coaches that surrounded him were not really his picks but his front office's picks, but I doubt he had no say. Knowing Black has a pitching background, he may be okay retaining Holmes and Foster since they already have good relationships with the pitching staff and progressed well last season. Or maybe he wants his own staff, though you would think he would be okay with it since he kind of needs/wants a job. One big thing to remember is Bridich was the one leading the charge when it came time to finding new pitching coaches. Holmes and Foster seem to be big improvements over former pitching coaches. So let's hope that all other coaches Bridich chooses will also be big improvements over former coaches. Now, let's look at some people Black could potentially bring along with him.
Ron Roenicke could potentially follow Black to the Rockies as a bench coach or 3rd base coach. He certainly would be a good addition to the staff. He, along with Black, spent time with Joe Madden and Mike Scioscia with the Angels during their glory years of Bartolo Colon. While Scioscia is seen as old school now, he still is a good baseball coach. As long as Roenicke takes what he learns and incorporates them with the Rockies front office staff, he would be a good addition. He currently serves as the 3rd base coach for the Angels. Mark Kotsay could be another candidate to join a Bud Black staff. He played under Black and served as the club's Jason Giambi during his time there. He currently is the bench coach for the Athletics, another organization with analytic driven strategy and a low payroll.
The decision is going to come down to this - an experienced manager that will adapt to Bridich's analytical vision, or an unexperienced manager who is very bright and shares Bridich's analytical vision. Certainly the ladder will come cheaper, but you have to weigh the readiness. If Bridich wants the former, Bud Black should be at the top of the list. At least before his interview. If it is the ladder, then it is anyone's guess whom Bridich selects. Luckily, Jeff Bridich is the one leading the charge. He will make the right decision. The Rockies are better off without Weiss. Now we can hopefully wait while Bridich takes his time to make the right decision.