And with that, I’m done with Super Bowl commercial parodies for a year. Let’s put the talking frogs aside for a bit because I’ve noticed quite a few fans wonder: what’s with all the fuss about new Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black? How’s a losing Padres manager going to be different from our previous fearless leader, Walt Weiss?
It’s fair to say that Weiss’s tenure as the Rockies manager was, ahem, rocky. During his four years, besides juggling lineups with injuries on offense, he also had the displeasure of submitting the names of thirty different Rockies starting pitchers while trying to balance the whims of three different general managers. Quite a few decisions were called into question from the Twitter peanut gallery, but it would’ve been hard for many to handle the circumstances he had. Nonetheless, in 2016, he finally had a healthy rotation and lineup, but still the bullpen and eventually again, the team fell flat.
The New Manager
So why should Bud Black, a manager with a career winning percentage of just .477 and only two winning seasons of the nine on his résumé, be any better? His 2015 Padres team underwent a massive spending spree, raising eyebrows with the acquisitions of Matt Kemp, Craig Kimbrel, James Shields, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, and both baseball player Uptons. Those acquisitions, which didn’t pan out as the Padres hoped, didn’t raise the Padres win total and ultimately cost Black his job. But he’s in a different situation now.
The 2017 Rockies will probably be the best offensive lineup Black has ever managed. The Padres, for most of Black’s, tenure were also pretty poor from a talent perspective. Only in 2015 did he have a team with a payroll of more than $77 million, dropping to a Marlins-esque low of $38 million in 2010 (which was, ironically, the one year Black’s Padres made the playoffs). And Black only managed one team during his nine-year Padres tenure where he had more than two players post offensive seasons 20 percent better than league average. Last year’s Rockies had four players (Blackmon, Arenado, LeMahieu and Story) do that.
Black has always tried to jump-start offense with activity. His Padres teams, especially from 2010-2013, were among the best in the National League in terms of stolen bases and caught stealing and were often league average or better in terms of walks and strikeouts.
In terms of playing time, he has a habit of getting his bench players regular work and playing platoon matchups when warranted. Two of his favorite plug-and-play guys, Alexa Amarista and Chris Denorfia will be with the Rockies this spring (though the latter is on a minor-league contract and might not see the majors given the team’s outfield depth).
But mostly, Black’s reputation comes from his work as a pitcher, then pitching coach, and finally a pitching-oriented manager. He had a 15-year career, all spent as a starting pitcher, and won a World Series ring with the Royals in 1985. He then added to his collection of World Series bling as the Angels pitching coach in 2002. As a manager, though pitcher’s haven Petco has helped, he’s consistently cobbled together a quality starting staff and bullpen on a shoestring budget with a continually changing cast of characters. He also is fond of giving rookie starting pitchers some initial exposure in the bullpen, which may be in the works for 2017.
Black also has a wealth of experience he can give to this blossoming young Rockies rotation. He has managed quite a few ex-Rockies pitchers who have had success at Coors such as Jason Marquis and Huston Street. Furthermore, he also managed Hall of Famer pitcher Greg Maddux and potential Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman which will add some anecdotes to the toolbox. Bud Black is also versed in sabermetrics and even appeared on Fox’s JABO broadcast experiment, though like many managers who have dabbled in the numbers, he’s not beholden to them.
Perhaps another asset that will make him another great fit for the Rockies will be the ability to manage the seasonal grind. Rockies teams in recent years have become known for their second half swoons, a puzzle Walt Weiss was unable to figure out. Russell Carleton of Baseball Prospectus researched the question of how we might identify how well managers identify staving off the grind.
Using plate discipline as a measure, Carleton indicated that Black demonstrated considerable skill in keeping the dog days of summer at bay. From 2010-2014, Black’s Padres hitters tended to maintain their plate discipline throughout the season. Also, in terms of keeping his pitchers throwing strikes when seasonal fatigue might normally set in, Carleton shows that Black also did a fine job, especially with his starting pitchers. Overall, Carleton found that during that four year timeframe, Black’s ability to fight the grind saved roughly two wins more than an average manager over the course of a season.
The only external hire on Black’s new staff, former catcher and Marlins manager Mike Redmond, became the Rockies new bench coach. He is currently tied for third all-time in defensive fielding percentage and received good marks for pitch blocking which has bugged the Rockies a few times in the past.
On the flipside, Redmond gained some notoriety for motivating his teammates by taking batting practice naked, so if the Rockies do go through another summer swoon, well, there’s always that option. Regarding his managerial tenure, as with many ex-Marlins managers, he was a good manager until Jeffrey Loria thought he wasn’t, through no particular fault of his own. Nonetheless, his experience as both a starting and backup catcher in addition to a quality pinch hitter should aid Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy and all the other moving pieces on the Rockies roster in their job-sharing responsibilities.
On the hitting side, the Rockies promoted minor league hitting coordinator Duane Espy to hitting coach and former Rockies outfielder Jeff Salazar to assistant hitting coach. This is Espy’s second stint as the Rockies hitting coach, serving under Clint Hurdle in 2003 to 2006. Those clubs drew a lot of walks, which is something the Rockies haven’t been quite as good at in recent years. Salazar was the hitting coach for Double-A Hartford the last two seasons and was seen last year on the ROOT Sports specials discussing hitting with Ryan Spilborghs.
Stu Cole returns for his fourth season as third base coach, and his 21st season with the Rockies. He’ll handle infield instruction and build the Rockies into better baserunners. Under his watch, DJ LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado both won Gold Gloves. The Rockies promoted Tony Diaz, who was supervisor of development for the Rockies’ Grand Junction affiliate, to coach first base. Ron Gideon, according to Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post, will wear a variety of gloves as he helps assist Ian Desmond in the transition to first base and the outfielders in covering that spacious Colorado outfield.
Also among the holdovers from Weiss’s tenure include pitching coach Steve Foster and bullpen coach Darren Holmes. For their first season in 2015, it seemed the mantra of pitch-to-contract wasn’t well heard as the Rockies staff seemed to avoid the strike zone, giving up walks in abundance while not striking out many batters. Any contact they did give up was harder than they would’ve liked. Yet 2016 turned out much more promising from a staff perspective as the Rockies climbed out of the cellar in walks allowed or strikeouts. The starting pitching was reliable for the entire year, though the bullpen still blew it. While some of that improvement is due to better talent (i.e. Jon Gray replacing Kyle Kendrick) across the board improvement from other Rockies holdovers like Chad Bettis and Chris Rusin suggest that the process is starting to work. On the subject of talent, as Thomas Harding from MLB.com reports Steve Foster was a factor in Greg Holland joining the Rockies corps.
As much as the Rockies are preaching versatility in their roster, they’ve continued a similar element to their coaching staff. Almost every coach has years of experience with the Rockies roster on the minor and/or major league level. To enhance that, they’ve brought in a quality external voice in Mike Redmond and a leader to bring it all together in Bud Black. Is he wiser than Weiss? Time will tell, but he’ll be armed with one of the best and youngest rosters he’s ever had. His challenge will be to keep them going until well past the time the next football season starts.