Jim Tracy's identification of patience as an area for the Pirates to improve on is an encouraging sign. But will his coaching be enough to improve the Pirates' patience?
Just out of curiosity, I compared the yearly walk rates and OBP's of all the players who got more than 150 at bats for both the 2000 and 2001 Dodgers. Tracy arrived in 2001.
A few notes:
-Wow, did Chad Kreuter draw a lot of walks.
-None of this proves anything. Nonetheless,
-What's most striking about this chart is that most of these players' walk rates and on-base percentage decreased dramatically under Jim Tracy. In some cases, there are clear extinuating circumstances: Eric Karros was clearly in his decline phase, for example, and Adrian Beltre had a fairly serious appendectomy between the 2000 and 2001 seasons. However,
-The manager who preceded Jim Tracy was Davey Johnson, an Earl Weaver-style manager whose philosophy when managing the Orioles was described by the Sporting News as follows:
"They're very patient hitters, and you've got to be very careful with them," [Andy] Pettitte says. "When you see some of the stuff that Coney (David Cone) throws up there and they don't swing at it, I know they're not going to swing at the garbage I throw up there, because his stuff is so much better than mine. So it takes a little bit more time, I guess, to put them away."
In most cases, it takes a little more time because the Orioles take as many pitches as possible. As long, that is, as the last pitch is not ball four. Manager Davey Johnson allows all nine of his hitters the liberty to swing away, even at 3-0, and the Orioles readily abuse that license. They take one of baseball's most disciplined approaches to hitting early in the count to get into the home run mode and one of its least disciplined approaches late in an at-bat to try to hit the ball out of the park.
I have no idea what to make of all this. Although I knew Johnson was an Earl Weaver-style manager, that's pretty much all I knew about him until a few minutes ago. So if someone remembers him differently, feel free to point that out in the comments.
But I wonder whether or not Tracy will help the team's patience. Or, to put it another way, I'd be slightly more inclined to believe that he'd help if the reports I read out of Los Angeles and Pittsburgh had less to do with bunting and moving runners and more to do with getting on base. I know Johnson wasn't always supposed to be an easy guy to work with, but I'd rather have a Johnson-style manager than a Tracy-style one.
In any case, if Tracy is going to help the Pirates become more patient hitters, I think it's less likely to be through his coaching than through his influence on the front office. By the time a ballplayer gets to the big leagues, he mostly is what he is. Jim Tracy isn't going to teach the Randall Simons of the world to stop swinging at everything. But I can hope that he'll try to keep the front office from acquiring someone like Simon in the first place.