Gabe Kapler and Giants have a 13-Person Coaching Staff

SAN FRANCISCO-Before the San Francisco Giants won to a best-in-baseball 107 win last year, the Los Angeles Dodgers ’eight-year run for National League West titles and seemingly geniuses, there seemed wild idea to come. a year ago.

What if, Manager Gabe Kapler asked his new boss, we expanded the teaching staff? Like, did it really expand, to 13 total coaches? Kapler, who was given the seemingly impossible task of replacing Bruce Bochy, explained his vision, likening it to the importance of having a strong student-to-teacher ratio in the school. The smaller the class size, the more students will benefit.

“And I think, well, it’s not grade school, it’s the big leagues,” said Farhan Zaidi, president of baseball operations for the Giants.

But the more Kapler lobbied, the more he understood.

“It’s really thought out of the box because it’s not one or two coaches beyond the norm,” Zaidi said. “Look, I have my doubts. I thought, ‘Do we have enough to do for all these people?’ But, it turns out, it’s a very good comparison. ”

The Giants, in fact, are pumping up their staff of 13 coaches (not including the manager) for the 2020 season. Instead of a hitting and a pitching coach, they used three each: A hitting coach, a hitting director/assistant hitting coach and an assistant hitting coach; and a pitching coach, a pitching director and an assistant pitching coach. They listed traditional roles (bench coach/infield coach and first and third base coaches) and a non -traditional (quality assurance coach). There was a bullpen/catching coach, two additional assistant coaches, one of them Alyssa Nakken, the first female Major League Baseball coach.

For most of Bochy’s 13 years, during which he piloted the Giants to three World Series championships in a five-season span, he worked on what baseball has been accustomed to for decades: six coach. They are bench, hitting, pitching, first base, third base and bullpen. By 2019, his final season, the Giants have added an assistant hitting coach and, in keeping with the new replay rules, a “coach/video replay analyst.”

That doesn’t seem like long ago, but due to the change in the game, it could also be the videocassette recorder era before the digital age.

Loan …Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

“It may be a little out of the box, but out of the box there’s more inside the box,” said Larry Baer, ​​president and chief executive of the Giants whose approval of the additional tuition budget. brought a big comeback last summer.

In fact, in an industry where success has spawned copies, 13 teams have enlisted teaching staff in double the number this year. Cincinnati paired San Francisco with 13 coaches. The Phillies, Cubs and Diamondbacks are at 12 each; the Red Sox and the Angels have 11.

“The teams pay a lot more attention to the support they can give to the players and know we have more resources available to us as organizations than 15 years ago,” said Chris Antonetti, president of operations at baseball in Cleveland, whose Guards employed eight coaches.

The subject wasn’t Kapler’s favorite, mostly because he wasn’t comfortable being given credit for an idea rooted in the game. Yes, he said, he could have 13 coaches, but he prefers to point out to people that his players have won 107 games.

Moreover, for him, the idea of ​​expanding a teaching staff is just common sense.

“You have a big group of players, and they all have different communication styles, they all have different backgrounds, they’re all from different parts of the country and from different parts of the world,” he said. Kapler. “The goal for us is to give everyone in our clubhouse someone to hang out with and someone they can connect with.”

The idea is to tailor agendas to the needs of individual players and to ensure that communication flows in two ways. When they were Brandon Belt, Darin Ruf and LaMonte Wade Jr. take a ground ball at first base, everyone may want to focus on a different skill on a particular day. Maybe shortstop Brandon Crawford wants a lighter workload, but Mauricio Dubón wants a harder pregame preparation. New hire Pedro Guerrero provides the Giants with a Spanish-speaking hitting coach to serve those dugout players during games, without the need for an interpreter.

An important philosophy is to make players “co-pilots” in their careers, said Kai Correa, the bench and infield coach, who added that the Giants want them to be “the same chefs as to consumers ”in their ongoing growth.

“We spend a lot of time using our ears like anything else,” Correa said.

Only three of the coaches play for the mayors-Andrew Bailey (pitching coach), Brian Bannister (director of pitching) and Antoan Richardson (first-base coach). Only five of the 13 are on a major league coaching staff. Kapler recognized some of them during his four years as director of player development for the Dodgers from 2014-17. Some he knows, through reputation or five-star peer reviews, and he makes it a point to recruit them.

“It was a longtime listener, first-time caller deal,” said JP Martinez, the assistant pitching coach hired last year after Ethan Katz left to become Chicago White Sox pitching coach. “I paid close attention to his career, heard stories in the minor leagues about his intensity and commitment to health and nutrition.”

Martinez added that when Kapler took charge of Philadelphia in 2018 and 2019, “The impression was that he was making calls to spreadsheets, and one of the things he strongly preached to Bails and me last year was not very locked into matchups where. you don’t watch the game and we don’t care about the vibe of the dugout and how we feel from the players. ”

Martinez is from the Minnesota organization, where the Twins connect older baseball boys like former managers Sam Perlozzo and Mike Quade with analytics experts like Josh Kalk, the organization’s pitching guru.

“When I got here it was the perfect intersection between the two,” Martinez said. “There’s a lot of feeling in this clubhouse.”

There are also a number of faces to discover for players, especially newcomers.

“You meet people at breakfast, lunch, grabbing coffee or something like that,” said right-hander Alex Cobb, who signed a two-year, $ 20 million free-agent deal with the Giants this winter. “It’s not like fast dating where you hit every room and chat for a while.”

As for the Giants veterans, they’re not just adapting – they’re improving.

Right-hander Anthony DeSclafani made a career year last summer, 13-7 with a 3.17 ERA in 31 starts. He took his curveball tips from Martinez, received advice about his transformation from Bannister and read “Bails relaying everything on the mental side of stuff.”

“They all have their unique experience to offer, and that’s really cool,” DeSclafani said.

Belt, a veteran entering his 12th season, said many of the players were skeptical of the new system at first. “But there’s literally someone with you all the time,” he said, “and you don’t realize how much it means until you have it.”

MLB regulations allow one manager and eight coaches in a dugout during games (if the rosters expand in September, clubs are allowed nine coaches on the bench). Giant coaches not in the dugout are placed in the clubhouse or behind the dugout inside the batting cage to assist when needed. Nakken, for example, makes sure potential pinch-hitters know which pitcher opponents are heating up the bullpen. One of his other duties is to destroy opponents ’ground-ball percentages so the Giants can deploy a five-man infield at the right times.

In general, Kapler likens Nakken to a traffic director who ensures that communication between coaches, and between coaches and players, is endless.

“I didn’t feel much pressure, other than we wanted to be as prepared as possible every day,” Nakken said of her unique role as a woman. “So in that sense, it’s a responsibility to come in and do the job well.”

Prior to spring 2020 training, Kapler arranged a two-day retreat, where the entire coach staff visited points of interest around San Francisco, ate, talked- and chatted. bonding. This spring, the coaches attended a concert at Bon Iver in Arizona.

As Correa says, it’s a group that knows how to use its ears. Communication “isn’t something that has always been known to be strong in baseball,” outfielder Mike Yastrzemski said, “But knowing what’s going on gives men peace of mind to know what they need to do to come out and succeed. “

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