Tampa Bay Rays bring in a new pitching coach.
On Tuesday afternoon the Rays announced that pitching coach Jim Hickey was leaving the organization. After an 11-year tenure, more than half of the club’s existence, Hickey will be replaced by the former Durham Bulls’ pitching coach, Kyle Snyder.
Originally reported as a “mutual decision” according to Marc Topkin, it was later revealed that Hickey did not agree with the direction the club wanted to take regarding its starters. With one year left on his contract, it seems that this is the better option for both sides.
Fans of the organization are not taking it well.
Another horrible decision by the #Rays, but understandable that Hickey no longer wants any part of the circus. I wish Hickey all the best.
— Rik Sheriff (@NotMarkAlstott) October 3, 2017
Not good 1st Foley now Hickey we are doomed!
— James W Pearce Jr. (@JamesWPearceJr2) October 3, 2017
And Cash returns! This is beyond stupidity!
— BigRay (@BigRay2020) October 3, 2017
Let’s Not Overreact!
Yes, the loss of Hickey may come as a shock to many, certainly given his accomplishments. From 2007-2017 he helped lead the Rays to AL-bests in several categories including shutouts (127), opponents’ batting average (.247), and WHIP (1.28) – but something has to change for this team to contend.
But he’s so good with young pitchers!
Correct. Hickey has predominantly worked his magic with a collective group under 30 years of age. In fact, of the 1,783 games started under his tutelage, 1,709 of them were by pitchers not-yet in their thirties. That’s a whopping 96%.
The problem here is that we live in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society. And given the recent struggles of the starting rotation, and bullpen, change is needed. Baseball is a business and often times people forget that. General managers don’t retain players and coaches simply because of their service time. Like it or not.
Before blasting the organization for a ‘mutual decision’, let’s look at what Snyder can bring to this team.
After-all, he just won a Triple-A National Championship in Durham.
There’s no denying that Hickey deserves much of the credit for the success of several young arms. But let’s also remember that many of these pitchers were projected as top-end prospects.
Here’s a look at the Rays’ Top 10 prospects heading into each of the last seven seasons.
Top-Prospect + Top Pitching Coach
Looking at the entire list, many of those pitchers have not met expectations. That doesn’t all fall on Hickey but if so much credit is going to be given to their pitching coach, shouldn’t you then question why haven’t they performed at a higher level?
Players Will Miss Hick
“Hickey is one of the most intellectual people I know. He’s also one of the best people persons I know. The combination of his ability to analyze and apply information, as well as communicate to his players is what causes him to enhance pitchers careers, young and old,” Chris Archer told Topkin.
While there is no question, Archer is, at times, one of the most dominant pitchers in the league, his numbers suggest that something is missing. He has a sub-.500 (51-63) career winning percentage, and it appears that focus could be improved upon.
Archer holds a 4.19 first-inning ERA but is, perhaps, his own worst enemy. In his 51 career wins, he pitches to a 1.68 ERA, however, in losses the ERA rockets up to 5.87. He needs to maintain focus regardless of situation. Granted, wins are one of the worst measures of a pitchers actual value, but you’d like your ace to win more than 13 games in a season.
Teammate Alex Cobb thinks Hickey will enjoy his time while unemployed,
“I’m not going to try to explain how great Jim Hickey is. There’s really nothing I can say that would speak louder than his track record. All I can say is how fortunate I was to have him when I got to the big leagues. No one could have prepared me better. He has a talent that most organizations search for relentlessly. He will have a great time being a free agent,” he said in a recent report.
Jake Odorizzi was the club’s No.1 prospect heading into the 2014 season and he has struggled with consistency since his arrival. You could make a case that his performance has declined year-after-year. Since finishing eighth for the Rookie of the Year in 2014, Odorizzi has been unable to reach that career-high (11) win total. In 2017, of the 43 starting pitchers that threw 120+ innings, only four guys posted a FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) that was worse than the 5.43 by Odorizzi.
“Hick was the best pitching coach I have ever been around, He helped me grow a lot as a pitcher over the time I was fortunate to work with him,” Odorizzi was quoted on what Hickey meant to him.
Hickey has been great since his arrival in 2007 – only twice (2009 and 2016) have the Rays finished outside the American League Top 5 in ERA. However, how much of that is skewed because of the numbers put up by David Price during his time in Tampa Bay??
Time for Change
Typically you don’t have to prove yourself after you win a National Championship, but that’s exactly what Snyder will have to do. He’ll join the Rays after six seasons in their minor-league ranks, the last three in Triple-A Durham. The Bulls finished second in the International League with a 3.37 team-ERA in 2017 and have improved in that area each of the last three seasons.
When you look at the future stars for the Rays, Snyder helped elevate many of them this season. Let’s look at a few of these young pitchers and where they ranked (within the organization) before the season versus now.
Brent Honeywell – (Preseason No.2 — Current No.1) Listed as the No.31 prospect in all of baseball entering the season, he has jumped all the way to No.11. The Team USA starter, and Most Valuable Player, in this year’s Futures Game, he posted 152 strikeouts over 123.2 innings pitched under Snyder this year.
Ryan Yarbrough – (Preseason No.24 — Current No.23) Twice taking home Player of the Week honors, it’ll be interesting to see (13-6; 3.43) where he ranks in next seasons Top 30 prospects. Don’t be surprised to see his name in the upper-half.
Yonny Chirinos – (Preseason N/A — Current No.19) While not an overpowering strikeout guy, Chirinos took home the franchise’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award largely because of his 0.98 WHIP over 141 innings pitched. At the big-league level, only four starting pitchers posted a WHIP that good (Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, and Chris Sale) and those guys will likely finish one-two in the Cy Young voting.
Is it Really That Bad?
If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward – can I get any more clichè?
The bottom-line is it’s the truth. The decision to let Hickey go was made with the future in mind. It may be hard to see that right now through the foggy haze of a disappointing season, but they pegged the right guy to replace Hickey. Save the disapproval tweets because you’ll want to reference them in a few years.
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