Assessing players in fantasy baseball leans more on the individual's talents than scouting does in fantasy football, since baseball is more of a one-on-one sport for in-game performance. This doesn't mean, however, that you should ignore how philosophy and staff changes can affect those trolling the diamond.
A new coach or front office member can change a team's direction. More commonly, a more established and more successful assistant can bring out a player's skills much more easily.
In 2008 we once again saw how St. Louis Cardinals arms coach Dave Duncan can revitalize a pitcher. Joel Pineiro, a middling tosser who had shown flashes throughout his career, registered a near-career season while absorbing Duncan's long-standing advice to focus on hitting the lower part of the strike zone.
A hitting coach often directs a team-wide approach to at-bats. The Minnesota Twins' Joe Vavra implores the Twins hit to the opposite field as often as possible. Twins outfielder Delmon Young struggled early on with this facet, but his work with Vavra contributed to his scorching September and October performances.
Porcello benefited from great guidance
The usually hitting-focused Rangers revitalized their other side of play this year. Hall of Fame flamethrower Nolan Ryan became president of the Texas Rangers in 2008, but it wasn't until they hired Mike Maddux to coach their hurlers before last season that their pitching philosophy blossomed.
Maddux's work included adjusting some pitchers' placement on the rubber and balance during a windup. The duo also helped bring the best out of Scott Feldman's cutter and turned him into a sensation.
Perhaps most importantly, Maddux and Ryan also allowed (forced?) their developing arms to work through troubles instead of babying them. Teaching their starters how to adjust in jams fostered their maturity while they ate more innings.
In a similar organizational refocusing, new Detroit Tigers pitching coach Rick Knapp helped cultivate Rick Porcello, correct Justin Verlander and polish Edwin Jackson, giving the Tigers formidable rotation headline.
Colorado Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca urged his starting staff to keep the ball down in the zone, turning them into one of the biggest surprises among MLB rotations. He also rescued resistant closer Huston Street by having him throw from the left side of the rubber.
Even the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates turned Zach Duke into a useful pitcher; arms coach Joe Kerrigan advised Duke to locate his fastball on the inner half against righty hitters, allowing the soft-tossing lefty to gain a hint of aggressiveness.
Some changes to watch in 2010:
- Injuries plagued this team, of course, but the Chicago Cubs' weak sticks killed many fantasy owners last year. To address the problem heading into 2010, the North Siders have brought in the heralded Rudy Jaramillo, formerly of the Texas Rangers. While you shouldn't expect a complete 180 from the Cubbies, be glad it'll be Jaramillo trying to fix the gaping hole in Alfonso Soriano's swing and perhaps bring Milton Bradley back around. We can't speak for Sori's health or Bradley's attitude, though; we're not expecting miracles.
- The Rangers will reportedly hire Clint Hurdle, former Colorado Rockies manager and bat sage, to fill Jaramillo's shoes. Hurdle hasn't focused exclusively on hitters since early 2002 but instructed his players in an environment conducive to hitting, not unlike his new locale.
- Former slugger Mark McGwire can talk about his past in a helpful way; he'll be guiding the Cardinals' hitters. Is it safe to say he has something to offer ... other than Androstenedione, of course? Keep an ear out for the lifetime .263 hitter's discussion of his philosophy.
- The San Francisco Giants hired Hensley Muelens to replace Carney Lansford. San Fran recorded the fewest walks in the bigs last year. Muelens recently worked with numerous Giants hitters at Triple-A Fresno, including Eugenio Velez and super-prospect Buster Posey.
Keep an eye on teams with open positions to see if their new hires will change their organizational direction. How does the new coach change the stock of hitters or pitchers on the squad?
Will Rudy Jaramillo help Sori rebound?
You shouldn't let the presence of a new coach sell you on a player, though. Not every coach can miraculously make scrubs into stars. In the case of Jaramillo, you won't see Reed Johnson hitting 20 homers next season. On the other hand, you should peg players on the brink who with a new coach may be in line for a boost. For the Cubs, someone like Jake Fox, Kosuke Fukudome or Geovany Soto would fit the bill.
You should also pay attention to news and tidbits on how coaches handle their players: When he assesses a pitcher's throwing session, Duncan also makes the other starting arms chime in with their observations. Seasoned coaching techniques usually lead to more efficient alterations.
Identify which players will be looking to fix major flaws this coming season, and research coaches' assessment of the player's situation. A wider stance, a different grip on the bat, better mound positioning - look for reported adjustments being made. We could discover some new approaches for Soriano, B.J. Upton, Jermaine Dye and Russell Martin, among others.
What other cases has the coach taken on and improved? Pinpointing shamans who have already helped others can add value to your fantasy targets. As in the case with Muelens, it's a bonus when the team hires someone who in previous years worked with their current players.
For more news from and observations of offseason action, check out KFFL.com's fantasy baseball blogs and MLB Hot off the Wire!
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About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won several industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, hear him every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. On Thursdays, he visits 106.1 FM WMTI in New Orleans and Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.
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