Are coaches underpaid? (And how much was Davey Lopes worth to the Phillies?)

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I’ve been thinking about the value of coaches lately, in part because the Cardinals only had to shell out $750,000 per season to make Dave Duncan the highest-paid pitching coach in baseball and in part because the Phillies let first base coach Davey Lopes go over failed contract talks that probably involved a difference of $100,000 or less.

If someone like Duncan who’s considered one of the best pitching coaches in baseball history is only worth $750,000 per season and someone like Lopes who’s been praised constantly for his huge impact on the Phillies’ historically great stolen base numbers leaves over an extra $100,000 … well, do teams really value coaches very much?

After all, the average utility infielder makes more per season than both Duncan and Lopes combined.

It’s a tough question to answer, largely because it’s tough to evaluate coaches in anything resembling the way we evaluate players. There are enough statistics and metrics and tools for me to opine with a decent level of confidence that, say, Albert Pujols is usually worth about 85 runs per season above a replacement-level first baseman. But how much is Lopez worth above a replacement-level first base coach?

I have no idea, but Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley crunched some numbers in an effort to find out and what he found is pretty interesting. I won’t spoil the conclusion because you really should read the whole article, but I will say that like me he agrees the Phillies letting Lopes go over $100,000 would be a mistake. And unlike me he has actual data to support that opinion. Check out Baer’s analysis and also read the comments section for an interesting look at the value of top-notch coaches.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.