Chicago is the latest team to join the trend of multiple hitting coaches, as the Cubs have hired Rob Deer to assist primary hitting coach James Rowson. Deer has been a hitting instructor in the Padres’ farm system and was teammates with Cubs manager Dale Sveum on the Brewers.
News of hitting and pitching coaches being hired is inevitably met with jokes about how that person wasn’t very good as a player and Deer is an easy target for that type of thinking (if you don’t believe me, just search his name on Twitter). He hit .220 during an 11-year career, led the league in strikeouts four times, and was the poster boy for all-or-nothing hitters in the 1980s.
Of course, those jokes conveniently ignore the fact that a) very few Hall of Fame-caliber players go into coaching when they retire, and b) most of the best, longest-tenured coaches across baseball had underwhelming playing careers.
In other words, the fact that Rob Deer hit .220 and struck out a ton means next to nothing about his coaching ability. If anything, Deer’s playing career was longer and better than the majority of hitting and pitching coaches. He smacked 230 homers and posted a .766 OPS that was solidly above average.
To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.
So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”
When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.
Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.