The hiring of Steve Sax and Turner Ward by the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday completes their coaching staff for the year 2013. Sax, who was hired as first base coach and baserunning instructor, will replace the recently fired Eric Young. Ward, will fill a new position on staff as the Assistant Hitting Coach, working under current hitting coach Don Baylor.
I am not opposed to the Diamondbacks firing of Eric Young and the hiring of a new first base/baserunning coach. One area of emphasis that Manager Kirk Gibson wanted to focus on last year was base running and the D’backs were miserable on the bases. They were worst in the N.L. in being picked-off (15) and were caught stealing 51 times in all, only one shy of the worst mark in the big leagues (Pirates). They also were not as aggressive on the base paths as Gibson wanted to be, as Gibson recently cited the lack of success they had as one of the main reasons as to why the team struggled
With the hiring of Sax, Gibson felt that he was the best man to mold the D’backs into his vision of an accountable, aggressive and smart base-running squad. Most remember Sax for his throwing issues and not for his prowess on the base paths. Over his 14-year major league career, the five-time All-Star second baseman had 622 stolen base attempts and was successful 444 times- a near 71 percent success rate. But, is Steve Sax the right man for this job?
He has never been a coach at any professional level. He has spent his post-baseball days working as a motivational speaker and in the finance world. According to ESPN.com, Sax recently sent out resumes to MLB teams and attended the MLB Winter Meetings in Tennessee to explore the possibility of him returning to baseball.
The fact that Sax spent eight years as a teammate of Gibson’s in L.A. screams cronyism. The D’backs cited that they picked Sax over Class AAA Reno manager Brett Butler. Butler was passed over even though he has not only professional coaching experience, but professional managerial experience (Class A Lancaster, Class AA Mobile, Class AAA Reno).
Butler should have been the choice instead of Sax for various reasons. The D’backs put up Sax stats with a slash line of .281/.335/.358 as something that should be celebrated. Butler’s slash line was better (.290/.377/.396) over a longer career (17 years). If that is criteria to be hired in this position, Butler is more qualified.
The D’backs also released stolen base statistics during Sax’s career. His 444 stolen bases were more than 100 less than Butler during his career (578). While Sax’s stolen base percentage was a little higher (71% to 68%), Butler attempted almost 200 more stolen bases than Sax.
When you add that Butler spent most of his time hitting in the lead-off position, a spot in the order where the D’backs have struggled for years, there could not have been a better fit. With Adam Eaton slotted to take over that position in the lineup, who better to tutor a quick, left-handed hitting contact hitter than a guy who made a living doing the same exact thing at the major league level for 17 years. Butler was known for his ability to get on-base and bunt, two other areas that Gibson wanted to improve.
Gibson also said that he hopes Sax will help improve his team’s “outfield play”. Wouldn’t a former player who led his league in fielding percentage for outfield players four times during his career (’85, ’91, ’93, ’97) be the better fit for a team trying to improve it’s outfield play.
Finally, there is something to be said for putting in your time in the organization. Butler has been part of the organization since his hiring in 2005. He has made his way up through the organization, impressing at every stop along the way. If you want people to remain loyal to your organization, you give those a chance who have worked hard for it. Butler has put in his time and did not deserve to get passed over.
For Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson, this was a gamble, that for the D’backs hopefully pans out. I have significant doubts though as it usually takes quite a bit of time for a new coach to get acclimated, especially if he has no experience in the field he is jumping into.