So theofficially announced the hiring of Eric Wedge today. In so doing, they've directly addressed one opening on the coaching staff, and indirectly addressed another. Stopgap pitching coach Carl Willis - who took over for Rick Adair late last season - served as Wedge's long-running pitching coach in Cleveland, and it's assumed that Wedge will want to keep him around.
Bringing a coach back despite a change at manager is neat in and of itself. But here's why this is significant. A list of Mariner pitching coaches:
2005: Bryan Price
2006: Rafael Chaves
2007: Rafael Chaves
2008: Mel Stottlemyre
2009: Rick Adair
2010: Rick Adair, Carl Willis
That's five pitching coaches in the last six years. There hasn't been any kind of continuity at the position for quite a while, ever since Price went away.
That wouldn't be a problem if each of them was saying the same things. But, of course, they weren't, as each has been a different coach with his own different ideas, philosophies, and styles of teaching. No two pitching coaches are exactly alike. They all have different preferences and recommendations.
And changes to the staff can be frustrating for pitchers who are looking for consistency in their instruction. Pitchers, like all athletes, are generally stubborn and bullheaded, but they can be open to tweaks. However, they tend to become less and less open when they hear from more and more people. When one pitching coach says to do this, and then another pitching coach comes in and says to do something else, that can grate on a guy. And then God help him if a third or a fourth pitching coach comes around.
A handy rule of thumb is that, the more turnover there is, the stronger the tendency for a player - be it a pitcher under a pitching coach or a hitter under a hitting coach - to ignore what a coach is saying and try to do things himself. The player, after all, was able to advance to the Major Leagues. The coach - the new coach - has only been around for a little while, and he's saying to do different things than the guy before him. Faced with that kind of situation, a player's left to wonder who knows better: the player himself, or coaches who don't agree with one another. Players tend to side with themselves.
So it's important to have continuity when you can, because players don't always know what's best. Obviously, there's no guarantee that Wedge sticks around for a long time, and thus there's no guarantee that Willis sticks around for a long time, either. But the probability is that Wedge lasts at least a few seasons. Which means Willis should also last at least a few seasons.
And that can be valuable for the pitching staff. Having a pitching coach in place for a number of years allows relationships to form. With relationships comes trust, and with trust comes a greater openness to instruction. The longer Carl Willis stays where he is, the more willing new and established pitchers will be when it comes to taking his words to heart.
I don't want to make too much of this. For one thing, we don't know if Willis is actually a good pitching coach, or if he's just a generic pitching coach. For another thing, we don't know how long he'll actually last. And, significantly, even if there's continuity on the coaching staff, there won't necessarily be continuity on the roster. Some relationships would be broken not by the coach leaving, but by the player leaving, and new relationships would have to grow.
But the important message here is that consistency is a good thing, and Wedge and Willis bring the promise of continuity. Coaches aren't just guys who hang out in the dugout wearing jackets. They do serve a purpose, and it's never in a team's best interest to keep turning them over. Players need to be able to trust them, and hopefully, with Wedge and Willis in place, that trust will soon be able to develop.