If you’ve paid any attention to the things I’ve said on the air, here at Prospect Insider and on Twitter over the last, oh, I don’t know, five years, you already know my thoughts on assessing the performance of a manager, as well as the candidacy of prospective managers or newly-hired ones, whether or not they have managed successfully before, or at all. So when I am asked if Lloyd McClendon is a good hire, my answer is the same as if the Seattle Mariners would have hired Chip Hale, Bryan Price, Matt Williams, Brad Ausmus, Ron Wotus, Rick Renteria or even Joey Cora: I don’t know, and neither does anyone else outside the industry.
No media member, fan, blogger or even scout knows whether or not McClendon is the right hire. His tenure in Pittsburgh last decade means very little; he wasn’t given any talent, and he’s had a lot of time to grow as a coach and manager serving as the hitting coach under Jim Leyland since his days with the Pirates.
He’ll have no chance to succeed in Seattle, either, if the roster isn’t improved significantly, but I am confident in one aspect of McClendon’s resume: The young hitters will benefit from his presence.
I’m not suggesting McClendon is going to turn Dustin Ackley into a superstar, or that Michael Saunders will all of a sudden cut his strikeout rate down 10 percent and add 10 home runs to his line, but the prevailing opinion on McClendon is that he is good with hitters — not just young hitters, but including young, yet-to-develop bats. He did a pretty good job with Austin Jackson, for example, and former Mariners prospect Matt Tuiasosopo took a meaningful step forward during his time with the Tigers. Alex Avila and Andy Dirks weren’t top prospects but still made rather large segments of progress under McClendon. Not all of the credit goes to the hitting coach, but the environment he helps create certainly plays a role.
There’s a pretty good chance that one or two of the M’s young position players will be traded this offseason, but those that remain will have a better sounding board and teacher to work with in the skipper of the team. And we can assume that the new hitting coach will be McClendon-approved if not hand-picked, but it’s the manager’s job to create the kind of approach with the field staff that is more hands-on than was the previous group.
I know of at least one Mariners young hitter that was basically left alone despite massive struggles in 2013. This particular player received more instruction from his agent than he did from the coaches. That’s absurd, and the biggest reason why a change in manager and field staff is a good thing.
Again, I don’t know if McClendon is going to lead the Mariners anywhere they aren’t already are — mediocrity. That will be based more on what he and his yet-to-be-named staff has to work with in terms of legitimate big-league talent, but the young players will be in better hands, and that probably played a big role in the club’s choosing of McClendon to lead the team.