In many ways, for better or for worse, the White Sox of this century haven't spent a lot of time following the latest developments. Or, if they do, they don't advertise it.
The Sox utilize advanced stats more than they let on, probably because they wouldn't hear the end of it from Hawk Harrelson. But prioritization hasn't made itself evident in their game strategy over the years, whether in more general terms like conserving outs, or more recent developments like frequent defensive shifting.
While other teams ramped up draft and international spending, the Sox dealt from their system and tried to find other teams' discarded undervalued veterans and previously touted young cast-offs. They didn't follow any kind of conventional wisdom when they hired Robin Ventura. And Ventura himself made waves when he brought back the old-school practice of taking infield before the start of every road series.
The Sox have their reasons for doing their own thing, mind you. With Don Cooper and Herm Schneider, they have a support system that can help players flourish when they fell out of favor elsewhere. And by actually giving two craps about preparation this last spring, the Sox's defense tightened up without pursuing run-prevention specialists, which the Mariners turned into a thing when rising to #6org prominence a few years ago, but never paid off. By and large, the Sox have developed their own culture, parts of which give them a unique advantage, and others may cost them an edge.
This being the case, it was a little odd to see the White Sox fall squarely in line with a recent trend on Tuesday by reassigning Harold Baines to serve as an assistant hitting coach for Jeff Manto. They were the second team to tout the creation of an assistant hitting coach role that day -- the Cubs announced their hiring of Rob Deer in the morning.
The two Chicago teams joined the Dodgers (John Valentin) in formally naming a second hitting coach this month. And in the near future, the Red Sox, Orioles and Diamondbacks are set to join the party with a two-headed hitting instructor.
That party started in earnest last year, as the Braves -- featuring two late-'80s White Sox! -- and Cardinals enjoyed success with a two-coach approach. They had company, too, with the Padres, Phillies, Tigers and Giants having two coaches with either formal titles, or all-but-official designation.
So the Sox are squarely in the middle of a craze ...
If you listen to Greg Walker, who enjoyed help from Scott Fletcher in his first season with the Braves, the White Sox have been doing it all along:
"I think baseball is waking up and realizing that this job is more than one person can handle," said Braves hitting coach Greg Walker, who worked with assistant Scott Fletcher this year.
Walker was stationed at the forefront of the dual-hitting-coach movement when he had an assistant, Mike Gellinger, while with the White Sox from 2003-11. That experience has prompted Walker to say he won't do the job any other way, something he told the Braves when he interviewed for their position last offseason.
Gellinger was better known as a computer scouting analyst than assistant hitting coach, but he took on many coach-like duties under Walker in a role that evolved over the course of his employment, which dates back to 1997.
Baines has been around nearly as long as Gellinger, and he's been available for hitting consultation, too. Take this Mark Gonzales story from March 24, 2012:
"We have a clubhouse full of quality major league players, and I don't mind that at all," said Manto, who batted only .230 during parts of nine major league seasons but supervised Freddy Sanchez's 2006 National League batting title with the Pirates. "As a group, we can help. If he talks to Robin, talks to (Baines), I welcome that." [...]
Former Sox hitting coach Greg Walker occasionally had Baines talk to the hitters, emphasizing that they should take what the pitcher gives them.
Really, it doesn't appear that anything will be terribly different about the arrangement itself, except it allows a new guy (Daryl Boston) to collect armor and yell "Back!" at first base. Hitting-wise, it merely cements a transition for Baines, who will assume more of the duties previous held by Gellinger, except with a title everybody else in baseball is getting. Gellinger will stay in the organization, but his new role will allow him to spend more time at home due to health and family considerations. Capping off a rough season for longtime organizational favorites, Gellinger blacked out and suffered trauma to the vertebrae.
The biggest difference is that we're likely to see Baines' name than we saw Gellinger's, at least if the Fletcher/Walker combination is any indication. Searching through Talking Chop's archives, they were often mentioned in the same thought -- Walker headlined, but Fletcher's name wouldn't be far behind. So instead of Manto getting all the credit, you'll likely see more references to "Manto and Baines" followed by me thinking or writing, "They're cops!"
What will be interesting is whether Baines will get any blame if things take a turn. During the Walker days, Gellinger's name only came up for off-hand praise, and when the offense went south, only Walker took the heat. Baines has a higher profile than Gellinger in name and in title, so I'm curious to see how this affects reporting of hitting news, for better or for worse.
Either way, it doesn't look like the Sox are doing anything particularly new outside of the title. And this is great news for Harrelson, because the Sox are officially halfway toward his grand design:
He wanted not only two full-time pitching coaches but also two full-time hitting coaches—one for the singles hitters and one for the power hitters. "Actually, we were planning one each for lefthanded singles hitters, lefthanded power hitters, righthanded singles hitters and righthanded power hitters," says manager Tony La Russa, who's been watching all these goings-on with a mixture of bemusement and admiration.