Bob Melvin, manager of the year in 2018 for the Oakland A’s, talked about the upcoming season at the winter meetings.
Q. I was asking you about nontraditional coaching staff hires, with analytics in mind. What will that mean for the game, immediately or going forward?
BOB MELVIN: I think you’re seeing certainly some strides in that direction. And it’s how you present what you want to present to the players as far as analytically, whether it’s launch angles or whatever the fact. And you have to have the right personality to be able to do that. You have to understand which players you can give a lot of information to, which players you give a little to.
We feel like our staff is pretty good at it. Darren Bush and Scott Emerson do a good job with the pitchers and position players. I think at this point in time we’re happy with what we have right now, but the more you see it, it’s kind of a trend that you’ll see more of.
Q. What about the actual nontraditional hiring, guys coming in who haven’t been entrenched in pro ball, how will the players respond to that?
BOB MELVIN: I don’t know. Some of the other organizations do it already and I think they’ve had some success. And if you get some buy-in from some of the premier players, certainly in the case with Houston, when you get a Justin Verlander who buys into that, it’s going to be easy to sell it to some of the other guys. I think it’s just as much the personality of the person that you’re bringing in but also the guys that you hook.
Q. You guys are in a little bit of an unusual situation coming off of playoff appearance and having so many holes particularly in the rotation. How do you see things with so many needs in the starting pitching roles?
BOB MELVIN: Well, you know, the one thing that we don’t talk a lot about is the fact that we’re going to have a lot of guys coming back at some point.
So I think part of our decision is holding down the fort until we get some of these injured pitchers back. And you’re talking about a lot of — even down to the Kaprielians and Jefferies and guys like that we feel like are going to have great careers with us. So you have to balance what you think is the need for now and what the need is down the road as far as signing a guy to a multiyear.
We saw last year we had some issues with the rotation. We were able to identify some guys to hold down the fort and perform for us. Certainly the bullpen is a strength for us and continues to be.
So, yes, we want to bring in some starters, but I don’t think we’re in a hurry to go out and be like a market maker and have to dole out some three-year deals.
Q. Could you see using that opener strategy some more especially considering the bullpen remains a strength?
BOB MELVIN: I could. I think we’re a little bit — we’re used to it, so to speak. And you’re seeing other teams do it, too. And I think you’ll see more of it next year.
So, yeah, I think depending on who we identify as guys that we need to get innings from and then maybe if there’s some vulnerability with some other guys, maybe that’s the route we go as far as the opener. Yeah, I think that is here to stay.
Q. David was mentioning yesterday that Triggs is more of a relief option. Did you see him being a guy maybe used as an opener or a bridge guy or whatever?
BOB MELVIN: I hadn’t thought about that for him. But I think that we’re past the point of trying to get six or seven innings out of him. I don’t think physically he’s able to do it. So whether that’s length in the middle of the game, whether that’s potential opener, wherever, but with the injuries we’ve had from him, we don’t want to have to count on him for starter-type innings.
Q. David said last night that Chris Davis is a top priority. But also there’s some things that he’d like to get done first. Chris seems to be the kind of guy who that probably is okay with him to not be on the front burner?
BOB MELVIN: Obviously he’d like to get something done. I think he wants to remain with us. He’s been open about that. But he is coming back. So there’s still time to be able to get that done.
But I think like anybody, there’s some other — he sees the needs that we have to address right now, yet he’s always a priority for us. So there’s ongoing dialogue for him but there’s not the urgency trying to get it done for Spring Training.
Q. With Barreto [inaudible] based on what you’ve seen recently, how close to being ready in an everyday role?
BOB MELVIN: I thought even last year or the year before, earlier in the season, he was on the verge of being ready. The strikeouts, commanding the strike zone is going to be — kind of tell the tale where he goes. But we’ll never know until he has an opportunity, and an opportunity to potentially struggle and stick with him and get through it.
I think that’s when we’ll see what Franklin Barreto has to offer us. Now, having said that, Jed Lowrie is still a bit of a priority for us. And if that’s not Jed, then how do we go about the Franklin situation. Do we want to platoon with him? Do we want to give him the job? He’s athletic enough to play other positions too. I think once we figure out where we’re going with Jed, then we’ll have a little better idea where the needs are with Frankie.
Q. What’s your impressions of Luzardo and is he Major League ready?
BOB MELVIN: I think he is, based on what we’re hearing from all our guys in development, what we saw in Spring Training last year too. We ran him out there against a formidable lineup and did it on purpose. And he’s the type of kid that if you talk to him, what is he, 20? Doesn’t seem like that. When he’s on the mound, there’s some presence to him that maybe you don’t typically see from a younger guy.
I was asked yesterday if there was kind of a comp, and I remember Felix Hernandez when I was with Seattle, we were thinking about early on how quickly was he going to get to the Big League level. And I think there’s probably some similarities with Luzardo in the fact that he’s awfully talented, obviously there’s a need for us at this point. And I think the way he went about his season last year would suggest that we’re going to bring him to Spring Training this year with an opportunity to start with us.
Q. How has your job as a manager changed from the first year in 2003, and how has the player-manager relationship changed from when you were a player?
BOB MELVIN: It’s changed significantly with analytics and the front office being more in touch with lineups and the day-to-day operation that maybe a manager had control of in years past. The front office is always at the forefront of signing and putting together a roster. But now it’s the day-to-day stuff. So that’s just something that you have to smart people — you have opinions from, you’re trying to make good decisions based on maybe a few more people involved now.
And I think that’s a good thing. As far as the relation with the player, it really hasn’t changed for me as a manager. I remember when I was a younger player and Sparky Anderson was one of my first Big League managers, I was scared to even go have a conversation with him.
It’s not that way now. Not only are we communicative with managers with the 25-man roster we have. But it’s deep in our system I’ll go over to the Minor League camp in Spring Training and watch some games over there, a few innings and get to know those guys. They’re that much more comfortable when they get with us in Spring Training. It’s changed pretty significantly as far as that goes.
Q. What do you spend more time on now than you did when you first started managing?
BOB MELVIN: My time — my day during the season is pretty much the same as it’s been. There’s a lot more information to digest, and there’s a few more people that you’re in contact with before a game or lineups or whatever. But as far as my preparation, what I do from a day-to-day basis, that really hasn’t changed a whole lot.
Q. A.J. Pollock [inaudible] a guy when he comes out of rehab to impact down the stretch?
BOB MELVIN: It’s tough to forecast. Each guy is a little different as far as coming back from those type of injuries. And I don’t think when they come back, whether it’s 12, 14 months that you can expect them to be at their best. I think it’s once you get through that next year and you’re into your next year that maybe the expectations are a little bit higher. But each guy’s different. Some guys come back throwing bullets right away, other guys take more time. We’ll see what happens with him. I know he’s working really hard. I saw him the other day working at our complex and he’s working diligently and he’s working forward to try to get himself ready to have a good season this year.
Q. You’ve been with the A’s for a while. What have you learned from working with Billy Bean and the way his mind works, have you seen him change over time?
BOB MELVIN: You know, I think the fact that we had a good relationship before I was a manager here allowed us to come together pretty quickly.
In my first year I was interim. So a little bit more at stake that year. In half a year you have to show the organization what you can do. And I think our relationship helped as far as that went.
But our discussions, our day to day interactions have been consistent. David, with an elevated role now, the three of us always have conversations every day.
But once you’re around for somebody for a period of time, then you kind of know what they’re thinking at times and what routes you’re going to go. It’s been pretty seamless here. It’s been easy for me to work with these guys, the fact I’ve been around for a little while means that we work pretty well together.
Q. Despite some of the holes in your roster, what’s your excitement level in terms of the guys who progressed last year, Chapman, Wilson, Laureano?
BOB MELVIN: Right. Laureano came from out of nowhere. We knew he had a talent level potentially after the injury, get with us, but to be impactful as he was — that was probably a lot to expect.
But you look around our infield the years that those guys had last year, and they were all in Gold Glove consideration, including Jed last year. We’re happy with where we are in the infield. Barreto and Lowrie still to be determined. But Stephen Piscotty, he goes under the radar, when you think about guys, Chad and Thompson and Marcus, but Stephen Piscotty became a mainstay for us last year. But not only was he out there every day, he had to go through a lot and maybe ended up having the best season that he’s had.
When you look at our team last year, I don’t know that anybody kind of embodied what we were about more than Stephen Piscotty, and the production would show that too. And it was a great, and I get asked about a lot of questions, and not as much — I’m not allowed to talk about him as much as I’d like to. I’m glad you asked about him.
Q. [inaudible] Gold Glove recognition, you knew how good those guys were, everyone around the ballclub. What was it about the fact that they were recognized throughout the game?
BOB MELVIN: Right. And going in we knew we had — we knew the two corner guys, we had a pretty good idea, but to be Gold Glovers in their first year, it’s remarkable, and then to see the strides that Marcus made to be in consideration for a Gold Glove, and Jed, too, and his durability to be — and you look at us a year or two years before that, we were not a good defensive team at all. Now I think we’re one of the better defensive teams in baseball.
So it’s come together pretty quickly. Our coaching staff does a great job working with these guys. Matty has been terrific for these guys, and Al as well in the infield portion of it, and Ryan [phonetic] with the outfield, we went from a poor defensive team to a very good one. That had a lot to do with the results we had last year.
Q. How much time did you spend watching Oklahoma football this year?
BOB MELVIN: More than I expected too and continue to. So we are pulling hard for them. I mean, you’re reading before the season started is he going to be the starter, is he going to be the starter there. Next you know he’s Heisman Trophy winner and now is the chance to win a national championship. We’re big Oklahoma fans right now for sure. It’s kind of tough to watch them scramble around a little bit sometimes, but it’s exciting.
Q. This time last year no one knew what to expect from [inaudible] not just this year, but do you think people will view the possibilities in the future with other players?
BOB MELVIN: Absolutely. What he did, we’re lucky enough to see him early in the season when he was on top of his game pitching-wise, almost threw a no-hitter against us early in the season. He came as advertised. I was like how do you do this, both ends of it.
He did it pretty seamlessly. Could have had the surgery done earlier but wanted to stay with his team and perform offensively. We had a little bit more on him on the pitching end than the offensive end. And we knew looking at the stuff that he would be a premier performer, but obviously I had no idea he was that good. He is. He’s unique in what he does. Maybe opens up some avenues for other people to do it but it’s not easy and he made it look easy.
Q. Related to that last question, you’ll see him as a hitter probably most of the time next year. Are you going to get him out?
BOB MELVIN: We had trouble this year. Now that he knows the league a little bit more, seems like the season went along he got more and more confident.
Power, hitting the ball the other way, we had some ideas on how we thought we could get him out, and then next the time you saw him, you weren’t getting him out that way anymore. If I knew, I probably wouldn’t tell you anyway. But he’s a star, there’s no doubt about it.
Q. Bring more lefties against him?
BOB MELVIN: His numbers against lefties were lower last year, but every time I brought in a lefty, he got a hit. Looks like he’s taken care of that issue too.
Q. Some of the value that J.D. Martinez brought to the Red Sox this year was nonquantifiable, not just his presence in the lineup, but his impact on his teammates in the way he talked to them about hitting, the approach. Who is that guy for you? The guy or guys?
BOB MELVIN: I think Jed was our guy last year for us. And the most experienced guy, switch hitter, understands mechanics both sides, understands what he needs to do to be successful. But also understands the analytics too. He understands launch angles and exit velocities and was a nice kind of player-coach for us to help Bushy out with some of our younger guys, too. Yet to be determined whether or not we’ll have him back, but I would say if you’re picking a guy that was like that, it would be Jed for us.
Q. Has the definition of veteran leadership changed in any way, with that in mind, that you not only need to carry yourself as a veteran but pass this information?
BOB MELVIN: I don’t think that’s changed. The information has changed, but I don’t think the leadership qualities from the guys you need and every team needs has changed. That’s pretty consistent. And you know right away when you get guys who are the guys who are going to be more instrumental along those lines.
It’s just the numbers and analytics and some of the things we’re teaching have changed a little bit, but not the leadership part.
Q. There’s been talk in recent weeks about changing or eliminating the shift. Where would you fall in that?
BOB MELVIN: I don’t like that. There’s an easy way to combat that. Just hit the ball the other way. If you start hitting the ball the other way, getting hits that way, it will shift back around. Baseball is a game of adjustment. I’m not for that. We’ll see where it goes.
Q. What do you think of the division right now, especially with Seattle now kind of joining Texas as maybe in a little bit of a rebuild phase?
BOB MELVIN: You never know, when younger players perform, you see what happened with us last year, I don’t think anybody predicted us doing what we did last year.
We’re lucky enough to see our teams in spring and get a little bit of a handle on them before you start. But, man, there’s so many younger players that are impactful, and it’s hard to focus what the team is going to do or not do.
And it’s different for us, too, now with Banister not in Texas and Scioscia not in Anaheim, there are going to be a lot of changes that maybe we need to look at a bit differently on teams. I don’t count anybody out in our division. It can flip in a hurry.
Q. The types of swings that are more in vogue today, does it make it more difficult to be able to hit the ball the other way?
BOB MELVIN: Yeah, there’s probably something to that. It’s a little bit more of a lift to it. And guys are probably a little more understanding of. When I played, I had no idea mechanically what I was doing compared to some of these guys now, and you have better instruction now, too. But I think what you’re seeing is pitching trying to combat that with more up and down than side to side.
Guys that are launch angles are a little bit lower in trying to lift, you’re seeing guys pitch at the top of the zone because it’s tough for them to handle that.
And/or depth to a breaking ball. I think the cutter and slider and the changeup, and now you’re seeing more high fastballs and curveballs off of high fastballs to try to combat what the hitters are doing to get the edge.
Q. Maybe in your mind, generically, in terms of maybe one of those types of swings, what’s the solution?
BOB MELVIN: The solution for me is with two strikes, make an adjustment. And I think back in 2001 I was at Diamondbacks when we won the World Series that year, and Luis Gonzalez was our best player, and he was up with a man on third, and less than two outs in a World Series, it’s the first time he choked up all year to try to get that big hit.
So it’s understanding the situation and a lot of times with two strikes. Once you’re able to make some adjustments and do things a little bit differently, then it’s going to flip around again.
I remember succinctly when he said it was the first time I choked up all year, because he understood the situation, what was at stake at that point in time. He was a home run hitter with a scoop to his swing, and this situation didn’t call for that. And he was able to do it in a situation that was the biggest of in Arizona’s history.
Q. You had Chip Allen on staff; now he’s a candidate for Orioles manager. What attributes do you think he brings to that?
BOB MELVIN: He’s terrific. I’ve had him as manager as Arizona, and bench coach and third base coach. He’s one of the great instructors. He’s a true instructor. If you look at where that team is going and breaking it down, having some younger players there, that’s right up his alley. Did a great job in Arizona, especially the first year. I’m pulling hard for him.
Q. [Question about the position.]
BOB MELVIN: I pull for him. But other than that, I don’t know what’s going on there.
Q. You were talking about strikeouts and launch angles and stuff, situations particularly with [inaudible], how can you see he can cut down on his strikeouts, is it pitching level, or what do you see from that?
BOB MELVIN: Getting more consistent bats at the Big League level. We’ve seen at times him be really good about controlling the strike zone, and that’s when he has tons of success, and then at times when he struggles some that maybe he starts to expand a little bit more.
That’s what I was talking about when is the time to let him get through a struggle and see how he is on the other side of that. So I think he has the ability to do it. He works really hard. He’s one of the hardest working guys we had. He’s got a ton of talent. He’s got power and speed. There’s a lot for him to offer, he’s just never been afforded the opportunity to struggle and come out of it. Most of his opportunities have been based on injuries to Jed or whoever when he’s been here.
Q. Have you seen him?
BOB MELVIN: I’ve seen him at batting practice. He loves running around there. If we look at potentially moving a position for him, he’d be on board with just about anybody to be in the lineup. And I think athletically he can do it.
BOB MELVIN: I’d have to see it again, he’s one of the great athletes you’re going to see. How many guys are able to do what he — drafted in the first round and doing — Heisman trophy winner. There’s not that many of those guys. You know athletically he can do anything. From the day we saw him in Oakland, looked like he had an advanced approach at the plate. Wasn’t trying to pull everything. He was hitting the ball the other way. Was showing some power. Pretty level-headed kid for any — at young age. A think there is a high ceiling for him.
Q. As far as relievers’ year-to-year volatility, why do you think that happens and what challenge does it present?
BOB MELVIN: A lot of times I think it’s the hardest element to forecast. Guys will have a really good year and next year not. Maybe it’s workload, maybe not. We feel like we have a pretty good bullpen coming from last year, and it should be intact for this year.
So I’ve been on teams where guys have had great years and then the league’s making an adjustment to them or whatever the next year. You look at the personnel we have and we’re really — we feel good about the guys we have brought back, I think it’s to be determined if our bullpen was as good as it was last year, but we feel good about it.
Q. With the success that the Rays had with the opener last year, will we start to see more of that?
BOB MELVIN: I think you’re seeing more of it last year, but I think it probably started with Cleveland and the postseason a couple of years before that, how they used their bullpen. Now, it’s a little more difficult to do during the regular season when you’re playing every day, postseason have you some days off. But you’re seeing teams come up with creative ways to combat whatever their deficiencies are, and that’s going to continue. So it’s not like it’s a fad that’s a one- or two-year fad, you’re going to see more and more of it.