Andy Van Slyke and Baseball Reference
This is neither especially timely nor enriching, so I’ll be brief. The M’s 2015 coaching staff has had a rough go over the past few months, and while they were highly paid, visible and generally successful people, it can’t be any fun to be nominally in leadership in a bad organization. None of them, and all of them together, aren’t 100% responsible for the M’s lackluster 2015, but they have titles like “batting coach” on a team that failed to hit, or “outfield coach” for a team spectacularly ill-equipped to catch flying baseballs. It’s a tough gig, and I bet say, Howard Johnson, can spin an angry yarn about Mike Zunino to his friends while nibbling on the last hot wing.
So I understand that Andy Van Slyke must be frustrated, and thus it can’t be a complete and total shock that he professed his frustrations when asked by a sports radio host. But his quick hit turned into more than that: it was so public and so ill-considered that it almost felt like a confession, except for the part where nothing was his fault and Robbie Cano’s to blame for everything.
There are times ex-employees are so angry about how a firing turned out that they value getting their side out more than they value the boost that discretion might get them when applying to new jobs. Tony Blengino comes to mind here, who was very public about what he saw as mismanagement in the M’s FO, and has been writing for Fangraphs/ESPN since. Again, though, Van Slyke’s comments aren’t anything similar. They must be doing tremendous damage on the job market; beyond placing blame for the entire M’s offense on a bad stretch by an ailing 2B, he implied he had inside knowledge of the Dodgers clubhouse (his son is a Dodger) and that Clayton Kershaw wanted Yasiel Puig traded. This doesn’t *help* anything – this doesn’t correct public perceptions, and it doesn’t get his skills as a coach off the hook. They’re sizzling hot takes that have escaped the gravity of the Mariners, of coaching, of baseball.
The specific claims are ludicrous, as sizzling hot takes pretty much *have* to be. Van Slyke says that Cano was the worst #3 hitter he’s ever seen in his lifetime in baseball as a player and coach. It takes like 3 minutes to find this team, the 1994 Pittsburgh Pirates, whose 3 hitters combined for a .699 OPS and an OPS+ relative to league average of 63. That compares…poorly to Cano’s .779 OPS, the .796 OPS the M’s got from the 3 hole or the 95 OPS+ relative to the league. The Pirates just clearly, clearly had a worse #3 hitter in 1994, when that 3 hitter was, of course, Andy Van Slyke.
But hot takes can’t be measured by their accuracy. They should be measured by their reach, and in that sense, Van Slyke hit a long home run. We’re talking about Andy Van Slyke not as a great CF for St Louis and Pittsburgh, but as a failed coach on a team that was bad enough to get errybody involved with creating and coaching it fired. Van Slyke got his name out there, and the way he kept going, it clearly felt pretty good. Maybe we shouldn’t think about how this might affect his job market in MLB. Maybe this was an interview for a new career dispensing salty opinions and hyperbolic takes to people who can’t get enough. Best of luck, Andy.