As you’ve no doubt heard, third base coach Tim Wallach is in the mix to be the next Tigers manager, likely helped by the fact that he’s known Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski since the two were in Montreal more than 20 years ago.
There’s not really any great way to rate third base coaches, so it’s hard to know what sort of impact his possible departure would have on the Dodgers. I know some people think he’s terrible, but that doesn’t really bring any weight to me; like middle relievers, third base coaches are only in the news when they do something wrong — you never hear, “wow, what a great send by the third base coach!” Even when you do get on a coach for what appears to be a terrible send, there’s so many other variables — strength of throw from the outfield, catcher positioning, size of park, game situation, sometimes even the runner heading through a stop sign — that’s it’s tough to judge.
If you ask fans of most teams, they’ll probably have a negative opinion of their third base coach, likely remembering the one or two egregious mistakes rather than the hundreds of quietly appropriate successes.
A few studies have been conducted into what makes for a valuable third base coach, and interestingly, they almost all conclude that they don’t wave runners home enough. (Click the links for full stories and gory math.)
My solution: fire the third base coach. Don’t have one. Why pay someone good money when he’s actually making your team worse? The reason that the third base coach is so conservative goes back to the point I made at the beginning of the article. If the runner gets gunned down, the third base coach gets criticized. If the runner is safe, he rarely gets praised. He has every reason in his own personal cost/benefit analysis to err on the side of holding the runners and no reason to send the runners unless he’s sure of their making it, even though it’s costing the team in the long run.
Third base coaches are human and surely, they feel the sting of the criticism that follows from a runner being gunned down in a key situation. But, that means that your favorite team is being robbed of runs by a man’s own psychological need for approval. A sign on a stick doesn’t care if it gets criticized. Instead of a third base coach, just tell the players to run like crazy, playground style. It sounds a little weird, but I think I’ve got some decent evidence here that it might actually improve scoring.
Here’s an interesting one: What would happen if third-base coaches just sent everyone, playground-style, on these potential sac flies, regardless of whether it was a good idea or not? It turns out that teams would probably score more runs than they do now.
Indeed, it was very rare that it was a bad idea to send the runner, even after controlling for the distance of the fly ball and the speed of the runner. It was almost always the case that the chances of the runner succeeding were above the break-even point. The runner might get thrown out this time, but if a team really committed to an old-school playground style, it would come out ahead.
Thus, the ideal third-base coach is a sign on a stick featuring the words “If the gentleman currently holding the ball is an outfielder, please turn left and run an additional 90 feet.” It’s counter-intuitive, but the third-base coach doing the most for his team is not the one who has the highest safe-rate, but the one who has the highest go-now rate.
I don’t have specific stats on Wallach, so I can’t really comment on how he rates — which I suppose somewhat defeats the purpose of wondering if we care if he leaves. It’s an interesting conversation, however. How do you rate a third base coach? Other than “don’t be a jerk who the players hate” like Larry Bowa, I’m not sure we know.