John Baker joins Pirates Staff : A Move in the Right Direction
By Ryan Simpson
On November 10, the Pittsburgh Pirates announced that they hire John Baker as the new director of coaching and player development. As someone who has been critical of the Pirates player development/coaching staff in the past, I am THRILLED by this move. Allow me to explain why Baker is just the guy to help GM Ben Cherington pull this team from the pits of Hell.
Baker was drafted in the 4th Round by Oakland in 2002 where he was selected before Pirates LEGENDS Matt Capps, Brandon Moss and Evan Meek. Even before future World Series hero Howie Kendrick too. Baker never got to the majors through Oakland’s system as he was traded to the Florida Marlins in March of 2007.
Baker spent time with the Marlins, San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs over his seven-year career. Only playing 359 games and hitting 14 homers, Baker did not have the career he was projected to as a fourth-round pick. Baker retire after the 2014 season at the age of 33.
President Theo Epstein and the Cubs brought back Baker to be “a head mental skills coach” which is not surprising. Baker was an obvious hire for any coaching stuff for multiple reasons, but one stands above all: he played the position with the highest baseball IQ. Catchers are ALWAYS sought after by teams for numerous coaching/development roles largely due to their baseball acumen and knowledge. As of November 16, 11 of the 32 MLB managers were catchers during their playing days. Not to mention the list of players that Baker was teammates with over those seven years. These are guys who he got to observe and learn from on an everyday basis. Here are some notables: Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, Luis Gonzalez, Josh Johnson, Andrew Miller, Giancarlo Stanton, Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin, Orlando Hudson, Edinson Volquez, Huston Street, Jedd Gyorko, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks. Now 39 years old, Baker is taking on the battered ship that is the Pirates organization. As Pirates fan we have been promised many things over the years. Baker is well-aware of the current state as he eluded to here with Jason Mackey:
Now that you are all caught up on John Baker’s career path, let’s get into why I think he is a good hire for the Pirates. He holds two main qualities that make anyone a great hire: ability to adapt and history of success.
Baker was raised playing baseball the old school way: hit line drives, steal bases and bunt when necessary. He was a player when many teams started to buy into advanced analytics. He is now a staff member when analytics have a huge part in the game of baseball. Also as previously mentioned, he was a catcher so he can manage all of this information to his use. As someone who supports analytics in the game and wants to get into player development, I believe a healthy mix of old and new school is needed. Baker is the perfect example as he is a generational blend of the two schools of thinking.
Second off, the dude worked under Theo Epstein for five years and that guy knows a lot about winning. You know who else worked with Theo Epstein? Ben Cherington. Ben actually work for the Red Sox before Epstein did. Ben now holds the keys to the castle in Pittsburgh and Baker fit the mold in Chicago, so why not Pittsburgh?
I am so happy that Cherington is building a staff around Derek Shelton (also a former catcher) to build this organization for the future. Remember this is not just about the major league club, this is about the organization as a whole. Major kudos to Cherington and best of luck to John Baker as he undertakes this massive project. COMON.