Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Your 2018 Giants: Cha-cha-changes

As announced via media leaks and then officially by the Giants, there has been a number of changes in the front office and the field coaches.  Can't tell the players without a scorecard:
  • David Bell:  the first official announcement was about the replacement of Shane Turner with former Giant David Bell, as the new Director of Player Personnel.  He's been working his way around and up, manage/coach for the Reds, Cubs 3rd base coach in 2013 (I think pre-new regime), Cards hitting coach/bench coach since.  Evans touted Bell's strong experience and broad breadth of various aspects of the game. He also noted, "A lot of the success we've had [in player development] has helped us produce championships at the big league level."
  • Shane Turner:  He is now special assistant for pro scouting.  I think of these "special assistant" titles to be the equivalent of "producer" in entertainment, a title given to indicate some importance, but a title given so freely that it loses significance to outside people.  
  • Dave Righetti:  In a shocking move, Rags is removed as our pitching coach, which he has been since 2000 under 3 different managers.  His 18 years tenure as pitching coach was a record for the Giants franchise.  He was moved into the front office and is now special assistant to GM Evans.  The article noted that Rags is not a scapegoat, as the Giants were 4th in the majors in quality starts, and a number of other pitching quality stats.  Evans noted a need for "a new voice" and that "Changes sometimes are needed as much for the sake of that new voice, if anything, and I think that was really the priority here. ... When you see all that these guys have accomplished together, it's very hard to make a change. But ultimately change can be for the good of both your staff and your players sometimes." Also: "This certainly is not going to eliminate Dave Righetti's voice in this organization. In some ways it may even enlarge his voice." And: "Dave's heartbeat is in uniform. But he also loves this organization and our players -- our pitchers, particularly. ... I'm sure it's still hard to imagine, even for us, Dave not being in uniform. But at the same time, there's so much that he can offer in this new role. I'm excited about it." Evans noted somewhere that he had actually approached Rags once the season ended, seeing if he would be interested in a more organizationally influential role.  Righetti was quoted in a later article (after declining to comment after the original announcement of his change) about the other staff changes that one of his new goals is ensuring that the organization's pitchers are taught consistent methods from Rookie Ball to the Majors, and that "After 38 years on the field as a player and coach, I'll be looking at things through a different lens. Working with Bobby and his baseball ops team in the front office, I'll be able to apply all those years of experience to help the team in new ways."
  • Mark Gardner:  Gardner is removed as bullpen coach, which he has been since 2003.  He was also moved into the front office, and is now taking on a special assignment role in pitching evaluations.   
  • Steve Decker:  Decker is removed as assistant hitting coach, which he was just assigned last season.  He is now special assistant in the baseball operations department.
  • Ron Wotus:  The long time bench coach, part of the Giants MLB level coaches since 1998, has been moved to 3B coach, replacing Phil Nevins.  That was his position when he joined the Giants staff, so this is not a new position for him. From the article: "Wotus, who last coached third base regularly in 1998 when he joined the Giants' Major League staff, sounded excited and in no way considered his move a demotion. "I'm looking forward to being on the field again with the players and having more of an impact on our offensive game," said Wotus, who will continue to function as the team's defensive guru. "This is about putting a quality staff together. It's not about me personally. When you're needed somewhere, you go where you're needed. I'm looking forward to the challenge.""
  • Phil Nevins:  We hardly knew ye, Phil, as the rotating 3B coach experience continues after Flan manned the position from the beginning of the Bochy era.  He was up for a manager position (but didn't get it), which is what he is angling for anyway, but didn't want to be re-assigned with this move, and instead left the organization.  
  • Bam Bam Meulens:  Bam Bam is now the Bench Bench Coach, replacing Wotus.  From the article:  "As bench coach, Meulens, who has openly discussed his big league managerial aspirations since joining the Giants' staff in 2010, will be more involved in helping Bochy outline strategy."  Another step in the rung of duties teams look at when evaluating potential managers.  Hence why Wotus has been routinely on the list of interviewed coaches each off-season when teams are interviewing for open manager positions.  Of course, after a dozen years of interviews with no managerial job, that's not a good sign either.
  • Matt Herges:   Another former Giants player rejoined the team, as he was named the new Bullpen Pitching coach.   He was our closer during parts of his time with the team, and has been involved with the Dodgers the past seven years, the last two as their AAA pitching coach.  It was noted that part of Matt Herges’ responsibilities include “series advance analysis," which involves using the computer.  Evans added that Herges was added because of his ability of making pitchers better, not because of his interest/knowledge in analytics.
As noted in one of the announcements, Jose Auguicil will retain his 1B coaching job and Shawon Dunston will retain his on-field instructor/replay analyst position.

Evans noted that:
"I'm not necessarily suggesting that guys who are leaving their positions are moving to more suitable roles. They're very talented baseball people, and I think that there are opportunities to advance their influence and also infuse new perspectives, new energy, new backgrounds into other roles in the organization. It's just part of what happens in organizations, how you keep things strong."
Also:
“Teams have to change to keep their edge in an industry as competitive as Major League Baseball. They have to constantly infuse new ideas and energy at every level of the organization, on the field and in the front office. This reorganization helps us enhance an already successful group of some of the best minds in baseball.”
And from the Chron article:
 "Last week, when the Giants reassigned coaches Dave Righetti, Mark Gardner and Steve Decker, Evans said he was interviewing candidates with analytics-driven ideas. On Thursday, Evans said the pitching-coach changes and emphasis on analytics shouldn’t be a reflection on the work of Righetti and Gardner, both of whom he said were engaged analytically."
ogc thoughts

Most commenters have said how this move eviscerates Bochy's staff and thus is a rebuke to him. And Bochy noted how much of a friend Righetti is and how much he contributed, stating no 2010/12/14 without him.  One headline noted that Bochy is on the hot seat.

Bochy Broadside Or Bochy Power Move?

However, my first thought was this: this is a Bochy power move. Remember, when he got here, he pretty much had to accept all the existing coaches, including Righetti, Gardner, and Wotus. From what I recall, the only choice he got was being reunited with Flannery, who had been fired by Padres management when THEY put Bochy on the hot seat and was basically punishing him, and trying to push him out.  Bam Bam appears to be his second personal hire, back in 2010.  Auguicil and Decker appear to be internal promotions by front office management, not coaches selected by Bochy.

So what happened here is the following. Righetti and Gardner are out, pushed to front-office positions they probably didn't want in the first place. Righetti had said previously that he would love to be a manager, in an interview, not in the front office.  I would also note that no where is he quoted as saying that he wanted this new role, so they were clearly fired.

Wotus, who has been the bench coach forever, is pushed to 3rd base coach (perhaps also a punishment for the weak Giants defense in 2017?).  Bam Bam Muelens, one coach on this staff that Bochy appears to have brought in himself, promoted to the key bench coach position that has been a leaping board for a managerial position, which is not what many a Giants fan would do, as they blame the Giants anemic 2017 offense on Bam Bam. Also, Decker out as assistant batting coach.

Lastly, Augie stays as 1st base coach, and he probably is more a management selection, much like Wotus, than a Bochy selection. Oh, and Nevins is out of a job.

So my take is that Bochy, while maybe on a hot seat (I doubt this narrative, 3 in 5 speaks loudly, Giants management of this era would not embarrass him while he's under contract), is finally getting to remake the staff more the way he wants. Wotus replacing Nevins (plus Augie remaining) was the compromise for Meulens getting the bench coach and Rags/Gardy out, allowing Bochy to find and hire a new hitting coach and a new pitching coach.

Firing Righetti:  Right or Wrong?

I love Rags and what he had done and meant for the team in his tenure.  That said, I've been wondering about things on the pitching staff in recent years, and especially this year.  

Why has Jeff Samardzija been so up and down in his performances the past two years?   The idea of acquiring him, in my mind, was that the Giants pitching gurus would be able to fix whatever ails him and get him to pitch to his abilities more and develop an ace on the cheap, and in time for when Cueto was expected to opt-out, to keep the duo ace going.  

He did pitch well initially, then was horrible for a long stretch in the middle of the 2016 season, before ending on a good note.  A season of thirds, essentially.  He was like that again in 2017, up and down, and amazingly able to reduce his walks dramatically, but still unable to pitch as great as those K/BB numbers suggest they would, and ended up with a much worse ERA, not even close to indicative of his great peripherals.  Why was he down for such long stretches?  Pitching coach should be able to identity the problem and help to fix.

And what about Matt Moore?  He clearly has the talent.  And as also a lefty, Righetti is supposed to be able to really hone down and help his fellow lefty.  Instead, Moore was not only up and down, he was mostly way down in 2017.  But the potential for top rotation goodness is there, for in his last 13 starts, he had 8 DOM and 3 DIS, for a 62% DOM and 23% DIS, which would be good if he could do that over a full season (though still bad 4.99 ERA for those 13 starts, but much better peripherals; better than prior 6.04 ERA as well).

The story is that he started incorporating a new pitch, a cutter he picked up from Bumgarner late in 2016 and pushed to use by Posey, and that eventually messed with his four-seam fastball mechanics, causing him to lose control of all of his other pitches, making for many a bad outing for him in 2017, until he started backing off of it mid-season.  But as we saw in his last three starts, still having some problems.  Shouldn't the pitching coach see that the cutter was messing with Moore's mechanics, if not in Spring Training, then early in the 2017 season?  And get him fixed long before the All-Star break, he was struggling even in Spring Training, from what I recall.

I also had to wonder about Heston and Blach.  Heston pitched so well in 2015, what happened that he didn't even make the club for 2016 and ended up being traded away, not so soon after his "breakout" season and no-hitter?  And Blach was very good for the first half of the 2017 season, but then was pretty awful in the second half:  first 19 starts, 47% DOM/11% DIS for an OK 4.12 ERA; last five starts, 0% DOM/80% DIS for a horrendous 7.90 ERA.   Not that either was great prospects to begin with, you can't do miracles if the talent isn't there.  But Heston at least appeared to be a legit 5th starter and yet could not maintain that, and Blach was doing OK as a 5th starter type and then spiraled out of control, and nothing could stop it, he didn't make another start.

Then there was Lincecum and Cain before this season, now that I'm thinking more about it.  Lincecum, while he had clearly lost a lot, appeared to be good enough to be a bottom rotation guy at worse, when he was going well, but then would spiral out.  Cain as well.  Again, can't do anything if the talent isn't there (anymore), but while both were down, there was a lot of glimpses of an OK MLB #5 starter in their starts, but never any consistency there to get there.  Zito, as bad as his contract was, at least was a decent starter, not worth his contract, but he was at least average-ish, whereas both Lincecum and Cain were clearly bad.

I feel that these were all legit concerns, and made me wonder if Righetti was losing it or not, though not enough for me to write on them.  I would hope I would have addressed this when I write up my thoughts for next season, but the point is moot now, he's gone already.   But it is not like everything was going great before he was let go.

Poaching Other Teams IP

Matt Herges is the second poach, after Bell.  Formally of the Dodger's minor league coaching corps, last two as their AAA pitching coach, Matt joins as the new bullpen coach, replacing Gardner. Have to assume that is also a Bochy compromise with Evans, allowing Evans to poach a Dodger with knowledge of their systems and methods, and stealing, er, implementing best practices, perhaps much like when they hired John Barr.  Particularly since this position is normally a hire by the pitching coach, and not by management.

Same thing with David Bell, I have to assume they are trying to pick up best practices from another successful organization.  Coming from the successful Cards system, which keeps the prospects coming out of their ears, especially from the International (i.e. Carribean) free agent market.  

The Giants are feeling too insular, apparently (finally?), and stale, and adding intellectual property (IP) knowledge that insiders like Herges and Bell, and whomever they hire for pitching and hitting coaches, will bring into the mix for the Giants.   That seems to be a consistent message in the statements Evans has made regarding all these changes, bringing in new perspectives, viewpoints, and strengths.

Bam Bam Not Anointed

While I agree with others that Bam Bam is being groomed as a manager in training, he is not necessarily Bochy's replacement.

If my first take is correct, in this narrative, the Giants FO is giving Bochy a chance to remake the staff more in his image, and Bam Bam definitely is being groomed as a manager, which is a goal of his. But that don't necessarily mean he will get the job when Bochy's contract end, they could go and reward Wotus for years of service, or, more likely in my thinking, they might be wanting to promote Augie as the manager in training, as he has risen through the ranks of the minors. Then again, so had Decker, and he got pushed out after one year as a Giants coach (or maybe Decker has eyes on a front office job?).

Last Thoughts

And I don't know which is the right interpretation of the move, to be clear. I only wanted to note that this was my first reaction when I heard the news.

I was kind of wanting to wait to see who would be announced as the new coaches before commenting, but maybe they are wanting someone on the staffs of the two teams still competing. They got an LA insider, maybe they want an Astros one now? Then again, Cubs beat them last year, so no interest in their people? Then again, maybe they were but were rebuffed. Or maybe they felt that the Cubs had a hot team last season, and that's why they won, but that they regressed to their mean this season.

Again, just a lot of thoughts on my part, not sure yet which opinion I'll land on, but for now, I see this as pro-Bochy moves, not against.  He got Bam Bam as his bench coach, and will have a hand in choosing the new pitching coach and hitting coach.  In a recent interview, he noted that analytics is more of what they are looking for:
"I know that certainly has been part of the discussion," Bochy said during Friday's conference call with Giants beat reporters. "Not that the staff wasn't open-minded. Some guys were more into it than others. ... I think when the staff is all said and done, you may see a little bit more of that."
But that it is not the be-all and end-all of these new hires:
"We try to stay on the cutting edge of what's going on with the game," Bochy said. "These discussions go back to the last couple of years, with the way baseball's going. ... It's becoming more prevalent with every club, including ours." 
At the same time, Bochy added, "That's not just what we're looking for, people who are more analytics." 
Evans has said he expects to name the hitting and pitching coaches after the World Series. The Giants also need an assistant hitting coach. 
Bochy said that the hitting coach should be "somebody who's going to be a good communicator, that's going to have hopefully some new and fresh ideas. ... Sometimes [players] hear another voice. That might be something they need to get back to being a better offensive club." 
"I really would like for the new pitching coach to have a lot of the qualities Dave Righetti has," Bochy said. "I can't imagine having a better pitching coach than Dave Righetti. ... We don't get to three World Series in five years without Rags. I was blessed to have him at my side. I'm honored that he's my friend. I'm just glad that he's going to be around so I can still have Rags to talk to and he can help the organization throughout all levels." 
The Giants are believed to have interest in Dave Eiland, who was relieved of his duties as Royals pitching coach earlier this month.
FYI, KC, another team that has been successful in recent years, who was infused with the Braves IP when they hired Dayton Moore to be their GM.

It is interesting to note that while he felt the need to give props to Rags in describing what he is looking for, he did not mention Bam Bam at all.  That reinforces my thought that this was a power move by Bochy because he had to be effusive with his praise for Righetti, as Rags got pushed out, but didn't need to qualify his statements about the hitting coach, for if he had problems with Bam Bam as hitting coach, he would not have been promoted to bench coach for him.  Plus, I would note Wotus' statement above about how it is all about the team, ever the organizational man for the Giants.

Post Script:  I Still Remember, Bell

I'll never forget how Bell left the Giants, though.  We were coming off the great and yet very disappointing 2002 season, and Bell was a great trade steal (as usual) who had a great first season for us, so I thought we had our future starting 3B, as he was signed for 2003.  What I didn't know was that Bell had an opt-out clause and he opted out, telling Giants fans not to worry, that this did not mean good-bye.   I did worry, because I know that this is real life, players leave for more money, better situation.

And, of course, he did say good-bye, leaving for the Phillies, and from what I recall, he signed for a lesser deal than what the Giants offered, about $1M less per season, because he wanted to play for the Phillies.  I took great joy in the fact that he fell on his face his first season with them.  Though he eventually played well in the following three season, which I was not aware of until now, because, after his horrible season, I didn't care anymore.

So I guess, in his first interview back, he'll tell Giants fans, "See, I told you not to worry, I'm back!"  :^)  All I can say is, he better deliver.

P.S.S.  Evans, If Anyone, Is On the Hot Seat

Someone else who needs to deliver is Evans.  As much snark as fans gave Sabean, at least he never traded away a prospect who was all that good:  Lirano, Howry, Foulke, Villanueva are probably the top names, no real star.  The trades with Evans, however, as the GM has already not been the best, losing MLB players like Adam Duvall and Luis Castillo, both doing well enough for fans to wonder we lost core type players.   For that we got half a season of so-so Leake pitching plus a month of horrible Casey McGehee hitting.   They are already two of the worse trades since Sabean was named the GM.

And is pretty bad for only three years as a GM.  Imagine if we had Duvall the past two seasons, and Castillo in 2017.   We would not have any questions about the lack of a big bat in the lineup.  We would not have any questions about who the starting LF is.  We would not have any questions who is the 5th starter in the 2018 rotation.  We sure as hell would not have had the worse record in baseball in 2017.   The only silver lining to all this is our #2 overall pick in 2018, Evans could make all that worth while by hitting a grand slam with that pick, by selecting a future Hall of Famer who contributes to the team by 2020.

And I understand that you need to trade value to get value.  But Sabean over his long tenure as GM, almost 20 years, did not trade away players who made such immediate impact on the MLB field.  This is more like Billy Beane, who traded away Ethier and the trade was basically immediately bad, as Ethier outperformed Milton Bradley in the following season (Duvall) or soon afterward, like Addison Russell (Castillo).  While Beane somehow can get away with that, Evans will not, he better do a better job of holding onto the players who are worth keeping, or find that his term as GM will not be much longer than Nevins stay as our 3B coach.

And, of course, it is still very early, and we don't know yet what Duvall's and Castillo's futures look like.  They could flame out with injuries like Liriano did.   His on-off routine actually hurt the Twins greatly in their efforts to capitalize on having Mauer, Morneau, and Nathan as core players.   But right now, it looks pretty bad for Evans, so if anyone should be on the hot seat, it would be Evans.

P.S.S.  Bochy's Time Might Be Past, Anyway

As I've been documenting, Bochy, for his career has been stupendously great at being 8 games above .500 in one-run games.  He had 9 such seasons in his first 18 seasons as a manager, including 3 of 6 as a Giants manager.  However, in his last five seasons, he has been negative (i.e. below .500) in 3 of his last 4 seasons as manager, and it has been five seasons since his last season being at least 8 games above .500 in one-run games, which he did in 2012.   And his last positive season (and only +1 at that) was in 2016.  

So his time might be past, as Bobby Cox, had a similar pattern.   I didn't count his one-run record, but I had analyzed his Pythagorean pattern, as too how many games won above Pythagorean he was, and early and into late of his career as manager, he was many games above .500, but in his latter years, and from what I recall, it was a pretty long period, he stopped beating Pythagorean.

Now, there is no study showing the value of these stats, so there is nothing definitive (and really, in baseball, there is no definitive way of determining goodness, to an exact degree, even WAR is off a lot because of the inability to properly measure pitchers, where most saber measurements are still unable to credit pitchers who are good at reducing BABIP, and properly measure fielding defense, both key abilities in baseball;  you need a variety of stats, and you can feel around the target, but nothing definitive that I know of).  

But I've studied the Pythagorean of a wide variety of managers who were active in the 2000's, and generally the managers considered good were above Pythagorean and those bad, were under.  Interestingly, Lasorda was negative, pretty bad really.  Also, Joe Torre was horrible in his early career as a manager, but really good with the Yankees.   So talent is part of the equation, as he had bad teams early on, and great teams with the Yankees.

And I basically studied the NL Managers one-run records for the length of Bochy's career as a manager and I can say that few managers ever even have one season at 8 games above or better in one-run games, let alone multiple ones, let alone 9 in 18 seasons.  And saber rules says that managers should be regressing to .500 in one-run games.  Bochy currently is 68 games above .500, in 1,106 games where there was a one-run difference.  He could be -10 games for the next 7 seasons before he regresses to .500, and most managers generally get fired after one of those seasons, let alone 7 of them.

But, he has been -13 for the past five seasons, suffering his worse record in 2015, going 19-28, or -9 games under .500 in one-run games.  His previous worse was -7 in 2002, so the -9 is not that out of bounds, but that was his only one as Padres manager where he was worse than -2.  While he only had one season out of twelve where he was worse than -2, in his eleven seasons as Giants manager, he has 3 seasons where he was -4 or worse.   And if you are wondering if it has to do with good teams or bad teams, in 2008, when the Giants were 72-90, Bochy was +10 in one-run games that season, but in 2015, the Giants were 84-78, but Bochy was -9 in one-run games.

Add in the fact that he's been dealing with heart/health issues during this down period, you have to wonder if Bochy has lost a step.   And baseball can be cruel, you lose just a little and it could cost you big.   We'll see, but these might be his last two seasons as Giants manager.  Hopefully he can retire and enjoy a healthy and wonderful retirement with his wife, that's the most important thing.

5 comments:

  1. I think you are right about Bochy, but this could be his last power play. Several managers who went to the playoffs this year have already been fired. Amazing. Several pitchers have detiorated rapidly under Rags, including Lincecum (injuries involved) Cain (injuries involved) Jonathan Sanchez, and the team signed Dontrelle Willis with the hope of turning him around and could not. Also Moore has deteriorated significantly. Despite Lincecum's loss of velocity, what did him in and most of the others was control. These guys certainly lost control There are guys with 90 MPH fastballs, with change ups not as good as Lincecum's that are still effectively pitching in the majors, but one they they have is control Almost every one of these pitchers loss their ability to consistently control their pitches. Another problem Rags has and is highlighted significantly in the Moore case, is the inability to switch from the windup to the stretch and stay in-sync. The only one who seems to struggle and yet does not have these significant control issues is SamardXXXa but he sometimes gets wild by putting the ball right down the middle of the plate. Blach, I believe the league caught up to his outside corner pitches, and have adjusted. He has not been able to adjust back. Blach on the other hand seems to give up hits to start off an inning while in the windup and when on gets guys out while he is in the stretch. Perhaps he should only pitch from the stretch. While straightening out Dyson, they handled Melancon poorly. Moore's raw stuff looks as good or better than Bumgarner's but Moore just does not have the control. Bumgarner occasionally looks lost, but in the long run, most of the time he pitches quite good. In most of Cueto's late season outings, he was throwing a ton of pitches by the 5th innings. That did not seem Cueto like and makes one think that there has to be an injury involved in his lackluster perfromance. Again our hot rookie Heston was gone before we could say goodbye. Somehow his main problem again, was control. Remember we had a pitcher come up a few years ago, who had pitched in College for Univ. of Fla. and he looked great, and after a couple of really good outings, he just fell back and never was good again. How much is injury, how much is player induced with little ability to be fixed by any coach, and how much are the problems; problems that could be fixed by a coach if only the giants had that coach. We will see.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your thoughts. Though a break now and again would be great for reading. :^)

      Thanks for pointing out Dyson! Not all was lost for all pitchers on the team!

      Yes, lost of control killed those careers. Thanks for your thoughts on each pitcher.

      I would note that Cueto did have an injury, he battled blisters all season long, which was blamed on the new ball. And he was not the only one to complain, others complained as well.

      Perhaps that explains the slick ball of the World Series that pitchers have complained about. Whatever was done that caused blisters during the season, maybe they tried to adjust the ball construction formula in order to reduce that, and ended up making slick baseballs.

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  2. Announced during the thrilling Astros win yesterday was the naming of Houston's assistant hitting coach, Alonzo Powell, a former Giants farm hand (and native San Franciscan, per tweets), as our new hitting coach. That would pull a lot of information from the Houston intellectual property.

    So now we got info from the Cards via Bell, Astros via Powell (and a lot of that info originally came from the Cards, via their GM and other former Card personnel), and they are two hitting coaches, then the Dodgers via Herges (though his knowledge will be more from the farm system side, not as much MLB side, since he was part of their minor league coaching, but since he was the AAA pitching coach, he would know what LA wants to prepare their pitchers for the majors, plus how they evaluate pitchers.

    So who else for pitching coach? I don't know who they can get from Cleveland, but I've been impressed by how well they have been identifying and developing talent for a couple of decades now, at least. It might not have resulted yet in a championship, but they have had a lot of great prospect/trade hits that any team would be envious of, both hitters and pitchers. And they had the best ERA in the majors in 2017, so good place to start.

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  3. Per this article, there is speculation that David Bell might also be a possible replacement for Bruce Bochy at the end of his two year contract, not Meulens or Wotus, who would be pretty old by then, by baseball managers terms.

    Of course, this all supposes that Bochy feels that he's done and moving on, maybe he wants another contract, one never knows.

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  4. Per the great Hank Schulman, the Giants have hired former A's coach Curt Young to be their new pitching coach: https://twitter.com/hankschulman/status/926616447907803137

    Really? A's? That's disappointing to me, I don't really view them as a good pitching team, not that I keep close tabs on them, so I guess I'll see how the A's did with Young as their coach.

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