Rick Renteria completed his first year as Cubs manager with a better record than either of the two years of his predecessor, Dale Sveum. (Of course, Sveum is headed to the playoffs as the Royals' batting coach. I'm thinking Dale did pretty well for himself.)
How did the Cubs' mostly-new coaching staff do this year? Here are my thoughts.
Rick Renteria, manager, B: Ricky did all right just by not being Dale. That is to say, one of the reasons Sveum was fired was reportedly that he didn't do well by Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro in aiding their development. The mere fact that those two came off bad years to be in 2014 is credit to Renteria, as well as the players' hard work. RR's lineup selections were sometimes bizarre, although I suspect the front office had some input into those. The fact that he would always, always, always switch pitchers to get the platoon advantage drove me nuts; there's utility in the platoon advantage but it's not as much as you might think. The eight-man bullpen gave him little bench flexibility and I'm hoping the team will go back to a seven-man pen in 2015. Overall, RR was neither great nor awful in his day-to-day strategy, mostly playing things by-the-book. He did lead the major leagues in manager ejections this year, which is saying something given the replay-review system, which is supposed to cut down on those kinds of things.
Brandon Hyde, bench coach, B: This grade is purely speculative, because Hyde was in hyde-ing most of the year. (Hiding. Get it? I crack myself up.) He ran the team after RR's several ejections and was seen by many as a liaison between the front office, where he worked for three years as director of player development, and the field staff. I guess he did all right, because there were no controversies surrounding him. I looked at his photo while I was writing this and I doubt I'd recognize him walking down the street. He's pretty anonymous and probably likes being that way, at least in a baseball sense.
Chris Bosio, pitching coach, A-: The A is for getting Jake Arrieta to harness his immense potential and for helping solidify the bullpen into a very good late-inning force. The minus is for not being able to do the same with Edwin Jackson, and for not being able to fix whatever is wrong with Travis Wood. Perhaps he can work his magic with them in 2015. Here's another postseason revelation: every day at Wrigley, after he watches that day's starting pitcher warm up, Bosio comes over to the bleachers and throws a dozen or so balls our way. Four times this year, he's thrown to me. The first three times, I caught the ball easily. The fourth time, which was the final Sunday of the season, a day where there had been a brief rainshower before the game, I dropped the ball. He threw me another, and I dropped that one, too. On the third attempt, I caught it, then slipped on the wet bleacher bench and fell flat on my butt, which gave Bosio a good laugh. Thanks for the baseballs, Chris, and glad to have made you smile.
Eric Hinske, first-base coach, B+: Honestly, this is also speculative. He doesn't seem to have done anything egregiously wrong this year, although he's an unlikely choice for a coach -- I never viewed him as coaching material when he was playing. He's young enough (37) to be able to relate to the younger players, and perhaps that's his role.
Gary Jones, third-base coach, A-: I rate a 3B coach on whether we've heard a lot about him during the season sending runners to their doom at the plate. We haven't heard much about Jones doing this, so he must be doing all right.
Bill Mueller, hitting coach, B-: We haven't heard too much about Mueller, but as hitting coach he must be working with Rizzo and Castro, and so I'll give him a little credit for their resurgence. He hasn't, apparently, been able to get the rest of the team to stop striking out so much; that should be on his agenda for 2015.
Lester Strode, bullpen coach, A: I mean... how can you downgrade a bullpen coach? The players seem to like him and he's been in the organization for 26 years and just completed his eighth year as bullpen coach, meaning he's survived three managerial departures. I'm guessing Lester will be around for a while.
Mike Borzello, catching coach, B-: Borzello faithfully traipses out to the outfield every single day with Welington Castillo and they work on having Castillo block pitches. Given what seems to be an inordinately large number of dropped third strikes this year, and the fact that the Cubs were fourth in the league in wild pitches, his work isn't going so well. Credit for trying.
Mike Brumley (assistant hitting coach) and(quality assurance coach): I don't know anything about what these men have done, so grading them would be pointless. Just what does a quality assurance coach do, anyway?
Chad Noble, bullpen catcher: No grade here either, but credit to the former Cubs farmhand for making this slick barehand catch in the pen during the team's last homestand.