Derek Shelton and Kenny Lofton
This is the second installment in a 12-part series.
Derek Shelton became the Indians hitting coach in June 2005, replacing Eddie Murray. At the time, the Indians ranked towards the bottom of the league in hitting, and manager Eric Wedge thought it was time for a change:
"It's not just about right now, it's just about what we feel is best for our ballclub today, the future and long term," said manager Eric Wedge, who told Murray he was fired. "From an offensive standpoint, I feel we can do better. But it's not just about Eddie Murray. I just felt that we needed to make a change and I felt this was best for our ballclub."
Specifically, it was thought that Murray's coaching style was what caused his dismissal. Murray did not take the initiative in giving hitting advice, leaving it up the player to come to him. If Murray had had a more aggressive style of coaching, the move might not have been made even with a struggling offense, for the Indians value a satisfactory process almost as much as satisfactory results.
So, in looking at whether Derek Shelton should keep his job after the season, I have to either completely leave out of my analysis Shelton's coaching style, or to make assumptions based on snippets of articles or interviews. And all of this is moot if Eric Wedge isn't here next year, for the hitting coach comes under the manager's purview. So, for the purposes of this article, I'll assume that the Indians are satisfied with his coaching demeanor and style, and that Eric Wedge will have the opportunity to make a decision on Shelton this winter. That leaves me mainly with statistical analysis and subjective reasoning, though I have several angles in mind in which to look at the numbers.
1. Do established major-leaguer hitters improve once they arrive in Cleveland? And, did established major-league hitters improve once Shelton joined the team?
Let's tackle the performance of the 2005 team first. Murray was fired the first week of June, so let's see if there was any measurable change among the everyday players from June onwards:
Of the 10 players who got 200 or more at-bats, six of them improved under Shelton. Among those were very significant improvements, namely Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez. The overall team offense improved as well:
So it looks like Shelton was an improvement over Murray. What about Shelton versus other hitting coaches? Here's a list of established major-leaguers the Indians brought in from 2006 through this year, their previous offensive numbers, and what they did in an Indians uniform (OPS+ with the Indians in bold):
|Josh Barfield||x||x||96||54||x||x||Way Down|
Aside from Jamey Carroll, there's no success story to point to. Most of the players on this list were older role players coming into their stints with the Indians, so there probably wasn't much upside for Shelton to tap. However, Josh Barfield was a big miss for Shelton, as he went from a decent starter with Padres to on the cusp of bombing out of the majors altogether on Shelton's watch. The others don't bother me as much; Jason Michaels has gone back to being a platoon player, and Dellucci and Nixon were winding down their careers.
2. Do players improve or regress during their years with Shelton?
Here's a list of everyday players who have spent at least two full seasons with the Indians during the Shelton era:
Some of these trends can be chalked up to forces beyond a coach's reach, like Travis Hafner's injuries. The two that stick out to me are Jhonny Peralta (on the bad side) and Shin-Soo Choo (on the good side). Peralta's 2005 season (at age 23) seemed like the beginning of a fantastic career, but since then he hasn't come close to that production. Conversely, Choo started out his major-league career struggling at the plate, but since the second half of last year has become one of the better corner outfielders in the American League. Franklin Gutierrez and Casey Blake have both had good seasons since leaving the Indians, but nothing markedly better than some of the years they had under Shelton.
3. How has the Indians offense fared versus the rest of the American League?
Even with some upheaval in the last couple years, the Indians have remained a league-average offense. Considering that Progressive Field has played as a neutral park during the last couple years, that's a decent showing. It certainly wasn't the offense that drove the Indians out of contention this season.
Each season since Derek Shelton arrived in Cleveland, the Indians have finished at least in the top half in the league in runs. During his first two seasons, the Indians offense was among the best in baseball. Although he's had a couple misses (Josh Barfield, Jhonny Peralta), the rest of his record stacks up well, especially given the circumstances in 2008 and 2009. If Wedge isn't fired, he should be brought back. And even if there is a new manager, Shelton should be recommended to remain in his position.