Drayer: How Mariners plan to get the most out of their coaching staff
The Mariners have made a number of interesting additions to their MLB coaching staff in recent years, perhaps none more so than this winter when they announced Jerry Dipoto’s first hire as Mariners general manager, director of player development Andy McKay, would be joining the big league staff.
The organization’s foundation has been solidified, so after spending the last six years putting systems in place and defining and developing a culture in the minor leagues, McKay looks forward to stepping away from the office and onto the field.
“It’s just who I am,” said McKay in a recent phone interview. “I’ve been a coach my entire adult life. I’ve been coaching baseball. It’s where I feel most comfortable, it’s where I feel I have most ability to be of impact helping others.”
McKay’s new title is major league coach and senior director of baseball development, and while his day-to-day duties are yet to be defined, McKay said his priorities will be finding ways to support manager Scott Servais and the coaching staff as well as advocating for the mental skills programs he developed (and that any player that has come through the Mariners system will be familiar with).
“Seasons come down to games, and games come down to pitches, and pitches come down to clarity and confidence in that moment,” he pointed out. “If you are off, you lose. It’s that simple, and it’s way too big a part of the game and an individual’s performance to leave up to chance. Today, there are very few people who aren’t actively involved in working on their mind like they are their body. To say it’s 99% of the game at this level may not be an understatement. I will be advocating for people to take this seriously and know that there are endless opportunities and resources to turn this into a strength for anybody.”
With his addition, the Mariners’ coaching staff is now a dozen strong – two more coaches than when Dipoto took over in 2015 and five more coaches than former manager Eric Wedge had on his staff 10 years ago. The larger coaching staffs are a trend in baseball, with teams now employing multiple hitting and pitching coaches, plus new positions such as field coordinators, quality assurance coaches and, for one club, a process and analytics coach.
While breaking down the information that is much more plentiful in this day and age of baseball is one reason for the expanded coaching staffs, support is the new name of the game at the big league level. The more coaches, the more opportunity to connect is something McKay saw while running the Mariners’ minor leagues. It is a crucial, yet less controllable, aspect of coaching.
“I can talk to a player who will tell me about a coach and say ‘This is the most important coach in my life.’ Another on the same team can say ‘This is the worst coach I have ever had.’ And they are both good people and they both are right,” he said. “From my seat in being one step removed, it really made me understand how individualized coaching has to be and how that personal connection is everything, and sometimes it is there and sometimes it is not. You need to create multiple ways for players to get what they need. If you have one hitting coach, if a player doesn’t connect with that coach, then you are stuck. No coach hits 1.000 in terms of connecting and impacting. You are creating multiple layers so that hopefully every player on your team is getting what they need one way or the other.”
While there are assigned roles and duties, any coach at any time can help any player. The approach is collaborative, which extends beyond working with players. The current coaching group speaks the same language, with all but two coaches – infield coach Perry Hill and third base coach Manny Acta- internal hires. The process behind the scenes is strong enough that Dipoto is comfortable running without a bench coach this year, instead allowing Scott Servais to draw from all his coaches.
“You are trying to maximize the value of everybody you have,” said McKay. “You have to create structure and a process that allows people to actually have a voice and for their voice to be heard. I will give Scott all the credit in the world. His ability to lead collaboratively is the best I have seen. He is the manager, he has the biggest voice, he makes the decisions, but he makes it so easy for people to come into his office and share their ideas. He may disagree with you, but he makes you feel comfortable to do that. Scott’s collaborative leadership I think is a big part of the season we had last year.”
McKay will have the opportunity to play a part in those decisions this year. Where in past years his focus each day would be on trying to win eight games throughout all levels of the Mariners organization, this year he looks forward to being a part of one team, day to day, pushing in one direction, trying to win just one game.
“Getting back to being part of a singular team with a singular purpose of winning a baseball game every night and trying to compete to the best of our ability is what I have always been driven to do,” he said.
McKay joins a team that made great strides in 2021 and should have expectations of making the playoffs. The 2022 season should mark the end of the Mariners’ “step back” and the beginning of the step forward. McKay is ready for the challenge of meeting those expectations.
“I think if there is a strength that I might have, it is the ability to get through what I hope will be a 180-game season with staying committed to what we are supposed to be doing and not getting distracted,” he said.
“People talk about the major league season being a marathon; I’ve always viewed it as a 100-yard sprint every day and then recovering and getting ready to sprint again. If I can help maintain that sense a little bit of every game is the game and every game is a game for us to win, and this game in April is the game that could put us over the hump in September, that’s what I am really looking forward to.”
Further reading: McKay talks new role, why M’s are desirable to free agents