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What coaching changes say about where Chris Getz wants to take White Sox

Vinnie Duber Avatar
October 17, 2023

The White Sox have been in offseason mode for a while now, but Hot Stove season is still a ways off. Things won’t get started on that front till after the World Series ends.

But Chris Getz’s new front office has already made some moves, announcing previously reported coaching changes last week that will reshape the look of Pedro Grifol’s staff. First-base coach Daryl Boston and hitting coach José Castro won’t be back next season, nor will bullpen coach Curt Hasler and assistant hitting coach Chris Johnson, though the latter two were offered positions in the White Sox’ player-development department.

We haven’t heard from Getz on the changes and likely won’t until the GM meetings next month in Arizona. But the moves themselves say something about what Getz & Co. have planned for the future of the organization and the future of the big league club in 2024.

Firstly, the removal of Boston and Hasler from Grifol’s staff is a clear turning of the page.

Fans weren’t pleased with Jerry Reinsdorf choosing not to conduct a wide-ranging search for a new decision-maker after firing Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn in August. Though Getz is his own man with his own ideas, his seven years working under Hahn and promotion from within the organization — especially as Reinsdorf didn’t interview any outside candidates — didn’t sit well with fans who saw a rare opportunity for real change on the South Side.

But Getz has infused some newness into the organization with his recent hires in the front office, bringing in Josh Barfield from the Diamondbacks as his assistant general manager, Brian Bannister from the Giants as his senior adviser to pitching and Gene Watson from the Royals as his director of player personnel. Fans will still need some convincing, of course, but the hires were a move away from the “White Sox DNA” that has so long dominated the top spots in the organization.

Moving on from Boston and Hasler signify a similar desire to move away from the past. Boston spent 26 seasons in the organization, including the last 11 as the big league first-base coach. Hasler, meanwhile, has been in the organization for the last 33 years — a tenure that could continue should he accept the player-development position offered by the team — and was part of the major league coaching staff for the last seven seasons.

While outfield defense (Boston’s focus) nor relief pitching (Hasler’s) were the main reason the White Sox fell on their face in 2023 and lost 100 games for just the fifth time in the franchise’s 123-year history, bringing these lengthy tenures to an end shows Getz’s commitment to seeking new ideas, new voices and new perspectives that could help a team that couldn’t do much of anything right this season do something different.

Elsewhere, there’s an obvious focus on revamping what’s been a broken offensive approach for multiple seasons. Castro and Johnson were only the big league team’s hitting brain trust for one season, and their replacements will mean this group of hitters — many of whom have failed to live up to their potential and, in some cases, slipped backward — will have a third hitting coach (and assistant hitting coach) in three years.

That goes against the “stability” argument that Getz cited in his decision to keep Grifol as the team’s manager going into the 2024 campaign, though it is reflective of just how often big league teams churn through hitting coaches in an attempt to fix their lineups.

Undoubtedly, the White Sox’ lineup needs fixing on numerous fronts. The team ranked next to last in baseball with a woeful wRC+ mark of 83 thanks to ranking dead last with a .291 on-base percentage and 26th in the game with a .384 slugging percentage. They were last in walks, with 377, one of the 10 lowest totals in a 162-game season in the sport’s history. They were next to last in runs scored, with 641.

Now, is that all the fault of Castro and Johnson? Obviously not, as these were issues that plagued these White Sox before the duo showed up. The problem, which might also not be exclusively their fault, is that White Sox hitters didn’t seem to be entirely receptive to any changes they preached. It wouldn’t take a grand leap in logic to assume that Castro and Johnson wanted their hitters to get on base more and not chase pitches outside the strike zone, something Grifol pointed out as problems that needed fixing all year long. But the White Sox never fixed those problems.

You can point to Luis Robert Jr., perhaps the only White Sox hitter to have a really good season, as someone who benefitted from changing his approach. Even at the outset of what ended up an MVP-type season, he looked like the guy who was chasing way too many pitches last year and during the World Baseball Classic in the spring. After a rough start, he worked on his plate discipline. There was a noticeable difference, and he took off from there.

His teammates, however, did not.

As we’ve heard from managers in the past, hitters are not quite as willing to make changes as pitchers are, and even at the major league level, it can be difficult for coaches to get through to hitters, who often have the mindset of, “I hit my way to the big leagues, why would I need to change?” It’s not to completely remove the blame from Grifol, Castro, Johnson and the rest of the White Sox’ staff. After all, it’s their job to break that stubbornness. It’s simply to point out that it’s a two-way street when it comes to these individual relationships, and the half of that relationship that a team has invested many millions of dollars in is more likely to stick around then the half that doesn’t fit the same description.

“It took a little bit (of time to get the hitters to buy in), just because you have to develop relationships. And when guys have had success or some form of success, it’s hard to make changes and it’s hard to develop relationships because it’s about trust,” Grifol told CHGO at season’s end. “There’s still a ways to go on that end. But there has been some strides made, on the relational part, on how we want our offense to roll, really. But there’s not really much that we can hang our hat on and say, ‘We’re headed in the right direction,’ because we haven’t performed, as a group, enough to say that.

“As a group, we haven’t really clicked together, but there’s a nice core here that can get some things done, we just need to continue to work on it. We’ve got to work. We’ve got to continue to work, they’ve got to continue to buy in, and we’ve got to continue to get creative. It has to happen.”

When it comes to replacements for Castro and Johnson, Getz and Grifol might not be looking for a completely new mentality for the big league offense, considering the last two hitting coaches to lose their jobs in the last two offseasons preached mostly the same type of approach. Instead, considering that approach was rarely adopted by those hitters, it might be more about finding someone who can break through to the hitters and make them more receptive to necessary changes.

Interestingly, though, there’s another position that needs filling on the hitting side of things. Andy Barkett, who was the White Sox’ minor league hitting coordinator in 2022 and 2023, is also out of a job, as he told White Sox Daily that the organization is planning a “retooling” of the hitting department.

That could involve a number of things, of course, but with Bannister arriving as someone who will mold the approach to pitching throughout the organization, perhaps a similar overhaul — whether in the form of one person or multiple people — could be coming to the hitting side of things, as well.

That would make sense not just because of the big league team’s struggles in recent seasons but also because the minor leagues have failed to generate much in the way of offensive success stories at the big league level. Outside of Robert, the team’s cadre of one-time top prospects — Eloy Jiménez, Yoán Moncada and Andrew Vaughn among them — have seen mostly underwhelming success in the majors, compared to expectations, and there have been few homegrown hitters to supplement that group.

In other words, making sure White Sox minor leaguers are taking the right approach to hitting is just as important as fixing the guys currently at the major league level, and Getz could be focusing in on that, too, as he attempts to turn things around on the South Side.

We’ll have to wait to see how Getz’s hires to replace the departed coaches match up with his vision for the future of the organization. But in his first few moves as the team’s GM, Getz is showing an effort to make change, even if fans still view him as more of the same from the White Sox. We’ll see, once pitchers take the mound and hitters step to the plate next spring, whether these changes end up making a difference.

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