Nick Leyva spent a year as a coach in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

Can Nick Leyva Fix The Pittsburgh Pirates Infield Defense?

 

The Pittsburgh Pirates hired Nick Leyva from outside the organization to be the infield coach as well as coach third base.  While everyone anticipates Leyva waving Pirates runners around third base at a franchise record pace, the more important job of the veteran coach will be improving the Pirates infield.  Can he get the job done?  

Leyva was picked in the 1975 amateur draft by the St. Louis Cardinals.  He hit .267 with eight homers during his three seasons in the minors. He managed in the minors for the Cardinals from 1978 to 1983.  He then coached with Whitey Herzog from 1984 to 1988.   He was twice a coach on the NL Championship teams under Herzog.  In 1985 he was the first base coach and in 1987 he coached third base for the NL Champs.

In 1989 he was hired by the Philadelphia Phillies as manager.  The team lost 95 games.  We saw a description of the 1989 season from our big brother blog– thatballsouttahere-

Dutch Daulton hit .201.  Von Hayes struck out 103 times.  They once went once lost 15 of 18, and one of the “not losses” ended in a tie, somehow.  It was so bad Mike Schmidt fled into retirement and wrapped himself in it like a soothing, warm blanket.—Justin Klugh

The Phillies were 77-85 the following season, but in 1991 after a poor start, Leyva was let go.  He then managed the Syracuse Chiefs until 1993.  Following which, Leyva got hired for his first go round with the Toronto Blue Jays coaching staff.  He spent seven years with South Chicago’s favorite pro ball club which included two seasons as a a minor league infield instructor.  That’s an important gig.

The fielding statistics for the 2003 White Sox affliliates.

The 2004 White Sox Minor League affliliates fielding statistics.

In 2007 he joined the Milwaukee Brewers as third base coach under Ned Yost.  He also was the infield coach for the Brew Crew.  There is an interesting Pirates twisted tale into the firing of Leyva.

Leyva was fired as the Brewers coach after one season.  From a lot of the information we could find, the decision had little to do with his performance and more to do with the idea that the Brewers AAA coach, Frank Kremblas, had earned a promotion because he was familiar with most of the roster having managed many of the Brewers young players.  But Kremblas never got that opportunity despite being the rumored candidate to replace Leyva.

The Brew Crew hired Ted Simmons as their bench coach and slid Dale Sveum back to third base for the 2008 season.   Kremblas was left in AAA but he had a difficult season and in September of 2008, Kremblas was fired.  The AAA team went 59-81, it was the first in Kremblas’ four years in AAA that the team did not win a division title.   Of course Kremblas wasn’t out of work for long and has been the Pirates AAA manager in Indianapolis ever since.

But as we said, a lot of the information said Leyva did a fine job, but we dug into another theory.  Leyva being let go in Milwaukee might have been because of his work with the infield defense.  Looking back on it now, it seems questionable.  

The Brewers defense in 2007 was poor statistically.   That is a fact, but look at the talent.

JJ Hardy committed 13 errors in 2007.   Rickie Weeks had 13.  Prince Fielder had 14.   Ryan Braun had 26.  The starters were poor defensively, and the utility players tried to provide support for the starters.  Craig Counsell made just two errors in 66 starts at three infield positions.  35-year old Tony Graffano made 57 starts at all of the infield positions except short and had three errors.

The 2007 Brewers infield defensive statistics. Baseball Reference

We took a look at the year before Leyva came on board and looked at 2008, the year after he was fired as well.  In 2006, Weeks had 22 errors, thus he improved greatly.  Fielder had 11 errors in 2006 (three less than 2007.)

It didn’t get better after Leyva was fired. In 2008, Fielder had 17, Weeks 15, Hall 17, Hardy 15, but Ryan Braun was moved off third base which helped the Brewers improve their defense at the hot corner by commiting 20 less errors.  But even with moving Braun to the outfield, the Brew Crew had 68 errors, two more than the Leyva coached Brewers defense. 

So did Leyva get a raw deal in Milwaukee?  We believe so.   He has been given a shot by new manager Clint Hurdle to improve the Bucs defense.   It’s a tough job. 

But do you really believe Pedro Alvarez can get worse?  Ronny Cedeno?  Neil Walker?  Seriously–Walker will get better, don’t doubt him.  Leyva can help.  We think the defense will improve.  Just think about what that young group did last year–they hit pretty well especially Walker and Alvarez.  The fielding is next.  It will come. 

The defense in 2010 was very bad.  Is Leyva the man to vault the Bucs back to the top of the defensive charts?  No.  These guys aren’t that talented with the gloves as the 2009 infield was.  The guy who is the fielding guru is in Florida.  But Leyva is Hurdle’s choice so we are going to just sit back, and enjoy it.

Follow us on Twitter as we are taking a break from the Bucs and catching the Lakers game in DC

SIDE NOTES:   We think it’s cool that  Cito Gaston asked Leyva to join him in Toronto, we even think its cool that Gaston said his first retirement plan was to bring Leyva and hitting coach Gene Tenace on a trip to Hawaii “for all they’ve done for me.”

RTJR:  Did he see into the future about the Pirates defense in his 2010 season preview or what?

DEFENSE:

This could get ugly, especially compared to the MLB-best defense the Pirates fielded last year. Yeah, I said MLB-best. I’m guessing it won’t be like that this season. Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Adam LaRoche, and Nyjer Morgan–all above average defenders–are all gone, and will be replaced with inferior gloves. Jeff Clement has never played first base. Legend isn’t comfortable in right. Andrew McCutchen has wheels, but still was a bit shaky on routes and such last year. And don’t forget, the Pirates pitchers are pitch-to-contact guys, not dominant strikeout types.

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