RCG Mailbag: Could the Rays Look to Change Hitting Coaches?

By David Hill

Welcome to another edition of the RCG Mailbag. Today’s inquiry comes from Justin Jay, a writer at the Toronto Blue Jays site here on FanSided, Jays Journal. Asked via Twitter, Justin wondered if the Rays would possibly look to replace Derek Shelton, their hitting coach. Specifically, he inquired about former Jays hitting coach Chad Mottola, seeing whether or not he would be a fit in Tampa Bay. Remember that if you have any questions that you would like to have answered in a future mailbag, you can send them to davidhill132@hotmail.com, rayscoloredglasses@gmail.com, via twitter at @rayscologlasses, or feel free to ask in the comment section. You can also provide your questions at our Facebook page.

"With Chad Mottola fired and the (struggles) of the Rays bats, I think he would be a sweet fit in Tampa Bay. Thoughts?"

Thank you for the question Justin. It is true that the Rays offense has had it’s share of struggles since Shelton came on board after the 2009 season, finishing no higher than 25th in baseball in batting average over his first three seasons on the job. However, in that same time frame, the Rays led all of baseball in walks twice, finishing third in 2011. While the Rays may not have hit well those seasons, they were getting on base. The problem was scoring those runners in 2011 and 2012, as the Rays finished 15th and 18th in runs scored respectively.

This season, the Rays offense came together. They finished eleventh in baseball with 700 runs, and improved their hitting to a respectable .257/.329/.408 rate. That batting average was good for twelfth in the majors, and was their highest mark since 2009, when the Rays had a .263 batting average. The Rays also continued to draw walks at a prodigious pace, leading all of baseball once again last season. Perhaps the biggest reason for the turnaround was a decrease in strikeouts – the Rays struck out 152 times less in 2013 than the previous year. Seeking out and acquiring players such as James Loney and David DeJesus, who make contact and tend not to strikeout, may have also helped the improved performance.

Chad Mottola may be an interesting person to watch for future coaching vacancies, not just with the Rays. After essentially taking on a coaching role in his final year as a player, he ascended through the ranks to be the Blue Jays hitting coach last season. The Jays struggled offensively, yet a large part of that may have been due to the rash of injuries that Toronto suffered through for much of the season. Yet, the Blue jays decided not to bring him back for 2014.

As intriguing as Mottola may be as a hitting coach, it is unlikely that he would join the Rays staff. Shelton seemingly has the Rays on the right path, and it will be interesting to see if players such as Desmond Jennings and Matthew Joyce can develop under his tutelage. Will he be able to finally get Jennings and Joyce to tap into their potential? And can Shelton help Wil Myers adjust to pitches low and away, closing up a hole that the opposition began to exploit over the last few weeks of the season?

Perhaps more than anything else, the development of the Rays young hitters will determine Derek Shelton’s future with the Rays. At this point however, he seems to have their bats on the right track.