With the Tampa Bay Rays currently searching for a manager, the team has already stated they are planning on retaining their coaching staff. Despite them saying that, though, returning the coaching staff is not guaranteed. After all, the Rays could hire a veteran manager who wishes to bring in his own staff, or the coaches could be unhappy with the hire and leave on their own accord. One thing is for certain, though, and that is that the Rays need to prioritize keeping pitching coach Jim Hickey around.
Hickey played seven years in the minors after being a 13th round pick of the Chicago White Sox in 1983. Following that, he got his first coaching job in the Houston Astros’ system in 1991, and he got his first big league job with the club as well when he became pitching coach there in 2004. Hickey spent two and a half seasons with the Astros before moving on to the Rays and becoming their pitching coach for the 2007 season.
Since then, Hickey has led some of the best pitching staffs in baseball. From 2007-2014, Rays pitching has posted a 3.94 ERA, good for 8th in baseball in that time period. The Rays have become known for always having a great pitching, and Hickey deserves a good deal of credit for that.
You do not have to look back any further than the current Rays team to find plenty of success stories. First of all there is Alex Cobb, who looked like a back-end starter when he first came up from the minors. Cobb then developed his split-change to become a plus pitch and his curveball became above-average, and adding that to great command makes Cobb look like an ace. Next is Chris Archer, who has made huge strides with his command and looks like a budding frontline starter in his own right. Jake Odorizzi came up this season only to surpass expectations thanks to a new split-change, and Drew Smyly instantly found success after coming over via trade, posting a 1.70 ERA in seven starts with the Rays.
Under Hickey, the Rays have also seen plenty of success with “reclamation projects” in the bullpen. Fernando Rodney came to the Rays in 2011 having posted an ERA above 4.00 in the previous five seasons. In his first year with the Rays, Rodney posted a 0.60 ERA, a MLB record for a reliever in a single season, and he has continued strong in the past two years. Joaquin Benoit posted a 5.00 ERA in 2008, missed 2009 due to injury, and then posted a 1.34 ERA with the Rays in 2010. Now he too is one of the best relievers in baseball.
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Of course, there have been some disappointing stories for the Rays over the years too. Jeremy Hellickson showed promise in his first two seasons after being one of baseball’s top prospects, but he has faded quite a bit since. In the bullpen, the acquisitions of Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo did not work out as well as the Rays were hoping this season. Still, every team is going to have some players that do not pan out, and the struggles of these players do not take away from Hickey’s great accomplishments.
It is clear how valuable Hickey has been to the Rays over the past few years. While he certainly is not the only reason that the Rays consistently have some of the best pitching in baseball, he has been a huge part of it. Thus, the Rays need to make sure that no matter what happens with their new manager, Jim Hickey should stay around for the long-haul.