RailRiders 2019: Q&A With New Manager Jay Bell
TAMPA, Fla. — Jay Bell is a pretty busy guy the last few days of big league spring training, overseeing numerous workouts around the Yankees complex. Once this part of camp wraps up and the main guys head off to New York, he’ll check in with the RailRiders across the street.
Before he decides if he has time to chat, he needs to run into the clubhouse to double check the schedule and make sure he’s not needed elsewhere. Five minutes later, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s new manager — the franchise’s third in three seasons — emerges through the double doors and finds a seat on the back of a parked golf cart.
He’s got a break and some time to talk baseball, and the former big leaguer, who scored the game-winning run for the Diamondbacks in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series against the Yankees, is good at that.
TTIn the years you’ve been here, what’s the biggest thing that stands out to you about this organization compared to others?
JB More than anything else, the emphasis on pitching and defense is extraordinary. We still — we want good offensive players, too. But I think (as an) organization, we really understand the importance of keeping runs off the board. It’s been tons of fun to watch guys compete on that side of the baseball really, really well.
Had a blast getting to know the guys in the organization, especially the pitchers and watching them and what their thought processes are.
It’s been a nice little collective learning process for me, because we’ve done more analytically than I’ve been used to in years past. Not that the Reds and the Pirates and the Diamondbacks aren’t analytically driven, but we’ve done a lot of really good things that I’ve been more in tune to in my capacity. To balance that with the experience that I’ve got, the experience that (RailRiders pitching coach) Tommy Phelps has got, (SWB bullpen coach) Doug Davis and (SWB hitting coach) Phil Plantier, we should have another successful season, hopefully.
TTYou mentioned analytics. What’s the craziest analytic you’ve seen?
JB Honestly, I know that whenever I go through and I look at everything, there are specific things that I read that I read well. Those are the things that I focus on. I’m not big into looking for stuff that’s not important to me. So, whenever we talk the hitting stuff, exit velo matters. Launch angle matters. There’s no doubt about that.
But really, as far as stuff that I’ve looked at, I don’t pay attention to stuff that’s not important to my specific job. So, to answer that question, I really haven’t paid attention to — there’s a purpose for everything. That’s one of the things that is a lot of fun to look at, is that whenever you find out what these things mean to some of these people that are really knowledgeable about these statistics, when they explain them, they show you the value of them. Some of them may initially look really strange, but the value behind them, certainly there’s some there. They wouldn’t be there if there wasn’t some value.
TTIs there an information session where they explain to you what all the numbers mean and how they calculate them, what to use them for?
JBYeah, to a certain degree; not so much. I mean, listen, that’s not my job. That’s their job. And one of the things, this is the cool thing that we’ve got going on right now, is that the communication is getting so much better.
We’ve got guys that, the baseball, the uniformed personnel, and then the analytics guys, we’re working well together. It is a nice collaboration. And because of that, it’s allowed us to do things in game — sequences of pitching, positioning, that kind of stuff — the stuff that helps you win baseball games.
When you take both departments, which really are the same, we’re looking at life from different points of view, but we’re always seeking that same end game. And so, as you get close to that end game, those perspectives get closer together, too. And whenever the communication between the two is clear, it really works well. And that’s one of the things that we’ve done at the major league level. We’re doing a really good job at the minor league level, too. The information that we have should help us.
TTWould it surprise people to learn how much information you have available at the minor league level?
JB Yeah, I think so. I think so. It’s amazing how much data that we’ve gained over the course of the years. I think every organization is starting to do that more and more.
It’s not a surprise whenever somebody comes from a lower level to an upper level. We’ve got data on them. Now, it may not be as extensive as the guys that are going from the big leagues to Triple-A, but still, we’re aware of who they are and we’ve got data on them. Not just guys outside of the organization, but guys within the organization. So, I know exactly who is coming to me whenever they come to me. We have a great deal of information. It’s good stuff.
TTGoing back, you commented on teaching pitching and defense. Critics of today’s game would say home runs and strikeouts and shifts minimize some defensive shortcomings. Why do you think defense is still so important?
JB I still believe that you win championships with pitching and defense. Now, certainly, if you can put some offense into the mix, if you’ve got all three aspects, you’re really looking good. And that’s one of the things that’s been really nice about what we’ve got going on right now is that we’ve got, at the big league level, we’ve got a very, very good offense.
The defense is terrific, you sit there and you look at what (Yankees first base coach) Reggie (Willits) and Mendy (Yankees infield coach Carlos Mendoza) are doing, along with Zac (Fieroh, an analyst on the major league coaching staff) and the collaboration there, guys are in the right spot at the right time, trying to figure out how to put themselves in the best position possible. Again, you keep runners off the board, yeah, there’s going to be times where you outslug them and you score tons of runs, but you want to be able to win those 1-0 games, too. And so the combination of both is what you’re looking for. We’ve done that well.
TTAt Triple-A, you kind of have that dynamic of guys who could be sort of stuck, especially with this big league club where there are a lot of guys who are locked into their positions. How do you deal with that as a manager?
JB You’re always playing to do the best possible job you can as a player. My job is to encourage the guys to be the best possible teammates and players that they can be so that they can become Yankees. We want to make them major league Yankees. But you look all over baseball right now and you see a lot of former Yankee players because we’ve done so well in developing those players. They’ve gone to different organizations.
Whenever you look out there and you see Judge and Stanton and Gardner and Hicks and Torres and Tulowitzki and LeMahieu and Bird and Voit and Andujar, it’s like, ‘Man, how do I get there? How do I get there?’ But at the same time, there’s nothing wrong with really good competition. That’s what makes players better. When they see what’s in front of them, they say, ‘OK, this is what I’m striving to be.’ When you’re in rookie ball, one of the things that you strive to be is that you strive to be the best player ever or the best player possible. And your benchmark is not the guys at your level. It’s the players that are at the big league level, or the guys in the past that have had Hall of Fame careers. That’s who you want to compare yourself to. ‘Ah, OK, I’m not quite there. I need to get better. I need to figure out how to do this so that I can match his ability.’
TTA little random, but Scott Boras was your agent when you were a player. What kinds of things did you learn from him?
JBScott and I went back, I had him for 20 years. I signed with him, I think I was either his third or fourth client. Me and (Tim) Belcher were about the same time. It was Bill Caudill, Mike Fischlin and then Belcher and myself.
I learned how passionate he was about his players. Loved his players, wanted the best for him. That was what he did on a regular basis. He really went out of his way to make sure that we as players were appreciated as much he appreciated us.
TTYou signed some nice contracts in your career, did pretty well for yourself. Why are you still managing in the minor leagues, with a 140-game schedule, long bus trips, etc.?
JB From the time I was 22 I wanted to manage. I didn’t think that I would spend much time in the big leagues. I wasn’t very confident with my abilities when I was a young player. One thing led to another, and I did end up having the opportunity to spend a lot of years playing. But always had that dream and passion to ... it was something I always wanted to do.
As soon as I finished playing, I got out — it was a no-brainer for me to go right into coaching. I was out a year, right into coaching. I took a little break and ended up doing Little League and middle school and high school baseball for about five years and then got back into it once the kids got a little bit older. And I just, I love it. I love it. I love this as much as I did playing and I really enjoyed that. But this I enjoy even more.
TTHow do you know at 22 that’s what you want to do?
JB I was pretty passionate about the game. Again, I wasn’t sure that I was going to spend that much time as a big leaguer or even as a minor leaguer. But I had some coaches that made a major impact in my life and my career. And I just kind of wanted to emulate what they were doing.
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570-348-9125; @RailRidersTT on Twitter