The Tampa Bay Rays are pointing to next season, and I just finished my PGP. That’s a “Professional Growth Plan.” It’s an annual to-do in which we, as teachers, are supposed to both challenge ourselves to improve and also to reflect upon our practices. It comes down to the basics: research, “stretch” goals (something new in our approach that is challenging to us), reflection based on feedback, and change as needed, based upon our reflection.
I’ve never been good at it. Not because I don’t try new things, get feedback, reflect upon that feedback, and/or make the adjustments along the way. As a coach, you do that daily. You don’t survive without being able to look in the mirror, change when you need to, challenge yourself, and look out for the betterment of the organization.
I’ve never been real good at it because I don’t know how to gild the lily, use “edu-speak,” or simply sling the bull. As a baseball guy, I’m used to keeping it simple: look things over, go into your personal/team values and reference bank, seek out new ways to skin the same cat, and be flexible enough to work with anyone wearing your uniform. And then speak your mind courteously, but in a manner more prose than poetry.
When you’re on the field or in the dugout, you figure out strengths and weaknesses pretty quickly if you want to survive. You are graded every day on campus, in the paper, and by people who have never been around a dugout. Or worse yet, by those who were in a dugout many years ago, in a far different world, who never had to make a decision, but have all the answers for those who do so on a regular basis.
Right now, the Rays are in the midst of evaluating what they did well, what they want to better. Where they are, and where they want to be next year. Oh, just like equilibrium (where demand meets supply) in economics, evaluating is an on-going, fluid process that is truly never over for any sports franchise. Looking back at the past, observing the present, and knowing there is a future are all ingredients of a front office and management team in the wide, wide, world of sports.
Since 2008, the Rays have visited the landscape of the post-season four times. They have put together more ninety-win seasons than any other club, with five in six years. That puts them ahead of the hallowed, old school organizations of the New York Yankees, the Red Sox, and even the St. Louis Cardinals. However, Tampa Bay has never been able to put the ring on their fingers, and that remains a goal for the organization and a dream for their fans.
So, where are the Rays going next year? We will have to wait out the rumor mills of the off-season and endure the hyper-panic of social media. But a few things are for sure.
- Yunel Escobar was a steal. He led the league in fewest errors for a shortstop in the major leagues, with seven. His fielding percentage of .989 was also tops in baseball. Not to mention, he added a little “chrome,” as Joe Maddon put it. He has a passion for playing defense, and it shows.
- Matt Moore is pretty darned good. And he could also go deeper in games, right? He’s young, he’s talented, and he will only get better. I can’t say he’ll be 17-4 next year, but I do believe we will continue to see him fine-tune things. He could be scary – if he’s not already – for opposing hitters. He’d like to drop his pitch count, and get into the seventh more often, I’m sure. But I’m going glass far more than half full with him.
- Wil Myers is as good as advertised. I know some will point to his post-season, but you have to look big picture. I’m guessing he’ll be a thirty-homer guy, and he might steal thirty bags, as well. He’ll become more familiar with the outfield. And he’ll be an important block to build around for the Rays going forward. No disappointments here. But man, what an upside!
I’m going to leave it there. I’m not jumping ship, I’m staying on board. Of course, there’s the question of whether or not David Price will be back. Will the bullpen regain last season’s dominance? Will the Rays run more next year? Those things remain to be seen. Right now, Tampa Bay management is continuing to take in the data, evaluate it, and make their adjustments, all while being on the move. And while there’s a great deal at stake with every decision, they aren’t going to have to write a PGP. They’re just going to keep their eyes open and their nose to the grindstone. And they will be moving forward.