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Q&A: Dave Martinez, Tampa Bay Bench Coach

Dave Martinez is expected to become a big-league manager someday, and he’ll be well prepared when he gets the opportunity. The Tampa Bay Rays bench coach couldn’t ask for a better mentor. Following a 20-year playing career, the 47-year-old Martinez has spent the last five seasons working under Joe Maddon.


David Laurila: How differently might you look at the game were it not for Joe Maddon?

Dave Martinez: It would certainly be different. The game is changing and what I’ve learned from Joe is that you have to change with the game or you’ll fall behind. Joe is really knowledgeable and does his homework. We [coaches] get a bunch of information from him.

DL: What is your primarily role as the Rays’ bench coach?

DM: I do everything Joe does, except I don’t have to deal with the media and I don’t get credit for anything. I help manage the game the way I see fit. I’m very opinionated and give Joe my opinions. Ultimately, he makes the final decisions, but I do the best I can to manage the games alongside him.

DL; Does he expect you to disagree with him?

DM: Absolutely. When I first got this job, I sat with Joe and Andrew [Friedman]. When they said they wanted me to be the bench coach, I looked at them and said, “If you’re looking for a guy to just sit there and say ‘yes, yes, yes,’ don’t hire me. I’m not that guy.” I’m going to give you my personal opinion — my professional opinion — and be as honest as I can.

DL: Do you and Maddon differ on anything philosophically?

DM: I’d have to say no. We pretty much hit it on the nail. Like I said, I’ve learned a lot over the last five years with the way Joe thinks, and the way he does things. He’s opened my eyes to a lot of different things. From what I know from playing, from dealing with players, and from what he knows about basically everything in the game, we do a great job together.

If we disagree on something, it’s usually more about feel. When that happens, my first question is always, “Why?” I ask because I want to learn. He’s been an unbelievable teacher, so when he goes against something I think we would normally do, I want to know why.

DL: You’re in charge of base running for the team with the most caught stealings in the American League.

DM: We are typically more aggressive than anybody else. We had a player here, Fernando Perez, who said, “We err on the side of aggressiveness.” We harp on that in spring training and all year long. Don’t be afraid to mistakes. We value mistakes, as long as we learn from them. And we’re going to make mistakes. We don’t want to be one of those teams that goes base to base. We can’t play that way. We have to make things happen. These guys know they’re pretty much on their own until we shut them down.

DL: Is it largely a personnel issue, where you need to play that way?

DM: We feel like we have to play that way, yes. Absolutely. And in another sense, teams are getting better. Pitchers are getting better at holding runners. They’re getting a little quicker and smarter, so this year it’s been a little tougher stealing bases. We don’t have the personnel like we used to have, but we do have a team that can run and be situational base stealers. We’re going to take chances.

DL: To what extent does data determine when you run?

DM: A lot of information goes into it. We look at the catchers, we look at the pitchers — the times of the pitchers. In spring training, I time all of our players when they run — I try to get their average time between first and second. Then I start timing the pitchers. I also base it on what the catcher’s times are — their pop times from home to second. I average that all out to see if we have a chance to steal.

The same goes for taking an extra base. One of our mottos here is, “How many times can we be on third base with less than two out?” We want to get to third with less than two out. You have a better opportunity to score from third base.

We have guys that can hit the ball out of the ballpark, but we don’t sit around and wait for those guys. There are times where we have to, but we’re going to be more aggressive. Shelty [hitting coach Derek Shelton] works with these guys a lot, and we tend to want to put the ball in play and let things happen. Things happen when you put the ball into play.

DL; Earlier this year you had the most sacrifice bunts in the American League. Do you maybe bunt too much?

DM: We do bunt a lot. We take all of the information and if we deem it’s necessary to bunt, we do. A lot of time, the situation of the game will dictate that. You see more bunting in the National League, because of the pitchers, but do you know what? This team is built on pitching, defense, and occasional home runs. Joe and I look at it as us needing to do all of the little things right in order to be successful.

DL: Information is a big part of how the Rays do things.

DM: Absolutely. We have a great source of people upstairs providing information. They give us a packet before each series and we take what we deem necessary. As the bench coach, I get everything for the outfield, the infield, and hitting. Tom Foley, our third base coach, gets all of the infield preparation. George [Hendrick] gets all the outfield preparation. Shelton gets all the hitting. [Jim] Hickey gets all the pitching information. When Joe needs something, we have it.

There are situations in the game where something pops up, and I try to be a step ahead of Joe in his thinking. During the course of the game, he’s thinking about pitching, he’s thinking about match-ups, he’s thinking about pinch-hitting. Everything.

There might be a situation where I say, “Hey Joe, next inning we might need to run for so-and-so if this happens.” Or we might need a pinch-hitter for a certain guy, so I’ll say, ’Hey Joe, this guy matches up better with this guy.” I’ll give him the information and he’ll say yea or nay. He has a lot going on during a game, so I’ll try to stay ahead of him with any information he might need.

DL: When you become a big-league manager, will you want someone with your qualities as a bench coach?

DM: If I have a choice, yeah. I don’t want somebody to sit there and say, “Yes sir, yes sir,.” I’ll want a guy who is very opinionated and sees a game with his own eyes and not mine. I’ll want a guy who is ready for all situations and knows the game. I want him to know what’s going to happen before it happens. That’s what I try to do and it’s what Joe expects from me. When something happens, I want to be ready with an answer.

When that opportunity arises for me — depending on the team and what they want — I might end up wanting an older guy, or it might be a younger guy. What’s important is that I want somebody who understands me and is very opinionated. I’ll want somebody who sees the game with his own eyes.