Tracy Ringolsby

Q&A: Narron says analytics are nothing new

D-backs interim bench coach talks career path, coaching philosophy

Q&A: Narron says analytics are nothing new

Sixteen years ago, Jerry Narron, a baseball lifer, was hired as the manager of the Texas Rangers. He replaced Johnny Oates, who had managed Narron at Triple-A Rochester in 1988, his final season in a 15-year player career that began when the Yankees signed him as a sixth-round Draft pick in '74.

After managing in the Orioles' system for four years, Narron became a member of Oates' coaching staff with the O's in 1993. Two years later, when Oates was hired as the manager of the Rangers, Narron went with him as the third-base coach. Narron later managed the Cincinnati Reds for three seasons, but has primarily spent his non-playing days as a third-base coach and a bench coach, including a stint as the Brewers' bench coach under Ron Roenicke, while his brother, Johnny Narron, served as the hitting coach.

An old-school baseball man, Narron grew up in a family that also included an uncle, Sam, who played in the big leagues and later served on the coaching staff of Danny Murtaugh with the Pirates.

Most recently hired as the manager of Triple-A Reno, Narron is currently the interim bench coach of the D-backs, filling in during Ron Gardenhire's recovery from prostate cancer surgery. In this week's Q&A, Narron discusses his career, including his belief in the use of analytics, although he doesn't buy the idea that they are something new. It became public in the fall of 2001 that Johnny Oates was suffering from brain cancer. Did that play a role in his resignation earlier that year as manager of the Rangers?

Narron: No, not at all. Johnny didn't even know at the time. I think he just got burned out and walked away. It caught me by surprise, but it was something Johnny felt he had to do. So it wasn't until later that year that he became aware of the brain tumor?

Narron: He was doing a call-in radio show for the World Series and he lost his voice. That was the first sign. He said he had been having headaches, but he didn't think that was real unusual. What was your reaction, then, when he retired?

Narron: Surprised. I really wasn't ready. I wish I could go back and use what I have learned over the last 16 years. I had been a third-base coach all those years and then to be the manager. A lot of things that go with being the big league manager you don't realize. I think it is easier to manager today because of the analytical information you get from the front office. You mean because the front office takes a role in the analytics? I know you played for Rene Lachemann in Seattle in the early 1980s, and back then he was charting every pitch, every location of where a ball was hit, looking for trends with pitches and the reaction hitters had to them.

Narron: Everybody who has ever managed in this game has been into the analytics part. Analytics aren't new. You could look at a Bert Blyleven curveball and knew it had a high spin rate. You don't need somebody tell you that. Computers have simplified the process?

Narron: Yes. You don't have a manager sitting there with colored pencils, and a ruler, drawing out charts, looking for tendencies. You embrace analytics?

Narron: No question. The more information you have the better. I just hope the next generation of coaches doesn't become lazy, not doing their own work. They have somebody handing them a sheet of paper with numbers, but they still dig for, look for it, and look for their own information, too. It does seem when you find successful organizations, they are the ones who are successful in blending the analytics and old-time baseball knowledge, for lack of a better term. They have people from both areas who are comfortable working together.

Narron: That's one thing that is really good in Arizona. [General manager] Mike Hazen is a baseball guy. He has put in his time. He wasn't just handed a GM job. He's been a worker and loves to talk the game, other than the numbers part of it. Some people in baseball today don't interact and expand their base of knowledge. Mike has that ability. He is like a throwback guy with the advanced analytics. You started in that area where Earl Weaver had his folded up piece of paper with tendency notes, or Lachemann would sit there for hours every night, charting every pitch, location, velocity, and every ball put in play, looking for edges. It's easier to find that info now.

Narron: Absolutely. You have people helping you out. The key is with all the information out there the organizations that are going to be successful are the ones where the people upstairs and the people in the clubhouse work together. The key is not overloading with information just to have information?

Narron: I want the information, every bit that a club can possibly find. But then, if I am the manager, let me decide what's good, what to use and what not to use. I think every manager or coach wants every piece of information, but the front office has to also believe in the coaches and managers enough to trust their judgment on what fits and what doesn't. Let the man in the dugout decide what fits in each situation. I remember, I think it was 1977, the Angels had an advance scouting meeting, and Frank Tanana walked out and looked at Nolan Ryan and said jokingly, "We're in trouble. Everybody in that lineup can hit the fastball." Ryan smiled: "Guess we'll see."

Narron: I've talked to players about not giving the other club so much credit that you get away from your strengths. You have to stay with your strength. A lot of times players do get intimidated by the reports. You want to know the other team's strengths and weaknesses, but you also have to know what you do best and overlook that. So when you look at analytics, you don't see it as some new idea, but rather one that has been expanded with the new tools available?

Narron: Yes. I love the analytics, but what I am saying is there is not a whole lot new in terms of ideas. There is a different way of compiling and presenting the information that is new.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.