A Conversation with Outfield Defense Coach Rick Renteria

Rick Renteria is the first base and defensive positioning coach for the outfield for the San Diego Padres. The Padres are enjoying a heck of a season with very good defense, even though it may be a small sample size.

Regardless, Renteria talked to us for a bit about defensive positioning, why it’s so important and how long it takes to put together a good positioning chart against a batter.

Take note, next person who interviews Rick: he likes to talk very quietly.

Dingers: How do you prepare for a series against a team?

Rick Renteria: We study the videos. We put the little game plan. It’s typical stuff, we look at the spray charts and then you look at the different run scenarios. [Then we] come up with the positioning.

Is the positioning divided up, by player or pitch or what?

It’s location and count. With two strikes, without two strikes. [There’s also] understanding the swing path. If we say, ‘pitch this guy away,’ he still might pull the ball. Some guys are ‘inside-out’ hitters and they can hit the ball the other way. We study each hitter and the way they swing at the ball through the zone. Then we create it into pre- and post-two strike counts. Then we create [a positioning] that’s a best case scenario.

You have an interesting defensive positioning case on your team–Adrian Gonzalez. Some teams play a shift against him, is that the right call?

How batters hit the ball in the air versus how they hit it on the ground are different things. Typically, guys will hit the ball on the ground the other way. That’s not always necessarily true. Every hitter is different. You have to take into account individuality. It’s important when you go over positioning, to take into account each batter’s tendencies.

It takes about 2-3 hours to put together basically a game plan.

Yeah, I interrupted you working on your computer, what were you doing? Pardon me if that’s invasive.

Ah, just tracking my charts online.

What does that mean?

Just looking for things, watching movement. Keeping my eyes open.

Is there ever a time when a position player thinks he’s in the right position, but he’s in the wrong position and he’s perceiving it wrong?

Absolutely. But it’s like anything else in the world: the more consistent you are and the more success you have [e.g., against the opposing offense], the more you develop trust. Because as the manager, your players have done all of their homework, in terms of studying everyone. I know, for myself, I don’t like surprises. So I want to know where a particular guy swings the bat, I want to know in particular if he’s changing his swing, I want to know in particular if he’s changing his approach in his at-bats.

It’s the same as how we defend.

Are most of the charts you’ve created from the pre-season or are you doing this as you’re going?

Oh no, this is as it’s going on. We [study the tape of each player] before every series. Nothing changes. We might have a series during interleague and you see them two months later and you’re looking at the video and you’re still looking at the spray charts. Suddenly it’s changed a little bit. He’s pulling the ball a little more, he’s doing different things he wasn’t doing before.

You ever see a player, say like Ryan Howard early last year, who starts spraying the ball but stops hitting for power?

You can make adjustments even in the game. You see guys approaching at-bats trying to drive balls, trying to stay down on the ball. You see things and you have to trust what you see and make adjustments.

You make adjustments with your eyes. It’s tough to put that into a mathematical context, but the mathematical equation is the result after the play has run its course.

Most stats are used for counting or for what a player’s performance was to that point. There are a few that are predictive, though.

Numbers get you the product, I guess.

Do you look at numbers at all? Do you look at any stats that would tell you how your players are doing?

No, I can tell how they’re doing as the season goes on.


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