Home » Articles » Analyzing the White Sox’s decision to hire Pedro Grifol

Analyzing the White Sox’s decision to hire Pedro Grifol

by Jordan Lazowski

In case you missed the news yesterday, the White Sox have reportedly hired Pedro Grifol, former Royals’ bench coach to be their next manager – the 42nd unique manager in White Sox history. He will inherit a team that has a lot of work to do to bounce back from a disappointing 81-81 season in 2022.

The league-wide consensus on Grifol has been positive, and according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the White Sox were “blown away” by Grifol during the interview process. Still, some Sox fans are expressing a lot of hesitation about this move, wondering if a relatively unknown candidate like Grifol was the right decision for the club, especially considering his most recent tenure was with the currently rebuilding Royals. Are these concerns valid?

To find out, here is a breakdown of Pedro Grifol’s background, some reasons to be excited about the hire, some potential concerns, and answers to some of fans’ most frequently asked questions regarding Grifol and what he brings to the team.

Who is Pedro Grifol?

Grifol, 52, played nine seasons in the minor leagues between the Twins and Mets organizations. After the former catcher failed to break through Triple-A, he transitioned into other roles, most notably serving as the Director of Minor League Operations for the Mariners over several years. He also served as a major league coach with the Mariners in 2010.

Grifol joined Kansas City in 2013 and has held a variety of positions during these past 10 years, including the team’s special assignment coach (2013), hitting coach (2013-2014), and catching and quality control coach (2018-2019). For the past three seasons, he’s served as the Royals’ major league bench coach under the recently fired Mike Matheny. The Cuban-American has also led minor league teams on separate occasions and managed in the Dominican Republic and Venezuelan winter leagues.

When it comes to managerial searches, this is nothing new for Grifol. He was a candidate for the Tigers (on two different occasions), Orioles, Giants, and even the Royals before they opted for Matheny. Though failing to ever make it out of the final round before this year, Grifol clearly has earned some level of respect amongst his peers.

One glance through his resume and Grifol has done nearly everything possible to prepare for this chance.

What should you like about the hire?

First and foremost, Grifol represents a change in how the White Sox have operated over the past few decades. For the first time since naming Gene Lamont their manager in 1992, the White Sox have gone outside “the family” in order to hire their next manager (note: Ricky Renteria is considered “in the family” here because he first served as the team’s bench coach, but he does stand as a sort of outlier here). Bucking a 30-year trend in the name of progress forward and new ideas isn’t something that should be quickly ignored.

But what about Grifol the individual? There has been much written about him, who largely flew under the radar as a candidate throughout this process. Both Russell Dodd of The Athletic and Mark W. Sanchez of KNBR have written excellent pieces about some of the work Grifol has been doing within the Royals’ organization:

Those two pieces above go into great detail about how Grifol served as a bridge between the analytics department for the Royals and the notably old-school coaching staff at the time. Grifol was spending time attending meetings, building presentations, and learning more about analytics so that he can show the value of the numbers to the coaching staff. Specifically, he was the leader in the Royals’ adoption of defensive shifting – something Ned Yost and the coaching staff had been slow on from the beginning. From Dodd’s piece specifically:

“Grifol… spends his afternoons searching for data that validates decisions and performance evaluation. He seeks to marry an interest in stats with a background rooted in baseball.”

That sentence alone is something that most White Sox fans had been hoping for in their next manager: someone who is analytically inclined but also understands how those numbers relate to the game and how they can be relayed to players usefully – truly, this is how all analytically-inclined people should strive to operate. It provides a good balance.

Additionally, Grifol has been given a lot of credit within the Royals’ organization for his work with the breakout of both Salvador Perez and Jorge Soler in the power department – Soler, under Grifol’s guidance, hit a career-high 48 home runs in 2019.

If you’re looking for a good place to get some information on Grifol, I recommend a podcast by journalist Alex Feuz in which he interviewed Grifol. Here are some really interesting quotes from that interview that should make White Sox fans excited about the hire.

  • “You can’t win a pennant in April and May, but you sure can lose one… you really have to be careful how easy you take it…”
  • “You have to hit homers to be successful over the course of 162 games… you’re not going to be able to bunt your way through a pennant. However, when the homers are not available, [you have to figure out] how are you going to be able to [get through difficult pitchers]?”
  • On game-planning: “You have to decide who’s not going to beat you in a lineup…”
  • “The mind is a huge part of this game… over the course of 162 games, there’s no doubt that every player that steps on the field doesn’t go through some sort of adversity.”

Overall, he’s a new face with new, analytically-based ideas that still has the baseball experience necessary to understand the finer points of the game. He has enough of a track record with tangible impacts made to show his previous value as a coach, and there certainly hasn’t been a shortage of people to come to his side to support him following the news yesterday morning.

What are some concerns about the hire?

With any hire, there are always going to be concerns – no matter who the White Sox chose, the reaction article would’ve had a section like this. There’s no such thing as a “perfect” managerial hire, and pretending there is will always set you up for failure in your expectations.

Anytime you hire a first-time manager, there are always going to be growing pains that come along with it. While Sox fans have long believed that this current White Sox roster can more or less manage itself, so long as the one making the moves understands the modern game. In that sense, Grifol will likely have plenty of runway to make less-than-ideal decisions as he learns but still get away with them. Having Charlie Montoyo in the dugout will absolutely help with some of the growing pains, but at the end of the day, Grifol still makes the final call – it’s his team now.

How to manage in the playoffs is another potential concern that is incredibly valid, though isn’t one you can really prepare for as a manager until you get there. However, even the best managers can struggle in the playoffs sometimes – look at a Hall of Fame manager in Dusty Baker and really analyze why he may have yet to capture that World Series crown. Even Montoyo is lacking in this area, as he lost the only playoff series he participated in with the Blue Jays. That being said, Grifol does have some experience with a playoff team (2014-2015 Kansas City Royals), and he’s seen the World Series as well. Though it’s still been nearly 8 years, he’s not completely new to the playoffs. But, should the White Sox make the playoffs once again in 2023, it’s very possible that we as fans question some moves that are made, especially early on.

Overall, the entire section of concerns can really be summed up into two words: growing pains. The staff should help with that, as should the talent on the roster. But it’s the risk any win-now team takes by appointing a first-time manager. It seems to be working fine for Rob Thomson and the Phillies, though, if we want signs of hope.

Answering fan questions about the hire

On Twitter yesterday, I asked fans to express any questions they had regarding Grifol’s hiring that they would like me to try to answer. I won’t claim to have all the answers, but I did try and answer everyone’s questions. Some of the questions can be lumped together, which you will see below. Thanks for all your responses!

Why would we hire from a losing organization? (@AloneTeenSoxFan)

I think a version of this question was asked by quite a lot of people following the hire, given that one of Rick Hahn’s managerial qualifications was recent experience with a team that has contended for championships.

In order to try and answer this question, I made a high-level breakdown of how I view each of the candidates. The main five categories are a combination of direct quotes from Rick Hahn’s end-of-year press conference and some of the qualities fans mentioned as important to them when Sox On 35th polled them a few weeks ago. The other qualities that fans mentioned (passion, holding players accountable) were too subjective, so I didn’t include them here, but if you have concerns about Grifol’s energy, look no further:

I’ve listed all of the known candidates who received an interview, as well as anyone who received a managerial position this offseason.

Here’s how I scored:

  • 0 Points: Clear this doesn’t apply to the candidate
  • 1 Point: May or may not apply to the candidate
  • 2 Points: Clearly applies to the candidate
“Recent experience in the dugout with an organization that has contended for championships”220122022
“Excellent communicator; understands the way the game has grown and evolved with respect for old-school sensibilities”221211121
Analytically driven210212111
Outside of the organization220222122
Total Points (Rank)10 (1st)7 (T-4th)3 (9th)9 (2nd)6 (7th)7 (T-4th)5 (8th)7 (T-4th)8 (3rd)

So, based on the above, if there was an “ideal” candidate when Rick Hahn started this search, it was probably Joe Espada. However, at this point, with so many finalist positions for Espada without an offer to be a manager – including being passed up this year by the Marlins – at a certain point, you have to wonder whether Espada is intentionally waiting for the Astros’ job. Otherwise, there has to be SOME reason that he isn’t getting hired – and the White Sox weren’t the only team to pass him up.

After Espada, however, based on what we know about Grifol, he ranks pretty highly among the main candidates. He’s bilingual, well-versed in analytics and a “feel” for the game, and has *some* recent experience with the 2014 and 2015 Royals. Is it perfect? Not necessarily. At the same time, however, it’s clear that the only “perfect” manager based on these characteristics would’ve been Espada – and even considering him “perfect” would foolishly ignore his own flaws.

At the end of the day, there is no such thing as a “perfect” candidate – each has their pros and cons. With Charlie Montoyo on the staff as the bench coach, the White Sox can feel a lot better about having someone with more recent postseason experience on the staff as well. The White Sox probably had their priority qualities as well, and where they felt Grifol was lacking, Montoyo could make up for it.

As for picking from the Royals? Well, I’m not too sure Grifol should be penalized for coaching in the midst of a rebuild. But, we will get to that more below.

If he was already with the Royals, why was he not hired for their managerial position? Was he even considered? (@_tmo___, @DRock8316, @iamshack24)

I won’t spoil too much here, as we have interviews planned to come out from multiple Royals’ journalists throughout the course of this week that addresses this very question. But, here’s the basics of it: with the Royals clearing house with the firing of Dayton Moore this offseason, new Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager J.J. Picollo made it a priority to tell Royals fans that they would be looking for an “influx” of new ideas and new people with a new front office. So, while the Royals have always really liked Grifol, hiring a longtime coach to be their manager doesn’t exactly set the tone for an influx of new people.

It’s almost like if – and I’m just spitballing here – a team was to call their hiring process too “insular,” vow to change it moving forward, but then go on to hire the owner’s best friend, who also happened to manage the team back in the 1980s. Wild example, I know, but you wouldn’t like that process too much, would you?

So, to answer this question, no, I don’t think he was considered for the Royals’ position. However, I don’t think it’s because he wasn’t fit for the job – and neither do the Royals’ journalists we interviewed. If it helps, Grifol has been considered for managerial roles recently and was a finalist for the Giants’ position before they hired Gabe Kapler. So, other organizations do see the value in adding Grifol to their staff, even if he wasn’t the right man for the job at the time.

Which players may benefit most from his hiring? (@MattSakBBN)

This is a really good question. Because Grifol spent a lot of time working with catchers in Kansas City, he’s definitely developed some sort of expertise in that area. So, you might see players such as Yasmani Grandal and Seby Zavala take some steps forward offensively, given that they are already strong defensively. However, both Perez and Melendez excelled at throwing out baserunners, and Perez was especially adept at preventing passed balls. These may be valuable coaching skills Grifol can bring to Grandal and Zavala, who both struggle in this area. (Side note: I do wonder what Grifol’s presence means for Jerry Narron…). Given his emphasis on game-planning, I do think players like Grandal will benefit on both sides of the ball, especially because Grandal has been known to do a lot of research/game-planning of his own.

In a similar vein, the White Sox may look to add some catchers to the system that can work with any staff that Grifol brings on to help coach in his ways. I think how the White Sox handle their catching position over the next few years – especially assuming this is Grandal’s last with the White Sox – will be indicative of how Grifol has impacted the staff long-term.

At the end of the day, the whole team is likely to benefit from his presence in the dugout. Look for him to be able to connect with the Latin American players of course, but according to sources close to the Royals, Grifol has a great mix of both looseness and the ability to get on guys in the dugout that will make him a much better fit than his predecessor in the dugout. That’s not as tangible as some of his other strong qualities, but in terms of who may benefit from his hiring, “everyone” may be an acceptable answer if the clubhouse culture improves.

With 5+ seasons as Royals catching instructor, have their advanced metrics improved at that position? Perez and Melendez are some of the worst pitch framers in the MLB and are both net-negative defensive catchers. Do we even care about this? Should it matter? (@_exempligratia_)

Another very interesting question. Perez has always struggled as a pitch framer, and outside of an outlier season and some slight improvements from 2020-2022, he hasn’t been great in that area. However, as previously mentioned, he’s incredibly strong in other areas of catching instead. Given that Grifol has studied the impact of pitch framing, I’m not sure if Perez’s shortcomings in this area are due to a lack of skill or a lack of solid coaching – though it could be a bit of both. I do think that when you’re *that* bad at pitch framing, there’s only so much a coach can do in the first place.

With Melendez, it’s a bit more difficult to judge, as he spent a large portion of his season playing the outfield as well as catching. As a rookie who was learning two positions at the same time, his catching likely struggled as a result. However, much like Perez, Melendez caught his fair share of baserunners. Given that Perez/Melendez were good at things that Grandal/Zavala struggle at, perhaps this is where Grifol can make an impact defensively.

Why it might not matter as much? The White Sox already have strong defensive catchers when it comes to pitch framing, so Grifol might be able to just focus on the negatives. I do wonder if Jerry Narron might be one of the few coaches who returns next season, given how well he’s worked with the catchers during his time with the team. Certainly, Grifol can’t be expected to do ALL the work with the catchers, so unless he has other names in mind, Narron might end up remaining in some role.

How is he with analytics? Is this a sign of true change, or not until the front office is gutted? (@NicholasSelvy, @nerdyknight86, @soxofgold)

I’m hoping I discussed this above in the “positives” section of Grifol’s hiring. In short: he’s someone with an analytical mind that still understands the nuances of the game and can relay information well to those who may struggle to see/comprehend the benefits. This sort of “bridge” between the analytics staff and the players is quite possibly the most valuable position in baseball, and he played this role with much success in Kansas City. That should make White Sox fans excited.

As for signs of “true change,” this is a step in the right direction. However, it remains to be seen just how much of an impact Grifol will have. Most wholesale changes will always take place when a new front office/ownership group is in place, but that doesn’t mean a group that drastically underperformed in 2022 can’t be humbled enough to start to make true changes to their operations.

Can you please talk about concrete skills or achievements he’s had and how he can apply those to this Sox team? (@jacob_shiner)

I’ve mentioned a few of these above, but I’ll summarize them a bit here:

  • Most concrete one (something a lot of coaches don’t have): his direct work in implementing the shift with the Royals
  • He has been credited for his work with Salvador Perez, M.J. Melendez, and Jorge Soler specifically
  • Worked to ensure players were receiving the necessary hitting data at the major league level

The Royals have long been known as a “small-ball” team with organizational philosophies that have been stuck in their ways – without really working – for a really long time. If this sounds familiar, it should – in many ways, it describes the team on the South Side of Chicago. Grifol brings a mindset that can help to directly challenge the way the White Sox currently operate in the dugout and how they communicate with the analytics department.

Who made this pick? There are reports that he blew away JR, Hahn, KW. What do you think could have done that? Stats? If so, which ones do you think could have sold them the most? (@OG_angrymofo, @thizzwatitiz)

Rick Hahn said at his end-of-year press conference that he would be leading the process, with input from the rest of the front office and potentially some player input. We have enough information regarding the interview process and the eventual candidate to believe that the process that Hahn described is more or less what happened. Additionally, on 670 The Score yesterday, Jon Morosi of MLB Network mentioned that both Rick Hahn and Chris Getz were heavy influences in the Grifol hire. But, at the end of the day, it was a decision that Reinsdorf, Williams, and Hahn all had to agree on.

As for what may have “blown away” the front office, I think someone who comes with a clear vision of what the Sox may need to change, how he plans to operate in the dugout, and what sort of manager he plans to be would be some of the most important questions for a team. If you listen to the interview linked above, it’s very easy to understand how Grifol may have truly impressed the Sox – he has an excellent way of looking at the game and an incredibly bright mind. For someone who strove to be a major league manager one day, I’m sure he has long put much thought and preparation into how to get there. The White Sox clearly took notice.

What hitting coach or bench coach options could be brought in? (@ElijahEv8, @osicktk)

It’s already been reported – and basically confirmed – that Charlie Montoyo will be the White Sox’ next bench coach. This is a really solid hire for the White Sox that will bring another bilingual individual in the dugout, but also someone with managerial experience to help Grifol with any growing pains he may experience.

As for hitting coach, honestly, your guess would be as good as mine. I do wonder if the White Sox would promote Andy Barkett from within, as he’s done some excellent work in the minors leagues. While he would probably be more valuable down there to continue to build out an organizational philosophy, I don’t think he would be a bad choice either. As for names around the league, I usually start by looking at Assistant Hitting Coaches for good teams. So, names like Troy Snitker (Astros), Bobby Magallanes (Braves), Aaron Bates (Dodgers), or Jason Camilli (Phillies) could be intriguing options. I still like the outside-the-box idea of Carlos Beltran, but of all the positions, hitting coach is definitely the hardest to predict.

What about the rest of the coaching/training staff? (@AndrewBorders10, @JArthur_7)

As of now, all that’s known is that the White Sox plan to bring back Ethan Katz (pitching coach) and Curt Hasler (bullpen coach). Matt Spiegel of 670 The Score reported yesterday afternoon that Grifol will be bringing in his own coaches, including at both first base and third base. So, I think it’s safe to assume that Joe McEwing and Daryl Boston will not be returning. As for the training staff, Rick Hahn had this to say at his end-of-year press conference:

“We are still in the process of evaluating everything we do from a pre-injury prevention standpoint, and I do suspect we will have some changes or additions over the coming months… The weird offseason with a new strength and conditioning staff in place was a bit of a challenge this past year… Doesn’t mean there aren’t other areas we can improve upon or are looking at, and we will address those more directly in the coming months. I do think that the odd offseason and short spring created a lot of problems for us. At the same time, it created problems for all 30 clubs, and we did not respond to it as well as others did.”

So, there could be some turnover in the training staff as well, though James Fegan published an excellent article in The Athletic that breaks down more about what Goldy Simmons and his staff think needs to be changed moving forward.

Who are your picks for hitting coach, first base coach, and third base coach? (@chuckjanczy, @MattSakBBN)

For hitting coach, I’d take any of the names I mentioned above. As I said, that’s usually the hardest to predict. I’ll stick with the outside-the-box Carlos Beltran. For first base coach and third base coach, it appears that Pedro Grifol will get a major say in those names. While I’m not sure if it’s going to be as a base coach, based on what some of the Royals’ journalists have said, two names to keep an eye on to potentially join the staff are Alec Zumwalt (Royals’ Director of Hitting Performance/Player Development) and Mike Tosar (Royals’ Special Assignment Hitting Coach). Both are apparently close with Grifol and have done good work with the Royals.

Final Thoughts

I think it’s pretty fair to express cautious optimism regarding Grifol’s hiring. From what we can tell as outsiders, the White Sox underwent a pretty extensive process by which they found their next manager, which should be a point of optimism. Grifol is highly regarded, analytically inclined, and seems to have the qualities necessary to manage a clubhouse. But, being a new manager will always bring some warranted skepticism.

That being said, I do think some of the skepticism surrounding Grifol has been unfair. Questions about why the Royals passed him up are easy to answer with a little bit of context, and just because a lot of people haven’t heard about him doesn’t make him a bad coach. In addition, you can be a good coach on a bad team – you’re a coach, not a miracle worker. A lot of fans seemed to have been looking for some sort of “slam dunk” hire that really stirs up the media, but I’m not sure who exactly that describes. You want someone who checks the most boxes in terms of fit, not just a name that sounds great. Personal biases have gotten in the way a bit too much in the initial reactions – though, as I mentioned, cautious optimism is completely fine and expected.

At the end of the day, the White Sox got their guy, though his impact likely won’t matter either way unless changes are made to the roster along with the changes to the coaching staff. For now, fans can at least hang their hats on a change of pace in the hiring process and hope that leads to new fortune with how the roster is constructed and handled.

Follow us @SoxOn35th for more!

Featured Image: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Notify of

1 Comment
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Great in-depth article. Hitting coach, while possibly being the hardest to predict, is also the most important for this team, now that manager has been filled. I have seen the stats that the Sox, under Menechino, were above average in WRC+, but with the level of hitting talent this team has, I still feel they should have been better. And, as under Steverson, the team’s launch angle continued to be well below average. What really did Menechino in, though, was a lack of patience. Hitters seemed to have no plan up there. “Swing at everything” works if you have the elite contact/speed combo of TA, but is a recipe for a subpar offense for most guys. I don’t know that Menechino is a bad coach per se, but if the team just tuned him out, that’s another reason for him to go. I’m almost as happy about him leaving as I was about TLR retiring.

You may also like