The team that made shifting commonplace and implemented the opener pitching strategy is at it again. The Rays on Tuesday introduced Jonathan Erlichman as the majors' first "process and analytics" coach.
Erlichman, 28, has worked five-plus years in the Rays front office, the last two as director of analytics, but now will don a uniform as an additional member of Kevin Cash's coaching staff. The Toronto native likely is in a small group, maybe even of one, to do so with a mathematics degree from Princeton.
Erlichman has had an increasing presence in the Rays clubhouse and manager's office over the last few years in sharing data and analyzing decision-making.
The new role, which Cash fully supported, will seek to maximize Erlichman's impact in terms of adding a different perspective to what the Rays are doing and also challenging why they are doing it, covering everything from the game-day routine and specific pre-game drills to in-game strategy and post-game analysis.
"People are just excited for what we're potentially going to learn from this," Erlichman said. "To me that's sort of a big part of this, the things we're going to learn and how we're going to be able to find some ways to improve and increase our chances of winning both next year and in the future. We have a group of players and staff that are really open to trying new ideas and really supporting of stuff like that so really anything that gives us a better opportunity to win. So that helps a lot actually."
Erlichman moved up quickly in the Rays front office after starting as an intern six months out of Princeton (and after an internship with his hometown Blue Jays). From his January 2013 start in making lunch runs and helping set up card games and other recreational activities for a scouting meeting, he was promoted to assistant and then analyst in baseball research and development, then named director of analytics in November 2016.
But moving down to the clubhouse and the dugout and the field where the games are played was not in the projections for a guy who didn't play baseball after T-ball, sticking instead to hockey, and looks more like an analyst than an athlete.
"Definitely not something I really ever thought about the possibility of happening before," Erlichman said. "Definitely excited for the opportunity."
Erlichman got a sense of the game from the dugout view last spring, when he was in uniform for a few games as part of a test program to better integrate the players and on-field staff with the front office and data departments. The feedback was good from both sides, as Erlichman, for example, got a better sense of how quickly the game moved and decisions had to be made, and led to the discussions to make it a fulltime assignment, with Cash liked.
"By being there more, I think it's going to allow me to see some things from a different perspective and have the opportunity to see some things I'd miss otherwise," Erlichman said. "Really an opportunity to further those relationships as well. And hopefully find things we wouldn't have been able to find otherwise."
What those are will be part of the discovery process.
"It's more about learning what are the reasons we do a whole lot of things, and are there things that by having someone with a different perspective that you are able to maybe find a way to improve something that is maybe a little more difficult when you've been in it every day for a while," he said.
Exact duties, responsibilities, even where Erlichman will be during games as there is a limit to the number of coaches allowed to be in the dugout, still have to be hashed out.
Senior VP Chaim Bloom said they are confident the fit will be a good one.
"It's a credit not just to J-Money's ability to build connections with our staff but also to Kevin's humility and Kevin's approach to how he runs our club," Bloom said. "Having no ego about how we get better and where good ideas come from and really fully embracing that with wanting J-Money on his staff."
Just coming up with and agreeing on Erlichman's new title was the result of extensive conversation in the front office. "I'm not a big guy on titles and I'll be totally honest with you, they debated this for a lot longer than I would have," Cash said. "I'm just excited to bring him onto our staff."
More topical is Erlichman's nickname of J-Money, bestowed upon him by former baseball operations chief Andrew Friedman. Not because his projections and forecasting were right on, well, the money, but because he was trying too hard to dress to impress in his early days with the Rays. A certain Gordon Gekko-esque shirt, blue with a white collar, he wore became known as his money shirt, and from that the nickname evolved.
Cash acknowledged on the conference call discussing the coaching moves he'll probably never call Erlichman Jonathan or even Jon, sticking with J-Money unless he comes up with something better.
Erlichman is used to it.
"At this point, that's what everyone calls me," he said. "It wouldn't be a surprise if there's some people in the organization who know me as J-Money and don't know what my given name is."
Well now there's something else they can call him:
The process and analytics coach.
Whatever that means.