New Washington Nationals’ pitching coach Jim Hickey has 37 years in pro baseball on his resume, as a player and coach, and he’s heading into his 16th season as a major league pitching coach, so he’s got plenty of experience in a game that has changed significantly over those years with an increased reliance on advanced stats and data likely the biggest change.
Hickey, as he told reporters in an introductory call with reporters on Monday, has had the the privilege of working for some progressive teams over the course of his career, so he’s comfortable that he’s well-versed in both new and old school approaches to his job.
“My very first major league job was in 2004, so things were a lot different then,” Hickey said.
“Being with the Tampa Bay Rays for eleven seasons (2007-2017), and being a very, very progressive organization, we were on the cutting edge of a lot of what you want to call the advanced statistical stuff, the data, the things that are very popular now in terms of the ability to measure. We’re very familiar with that.
“Also working with the [Chicago] Cubs (2018), one of the most progressive organizations there was, and to tell you the truth, in 2019, as I was a special assistant in the minor leagues with the [Los Angeles] Dodgers, arguably again one of the most progressive organizations that there was, I was exposed to so much more just watching especially at the lower levels how they would try to instill certain things and measure certain things in guys.
“So, I have definitely evolved, it’s become more data driven, but at the end of the day it’s the same game. And I think I got the best of both worlds.
“A little bit of old school and a lot of the newer age stuff as well.”
Spending the past two seasons (2019-20) as a special assistant for player development in LA, Hickey explained, helped provide perspective he said will be helpful as he works with others at all levels of the Nationals’ organization.
What stood out, he said, was how lined up the plans were throughout the Dodgers’ system.
“What specifically stood out about them, especially as I went around the minor leagues — [was] just how on the same page that they all were, how united they were, and how close they were personally as well, I thought that that was very impressive.
“That’s the type of thing I would like to see — I’m not saying that’s not in Washington now, but that’s the type of thing I would like to see because you definitely have to have — you’ve got to be in the same step to get things done, and I don’t anticipate that that would be a problem at all.”
In fact, Hickey said, his history with Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez, with home he worked while the two of them were coaches on Joe Maddon’s staff in Tampa Bay between (2008-14), will help to make the transition and communication easier as he gets comfortable in his new job.
“That is one of the big advantages to just having a relationship with somebody, because in my biased opinion, I think the most important aspect of the game is just the management of the bullpen,” he explained.
“So you have to have that close relationship, and you have to be able to be on the same page and at least have the same thoughts, even a couple of innings in advance.”
The growth he’s seen in Martinez, since their time with the Rays, he said, has been really impressive.
“I believe 2008 was our first year together with Tampa Bay and just watching him go from almost a guest in Spring Training to a really, really good bench coach to winning the World Series in Chicago and to winning it on his own, especially after the start to that  season, holding that together, I think that’s probably the most impressive thing that I’ve seen him do as far as being in the manager’s seat anyway.”
Martinez still needs to fill more openings on his staff after moving on from hitting coach Kevin Long and third base coach Chip Hale this winter.
Hickey said he’s looking forward to working with his fellow coaches and is open to any and all advice they’re willing to share so they can all work together towards their shared goal.
“I am extremely open to it. I invite that. Some of my best relationships on staffs that I’ve been on have been with hitting coaches, with the hitting coach, just because of the fact that I’m always bouncing things off of him and he’s always bouncing things off of me, or, ‘What did you see?’ And I have no problem whatsoever if someone sidles up next to me during the inning and just [says], ‘Hey, are you seeing what I’m seeing?’-type of a thing, and Davey obviously has a lot of experience playing, coaching, and managing and he was very good at that as well, so I think that is going to be something that is going to be pretty flawless — maybe ... flawless is not the right word, but just nice and easy, it’s not going to take any kind of adjustment there because we have known each other for a long time.”
The willingness to take advice, he added, is one of Martinez’s strengths as well, and is something that is a key to his success.
“I think it’s hugely important. I think that experiencing some of the lows that he did as a player and as a coach with the Rays, and then some of the really high highs and then of course him being in Chicago at that particular moment in 2016, had to really — you talk about confidence, that had to really change the way that he probably looked at the game and even thought about himself, and then to turn around and go to Washington and have the success that he’s had already, it’s really something. He’s covered pretty much every stop in the spectrum.”