Listach a natural first as Astros' first-base coach
Houston resident, infield instructor bringing quantitative approach to fielding
HOUSTON -- The Astros were a perfect fit for Pat Listach, who was hired earlier this week as the club's new first-base coach.
Not only does Listach live in the Houston area, but the former American League Rookie of the Year is an infield instructor -- an area of need for the Astros -- and a proponent of the analytics of defensive positioning, something the club has been stressing under general manager Jeff Luhnow.
"It was a no-doubter to say, 'Hey, I want in,'" Listach said.
Listach is one of four coaches to join the team for 2014, along with pitching coach Brent Strom, bullpen coach Craig Bjornson and assistant hitting coach Ralph Dickenson. They'll be a part of second-year manager Bo Porter's staff next season while the Astros try to start the climb to contention following three consecutive 100-loss-plus seasons.
The Astros will spend some money in free agency this winter, but they still figure to be young. That's especially true on the infield where third baseman Matt Dominguez (24), shortstop Jonathan Villar (22) and second baseman Jose Altuve (23) could be joined by rookie first baseman Jonathan Singleton (22) in the starting lineup.
"I think the Astros are moving in the right direction," Listach said. "The Minor League system has proven that they're in the top two in all of baseball, so it was really a great opportunity for me to come in and work with young players like I've been doing."
Luhnow set out to fill an opening on the field staff by bringing aboard an experienced infield instructor, which the Astros didn't have last season. Houston made the most errors in the Majors last season and had the lowest fielding percentage.
Listach, 46, joins the Astros from the Dodgers, where he served as the organization's Minor League infield coordinator in 2013. Prior to last season, Listach coached on the Major League staffs for the Cubs (2011-12) and Nationals (2009-10) for two years apiece. He also has nine years of Minor League coaching experience in the Cubs system from '00-08.
"He's got a lot of experience, not only as a player playing the infield but also as a coach," Luhnow said. "I think we have two very important assets in the middle infield, and with more coming we really feel that was one area of instruction that we didn't have consistently at the big-league level last year. Pat's got experience and a great resume."
Listach was important in the development of Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa while in Washington and Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Darwin Barney while with the Cubs. Barney won the Gold Glove at second base in 2012.
"I think my track record with the players and my ability to teach and communicate with those guys fit the plan, and it's why they brought me here," Listach said.
Listach used defensive positioning analytics during his second stint as a coach with the Cubs and knows how beneficial having fielders in the proper position can be. But it's also vital to get the players to understand why they're supposed to play at a certain spot on the field.
Where is a hard-throwing pitcher getting his ground balls? Where is a soft thrower getting his ground balls? There's plenty of data that goes into it.
"You can really position yourself according to the probabilities," Listach said. "If we put ourselves in position to be successful 90 percent of the time, we'll be a better defensive team. I know the Astros were last [in the Majors] last year on defense. This is why I'm so hungry to begin this endeavor. I know we can get better, and I know we will get better because of the information we'll give the players."
Listach played in six Major League seasons, which included time with the Brewers (1992-96) and the Astros ('97), and was named the '92 American League Rookie of the Year. He hit .182 in 52 games on the Astros' division-winning team in '97, a veteran team that included Jeff Bagwell, Brad Ausmus, Craig Biggio, Sean Berry, Ricky Gutierrez, Tim Bogar, Luis Gonzalez, Darryl Kile and Mike Hampton.
"I didn't play as well as I think could have or should have, but [manager] Larry Dierker gave me a chance and [general manager] Gerry Hunsicker gave me the opportunity, and I think that was the best team that I've been around as far as guys picking each other up," Listach said.