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Filling Turner Ward’s shoes won’t be easy

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Dodgers need to replace one of the game’s best hitting coaches

MLB: Spring Training-Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers led the National League in runs scored and home runs in 2018. Since 2016, they have been the best team in the NL in wRC+ (104), home runs (645), isolated slugging (.180), walk rate and have been second in walk rate (9.7 percent) and third in runs per game (4.72).

Why 2016? That was Turner Ward’s first season as Dodgers’ hitting coach. Now, he’s taking his talents to ... Cincinnati? Blake did a good job covering the news here.

While this isn’t a catastrophic loss, it’s hard to ignore Ward’s impact on the offense and wonder how his departure will be felt.

One interesting statistic to watch going forward is chase rate. The Dodgers had the lowest O-Swing% in baseball over the last three years — 27.2 percent. That was 1.6 percent better than the next-best team in the Twins. They were the best at not chasing of any team for the last two seasons. That is a testament to the hitting coach.

The Dodgers, reportedly, wanted to bring back the entire coaching staff, but in a matter of days, they’ve lost Chris Woodward to the Rangers and now Ward to the Reds. Some will ask, “Why would Ward leave for the same position for a lesser team?” Well, maybe not necessarily “lesser,” as the Reds beat the Dodgers six of seven times in 2018 ... but the answer, like most things in life, is money. The Reds obviously offered Ward a contract to his liking and he took the deal. The Dodgers seemingly opted not to meet the financial demands, and now they’re looking for a new hitting coach.

That’s fine. When you’re one of the top organizations in the game, your non-players are going to get poached and/or gobbled up. On top of Woodward and Ward’s departures, the Astros might nab the game planning/communications coach Danny Lehmann. The Giants are after general manager Farhan Zaidi to be their “No. 1 baseball exec” (i.e., president of baseball operations). That’s something the Dodgers cannot offer Zaidi, unless they fire Andrew Friedman, who is entering the final year of a 5-year, $35 million contract. That ain’t happening, as much as some would love for it to.

Speaking of fans wanting people fired, this is a “fun” search on Twitter.

As early as May 2016, folks were calling for Ward to be fired. As recently as Sunday, folks were calling for Ward to be fired. Well, those folks finally got their wish, in a sense. You know, because the Dodger hitters swinging through middle-middle fastballs was clearly Ward’s fault.

It’s a bit sad, though, that we’ll never get to see the Yasiel Puig-Ward love affair fully play out. But Puig saw marked improvement over the last three years under Ward. He went from a 101 wRC+ in 2016 — the low point of his career — to 117 in 2017 and 123 this past season. His contact rate improved and his swinging strike rate fell in each of the last three seasons — great trends for any hitter.

Now, the Dodgers might turn to one of their assistant hitting coaches in Brant Brown or Luis Ortiz. The hitting coach market won’t steal the show this winter and Brown and Ortiz obviously got their jobs for a reason. The easiest thing might be to promote one of them.

We’ll see what the Dodgers end up doing. Ward was one of the better hitting coaches in Dodger history and has entrenched himself among the game’s best. His shoes will be big to fill, but I’m confident this front office and/or Dave Roberts will make the right choice.

One pre-requisite for the job: The incoming hitting coach must like smooches from the team’s burly right fielder.