Athletics

Athletics

In 2015, Marcus Semien was probably the worst defensive player in all of Major League Baseball.

That's not hyperbole. The A's shortstop committed a mind-boggling 35 errors, eight more than any other player in the league.

Fast forward to 2018 and Semien had transformed himself into a Gold Glove Award finalist. How was that type of improvement possible in just three years?

Semien credits one man: Ron Washington.

"He's the reason that happened. I'm out there playing the game but I always imagine him still coaching me and talking to me. It's helped me so much. ... Without him, I don't know if I'd be here."

Semien will honor the former A's coach at this week's Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards, which will air Sunday at 7:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area. The ceremony will feature professional Bay Area athletes of all sports as they pay tribute to coaches who helped them get to where they are today. The event will also support Coaching Corps' mission of providing well-trained coaches to young athletes from low-income communities.

Semien first met Washington during that nightmare 2015 season. Washington was out of work after managing the Texas Rangers the previous eight seasons, but he came to meet with the A's at the request of then general manager Billy Beane.

"Billy Beane called him up and said, 'I think there's a kid you might be able to help,' Semien recalled. "He came midseason to Tampa and we met right there."

Washington joined the A's as an infield coach, marking his second stint with the organization. He and Semien went to work right away, taking thousands of ground balls and working specifically on his hands with flat-glove drills.

 

"My flat glove was instrumental in the way I caught the ball," Semien said. "We were not even three feet away from each other and he had the ability to hit a fungo (bat) that close to me and simulate the last hop of a ground ball. And we did that thousands and thousands of times every day during the year-and-a-half he coached me."

While Washington worked Semien hard, he always maintained an encouraging attitude, something Semien appreciates to this day.

"The way he preaches is very positive. If you mess up, it's okay. Next rep. He's there to hit you as many balls as you need, and when he sees something he likes, he gets very enthusiastic about it."

Of course, the physical skills only represent half the battle in baseball. Washington was also instrumental in elevating Semien's confidence and mental toughness.

"I made a lot of errors the first two months before Wash came," Semien acknowledged. "I could've rolled over and just given up, but Wash showed me the way to really focus on my technique, and the more reps we did, the more comfortable I got out there. Wash really helped my mental game. His saying is mind over matter. Our matter was getting my defense cleaned up and that's what we did."

Semien's progress wasn't always as smooth as he would have hoped, but he stayed committed and continued to improve. In 2016, he cut his errors down from 35 to 21 and increased his fielding percentage from .947 to .971.

This past season, Semien recorded a career-high nine defensive runs saved, third-most among AL shortstops. His 11.6 rating in the SABR Defensive Index was third best in all of baseball, regardless of position. And it all started with Wash.

"I think the dedication, the time he puts in, the effort, it's the best I've ever seen," he praised. "There are coaches who come in and get their work done, and that's enough for some people. But for a person like me in 2015, there was a lot more that needed to be done and he went the extra mile."

At just 28 years old, Semien still has plenty of years left in his playing career. But that doesn't mean he hasn't thought about a coaching career of his own down the road.

"Wash's style is the style I would want to use," he smiled. "I would take everything I learned and everything that got me better and use that. If I didn't have him coach me the way I did, I don't know if I'd be able to be a good coach."