The Editor’s Desk with Billy Brost: Is It The Hitter Or The Coach?
The baseball gods have finally shown mercy on our souls. Okay, perhaps the baseball gods had nothing to do with it. A.J. Preller finally put us out of our misery. After one of the worst historical hitting seasons in the last half century, the Padres’ GM fired Phil Plantier. Here’s the thing. I’ve never bought into the idea that a team’s hitting success or failures are because of what a hitting coach does. Same goes for pitching coaches. Managers have much more impact on the outcome of games with in-game strategy and decisions. But coaches? To me, it’s the old “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” mentality.
I think we all had a pretty good idea that Plantier was going to walk the plank. Many people (myself included), believed that the entire coaching staff minus pitching coach Darren Balsley. To me, he is the one exception to the rule. For whatever reason, he has a way of getting the most out of his pitchers and that is why, along with possessing talent, the Padres’ pitching staff is one of the best in the game every single year. So, back to Plantier’s firing. Sure, it had to be done. But, now that it’s been done, two things need to occur.
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The first is that the Padres and Preller need to bring in some impact bats, otherwise, it wouldn’t matter if the spirit of Ted Williams rose from the dead, and personally instructed this current group of Padres. Flat out, they stink. Yasmany Grandal led the team in home runs with 15. You read that right. 15 home runs. Jedd Gyorko, who missed several weeks of the season with foot issues, still led the team in runs batted in with 51. Pathetic.
Kevin Long was recently dumped by the Yankees after two lackluster seasons at the plate for the team. But, this was the same guy who instructed MONSTERS at the plate during the latter part of the 2000s, and resurrected Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher from becoming platoon players. Now? It was HIS fault the bats didn’t perform. Laughable at best, but he quickly landed on his feet as the new hitting coach with the Mets.
San Diego can dig into their past and look to a handful of candidates who might be able get this group heading in the right direction. Let’s start by former Friars’ third baseman Jim Presley. Most of you probably don’t remember his brief stint in the brown and gold, but those of us over the age of 35 and have followed the Padres for decades, we remember, albeit a brief memory of 20 games. The team that Presley currently works for, the Baltimore Orioles, ranked sixth in the American League in runs, fifth in hits, ninth in doubles, first in home runs, second in total bases, fifth in RBI, sixth in batting average, and second in slugging percentage.
Is that because of the tutelage of Presley? Perhaps, perhaps not. I’m guessing it has more to do with the fact that guys like Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Steve Pearce, and company know how to hit than it does Presley’s know how. By the way, Phil Plantier had a pretty solid big league career. Just sayin’. Maybe the Friars place a call to see about the availability of former Padres first baseman and hitting coach, Wally Joyner.
In Joyner’s first year as the team’s hitting coach back in 2007, the Friars were below league average in runs scored, third from the bottom in hits, sixth in doubles, seventh in home runs, well below league average in runs batted in, almost dead last in batting average, and twelfth in slugging percentage. Not too impressive? If it weren’t for the stinker the Padres put up this past season, Joyner’s initial season as the Friars’ hitting coach could be considered one of the uglier seasons in Padres’ history with the bats as well.
Do you know what that putrid season along with others got Wally Joyner? He’s now currently the Detroit Tigers hitting coach. How did they do this past season? Second in runs scored, first in hits, first in doubles, fourth in home runs, first in runs batted in, first in batting average, and first in slugging percentage. Now did Joyner become THAT MUCH BETTER of a hitting coach or did he simply have better talent to work with?
Hell, even Dave Magadan was a hot topic for a week or so as he was considered for both the Yankees and Red Sox hitting coach gigs. This from a guy, whose Texas Rangers were one of the worst hitting teams in baseball, yet two teams with World Series aspirations thought enough of Mags to interview him. It’s not about the hitting coach. It’s about the talent. Hitting coaches–especially former professional big league hitters, who have spent a decade or so in the game, know the mechanics of hitting. There are hundreds of guys that never saw the big leagues, that know how to break down the good and bad points of the big league swing, and put it back together.
Instead of firing coaches, how about teams and fans take a closer look at the lack of effort from the actual players. Hitting is contagious as are slumps. For the Padres, they’ve been slumping of multiple seasons. It’s a personnel thing, not a coaching thing. Don’t get your hopes up for miracles with Mother Teresa unless the head Friar, A.J. Preller opens the checkbook and upgrades the talent.