When the San Diego Padres announced the firing of hitting coach Alan Zinter, the team also signaled its intention to bring in a number of minor league coaches for the rest of the season.
In discussing Zinter’s departure, manager Andy Green said that the team wanted a “different voice” in the thankless position. With multiple hitting coaches “cycling through” this could become a cacophony of voices confusing the batters even more.
Hall-of-Famer George Brett called the job of hitting coach “the worst job in baseball,” after his brief stint in the job for the Kansas City Royals. In his 20-year career with the Royals, he showed he could certainly perform (.305/.369/.487/.857) in the area he chose not to try to teach.
The Padres’ own Tony Gwynn, one of best hitters all time with 3,141 hits, understood the importance of studying the art of hitting. He read Ted Williams’ The Science of Hitting in high school and started using video before it became standard practice. However, Gwynn said repeatedly he’d never want a job as a hitting coach.
According to Jack Perconte’s website Baseball Coaching Tips, hitting coaches have three distinct roles. They have to be analysts in each game, during batting practice and by studying video. They have to be technicians, as “so many intricate parts go into the baseball swing” with any breakdown leading to failure. They have to be psychologists, hitting a baseball being the most difficult task in any sport, with even the most proficient hitters having success only about 30 percent of the time.
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The job of hitting coach makes other coaching positions in baseball look relatively easy. A pitching coach can suggest a tweak here or there, not so with hitting coaches. Pitching coaches tend to have a much longer shelf life than their associates by the batting cages.
As the season winds down the Padres may have improved in the standings but remain last in most offensive stats. At .234/.301/.396/.697 the team falls well short of the averages for all major leaguers (.255/.325 /.428/.753). Only two teams, Milwaukee and Tampa Bay, have more strikeouts than San Diego (1336 strikeouts).
As Nolan Ryan, a Hall of Fame pitcher has said: “The worst thing a hitter can do is strike out.” This year Wil Myers has almost reached a Padres record in strikeouts with a K% of 27.8, considered “awful” by Fan Graphs.
The next hitting coach or committee of same will have to address these strikeout totals as well as a myriad of other offensive deficiencies including on-base percentage, hitting with runners in scoring position and working the count. Obviously, a team that ranks dead last in most offensive categories cannot bring San Diego the playoff-bound team ownership has promised in the near future.