Earlier this month, the San Diego Padres hired Matt Stairs as their hitting coach du jour. When the team fired Alan Zinter in September, manager Andy Green spoke of the need for a “different voice.” The 2017 lineup ranked dead last in all of baseball in batting average, runs scored and on-base percentage.
Padres’ batters also struck out an average of 9.25 times per game third worst in all of MLB. Of course, strikeouts and home runs have increased throughout the league. But the fact remains that no benefit comes from walking up to the plate, taking a few hacks and sitting back down. As Crash Davis (played by Kevin Costner in Bull Durham) so eloquently stated: “Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist.”
First baseman Wil Myers led the regular lineup in walks (10.8%) but had a strikeout rate of 27.7%. According to FanGraphs, those numbers gave Myers an above average walk rate but an “awful” strikeout rate. Stairs, who played for 19 seasons with 12 different teams including the Padres, had a career 11.9 BB% and an 18.6 K% (which FanGraphs rates above average in both categories). He also hit 265 home runs and holds the records as a pinch hitter with 23.Last year, Stairs served as the Phillies’ hitting coach. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez led the team with a .373 OBP, a good deal better than the Padres best (Myers at .328). Philadelphia, like the Padres, has a young team in transition and had fewer wins (66) than the Padres (71). However, the young Phillies hitters did show improvement over the course of the season, and many cited Stairs for his help.
Last year, Stairs served as the Phillies’ hitting coach. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez led the team with a .373 OBP, a good deal better than the Padres best (Myers at .328). Philadelphia, like the Padres, has a young team in transition and had fewer wins (66) than the Padres (71). However, the Phillies’ hitters did show improvement over the course of the season, and many cited Stairs for his help.
It’s probably no accident that teams with players who actually got on base made it to the playoffs. Houston led with a team .346 OBP as well as .823 OPS. Other teams excelling in both categories include the Indians, Yankees, Nationals, Rockies, Cubs, Diamondbacks and Dodgers.
The gold standard for performance by a hitter this year came from Houston’s second baseman, Jose Altuve who just won the MLB Players Choice Awards for Player of the Year and AL Outstanding Player. He batted .346/.410/.547/.957. The Astros as a team showed remarkable patience at the plate.The Padres, on the other hand, ranked dead last in
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The Padres, on the other hand, ranked dead last in on-base percentage at .299 and 29th in OPS at .692. Stairs, the ninth hitting coach since Petco Park opened in 2004, faces a challenge in improving those bottom-feeding numbers.
In an interview with Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune, Stairs acknowledged that Padres’ hitters showed ”room for improvement in walks, on-base percentage, extra-base hits, working the count, seeing more pitches.” He intends to emphasize the need to limit “the at-bats you give away per year, per month, per week.”
Giving away fewer at-bats would certainly improve the hitting stats of the 2018 version of the Padres. After all, there’s no place to go but up in the rankings.