First Pitch: Firing the Hitting Coach

Earlier today, David Todd brought up an interesting subject on Twitter. He posted the numbers of Matt Diaz and Lyle Overbay last year, then showed their numbers this year. Since I have a little bit more room to work here than on Twitter, I’ll expand those numbers.

Matt Diaz, 2011, Pittsburgh Pirates: .627 OPS in 216 at-bats

Matt Diaz, 2012, Atlanta Braves: .851 OPS in 41 at-bats

It’s a small sample size (as David noted), but Diaz looked finished in 2011, and he’s hitting again in 2012. I’ll also add that most of his success this year has come against left handers (1.098 OPS in 27 at-bats vs .378 OPS against right handers in 14 at-bats). Diaz was brought in last year because of his success against left handers. He hit for a .692 OPS in 132 at-bats against left handers, with a .550 OPS against right handers.

Then there’s Lyle Overbay…

Lyle Overbay, 2011, Pittsburgh Pirates: .649 OPS in 352 at-bats

Lyle Overbay, 2012, Arizona Diamondbacks: .914 OPS in 49 at-bats

Another small sample size. I’ll add that Overbay also hit for an .840 OPS over 42 at-bats in 2011 after being signed by Arizona late in the season.

This year the Pirates are seeing something similar with Clint Barmes. They were seeing something similar with Rod Barajas until his recent hot streak at the plate. And it’s not just the last two years. This has been going on for a while. Consider Eric Hinske in 2009.

Eric Hinske, 2009, Pittsburgh Pirates: .741 OPS, 1 HR, 106 at-bats

Eric Hinske, 2009, New York Yankees: .828 OPS, 7 HR, 84 at-bats

Hinske was added for his power off the bench. He hit 20 homers with a .798 OPS the previous year with Tampa Bay. His power disappeared with the Pirates (despite being a left hander in the lefty-favored PNC Park), and immediately returned with the Yankees. The following year he had a .793 OPS and 11 homers in 236 at-bats with Atlanta.

The easy solution is to blame the hitting coach. But I’m not so sure it’s that easy. We can blame Overbay, Diaz, and Barmes on Gregg Ritchie. But what about guys like Hinske, before Ritchie came around? It’s definitely possible that the Pirates could have had two bad hitting coaches in a row.

Then there’s the “they’re just washed up, and the Pirates were the only team that didn’t realize it” line. That’s obviously not true, since these guys caught on with other teams after joining the Pirates, and had success after they left. Or, in the case of Barmes, they had teams after them prior to signing.

The success after leaving brings up another issue. Is a hitting coach even important to these guys? Lyle Overbay was in the majors for parts of ten seasons before joining the Pirates. What use does he have for a hitting coach? To me, hitting coaches in the majors seem more like scapegoats. Take the Albert Pujols situation. Are we to believe that Pujols, the best hitter in baseball, was only hitting poorly because of the Angels’ coach? And if that’s the case, do we credit his previous success to all of the hitting coaches in St. Louis?

The Pirates have seen players come in, fail to hit as expected, then leave and hit well. Combine that with the struggles from the young hitters (Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata, Neil Walker), and the overall poor offense on the team, and people will naturally be calling for the hitting coach to be fired. It may not be the right thing to do, as I’m not fully convinced that a hitting coach in the majors makes much of a difference. However, I do believe that it’s easier to fire one guy than it is to fire every hitter on the team. And if that message can wake up some of the bats, and get some of the hitters playing to expectations, then it wouldn’t be a bad move to make.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates won 5-4 against the Mets. Kristy Robinson’s notebook looks at how the Pirates continue to battle in close games.

**Prospect Watch: A lot of multi-hit nights for prospects in the system.

**Wilbur Miller’s weekly Prospect Trends article.

**The rundown of the draft prospects from the last week.

**The Pitch F/X Preview for the Mets.

**I held my weekly prospects chat today. Here is the transcript.

**Less than 24 hours after being acquired, Drew Sutton was dealt to Tampa Bay. We didn’t even have time to do a player page for him.

**I took a look at why a trade isn’t likely at this point in the season.

**I was a guest on the Rumbunter Podcast last week. You can check it out here (NSFW).

**Charlie at Bucs Dugout had a great article this morning about how the Pirates’ offense has been terrible, but the demands for a trade now should be toned down.

About Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He is a credentialed media member with every team in the Pirates’ system, including the Pirates themselves. He’s a regular guest on Extra Innings on 104.7, and makes regular appearances on ESPN 970, 93.7 The Fan, and TribLIVE Radio in Pittsburgh, as well as ESPN 1430 in Altoona and ESPN 1450 in State College.
  • salempirate

    Heading into last night’s game our cleanup hitter was batting .106 with 2 2b and 2 rbi in 15 games after being promoted to the spot. On top of that, he had drawn 7 BB and K’d an amazing 24 times in in 47 AB. If half the starters weren’t able to break thru the Mendoza line, that would be enough to get Ritchie canned IMO. McGeHee, McClouth and should I mention Barmes have been in season long spirals. Walker and Tabata aren’t performing near expectations. Where’s the problem? To me, I think I see it.

  • scrappy2499

    I don’t think Ritchie is getting it done. One, either he isn’t a good instructor and the hitters are paying for it. two, he is trying to instruct and the hitters ignor him and he isn’t able to get them to follow instructions. If the players don’t respect him enough to follow his orders then he needs to go (look at the respect for our pitching coach). It seems that our offense can’t recognize pitches and lay off bad ones. It has gone on long enough…Time for a change.

  • szielinski

    One problem with the Pirates: The decades long death spiral of the franchise. Players may not believe they can win when they arrive here. So, they don’t win because they fail to perform.

    Fans may want to consider their jobs or jobs they have had during their lives. A job at a company where hard work is rewarded facilitates quality work and success. A job at a company where hard work goes unrewarded or is punished in some way facilitates poor results.

    To make matters much worse, the work of professional athletes is publicly observable, and the results are significant to a large audience. Professional athletes confront significantly greater pressure to perform at a very high standard than most of us do. Working for the Pirates can seem to be a “no win situation” for a player. The team does not win; nothing a player does causes the team to win.

    I’m just speculating, however. The bad past of this team does not directly cause some players, notably veterans who have performed well in the past, to fail while playing for Pittsburgh. Yet, my speculative account makes as much sense — or non-sense — as blaming hitting coaches for the team’s offensive woes.

    Talent is the direct cause of hitting success.

  • Alleghenys

    Also interesting is the fact that Clint Hurdle has been a hitting coach or instructor multiple times, giving the Pirates even more supposed expertise at the plate.

  • azibuck

    I’m very curious to know Hurdle’s total role with the hitters. This from Ritchie’s bio at the team site:

    “Gregg Ritchie was named Pittsburgh’s Hitting Coach on November 24, 2010.
    The 2012 season marks Ritchie’s seventh with the Pirates organization, having also served
    as the minor league hitting coordinator for five years (2006-2010).”

    Talk about working with chaff… What does a MiLB hitting coordinator do? Can/should he get credit for molding hitters like Cutch, Walker, Tabata, Pedro? And for that matter Steve Pearce or, say, Shelby Ford?

    Who suggested the toe-tap and when did he suggest it? I admit that I can’t stand Clint Hurdle as a tactician and whenever he opens his mouth, so I’m biased against him generally. It *appears* he does a decent job keeping guys happy and motivated, which is actually a key part of the job. But is he really a hitting guru, and is he meddling with the hitters? Is he the de facto hitting coach? Or are these really Ritchie’s hitters?

  • piratemike

    I think when older players come to the Pirates there is an expectation by the team the fans the media and the players that these guys are going to lead when they may feel more comfortable just being pieces of the puzzle and they put too much pressure on themselves to perform or like Matt Morris they are embarrassed to be a part of this team.

  • st1300b

    Look Joe Kerrigan was considered a good coach when he was hired on, but there is no doubt that Ray Searage has been a god-send to this club – I think the same thing is possible with the hitting coach… They just have to find the right guy, with the magic touch… who can say what that is, but if the players believe in him – that’s all that will matter.

  • Buccobrother

    I’m sure even Shakespeare would have trouble putting to words why established major league hitters come here and stink it up. I am frankly baffled but there has to be a reason why. I’m thinking it may have something to do with attitude in the club house or lack thereof. Maybe it would be a good idea to interview guys like Hinske, Overbay and Diaz and see if they have any insight as to why this happens. Seems to me if we solve this dilemma we may be on our way

  • TraceGamble

    If hitting coaches aren’t important, then why does every team in baseball have one? Just to fill a uniform? C’mon, man! That’s crazy. Hitting coaches are important and valuable to teams’ approach and success at the plate. Otherwise, I’d be in Anaheim right now telling Albert to chill the ef out.

    If the Pirates’ batting woes were limited to a couple of players, you could say it was those players not performing. But with the Bucs, only a couple of players have performed… Cutch, NW, Jay Hay… so I have to say that since so many players are underperforming, the problem is further up the chain… Ritchie.
    As for the Pirates, their hitting has declined every year since 2003. The club hasn’t hit above .260 since 2008. It is clear that the organization is not interested in making batting a priority… it was awful last year and even worse this year. I’m convinced that the FO doesn’t want to spend in order get some bats, and, until this point, has been unwilling to trade any of it’s precious, talented arms to get a well rounded hitter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-YaZhynka/100000448392567 Richard Ya’Zhynka

    The hitting coach can’t create more talent, but it is his job to get the most out of the talent that the hitters do have. Ritchie is not getting that done.

  • Kevin_Creagh

    One of the sayings I always use is “Sometimes you have a shoot a hostage.”
    Is Gregg Ritchie the whole problem? Probably not. But he’s presided over some pretty bad offenses in his tenure.
    If you shoot a hostage, you get the attention of all the others. Firing Ritchie may not be the answer, but it represents that things will not be allowed to continue as is.
    Has one hitter improved during his time here? No. The plate discipline of this team is awful. Barmes is going to be cited by environmental groups soon because they’re confusing him with a windmill farm.
    It’s time for Ritchie to go.

  • Lee Young

    *********FIRE GREG RITCHIE **********

    PLS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Lee Young

    To be technical, maybe Cutch has improved? But, overall, I wholeheartedly agree. I liked the windmill part. : )

  • Lee Young

    I posted this on the Plus board yesterday. I hope you enjoy.

    There once was a coach named Ritchie.
    Who made all his fans quite bit*hie.
    His hitters have failed.
    So Buc fans have wailed.
    We need runs, we are getting quite itchy.

    *****FIRE GREG RITCHIE*****

    Foo

  • gorillagogo

    I don’t know about this “blame the hitting coach” business. As Tim points out, these problems have been going on for several coaching regimes now. I think a far more likely explanation is that someone placed some kind of voodoo curse on teh Pirates. My guess would be either Derek Bell or Raul Mondesi. Regardless, the team will need to undergo the necessary purification ritual in order to lift the curse — offerings of cigars and rum to Jobu. If all else fails, try a bucket of KFC.

  • CDR114

    I wonder if it is the Pirates’ organizational approach at plate to “work the pitch count up” that is causing the problem. It seems to take the aggression from some of the players. Presley when he first came up and McLouth when he was first with the Pirates were very aggressive at the plate and hit well, now they are taking very hittable pitches, getting into pitcher’s counts, and hitting poorly. A lot of Pirate hitters get themselves into pitcher’s counts by not attacking hitter’s pitches. On the other hand Alvarez and Barmes attack pitcher’s pitches and probably should be more patient. Our minor league teams are also not hitting very well except for WV, which can’t pitch. So it may be an philosophical problem? Just my observation, it may not be valid, but does anyone else see the same thing?

  • ecbucs

    Why not fire Hurdle too? He is the one who has called for a lot of bunts and steals. He must agree with what Ritchie is doing. I wouldn’t fire Ritchie unless the players don’t listen to him anymore.

  • Lee Young

    okay….I am not a hurdle fan either.