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Is it time to change hitting coaches?


Let me make it clear I am NOT advocating for anyone to lose their job. Nor am I placing blame for poor offensive performance on any one man, or two me as is the case here. I am also NOT looking for knee-jerk reactionism to some gut wrenching offensive performances from our 2021 Twins team.

I am asking an honest question that I hope will bring honest and reflective conversation.

With Rowson "in charge" in 2019 the Twins Bomba squad re-wrote record books. We will likely never see HR and dramatic production again the way we saw it that season. Rowson gone in 2020, weird season that it was, and weird and unexpected performances across MLB, including the Twins, we were still OK offensively but SURPRISE, achieved one of the best records in MLB based on pitching and still had that OK offense.

Come 2021 and expectations, our beloved Twins are suddenly, unexpectedly, bottom feeders in regard to current record. And there is more in play here than the offense. But in THIS OP, I am focusing exclusively on the offense. I hope you can do the same. If you happen to be old enough to remember the 70's and 80's Yankee teams, just for example, you would remember Steinbrenner trying to "buy" championship teams. Yes, he ran through managers, often the same ones over again, and pitching coaches. But he also fired, replaced, and often re-hired batting coaches amongst all the turmoil. Just a few years ago, it seemed the Twins had a great batting coach in Brunansky. Suddenly he was out along with Molitor. Rowson keeps being brought up, but is he solely responsible for 2019? Was there really a ball affect? Did the talent on hand just ALL hit peak performance in a single season?

Let us not forget that Hernandez was the assistant hitting coach during that 2019 season. Let us not forget that when Rowsen left, the players reported there was no great change and approach with Hernandez still on board and Varela taking Rowsen's spot. Was this true or lip service? 

Arraez has continued to excel. So has Cruz. AK, before injury, was looking awesome. Polanco has re-found his balance and stroke. Donaldson has been solid if not great. Astudillo has been as good as ever, even as a bench player pressed in to more time played than he should have to, and we've at least seen some improvement from Garver now that he's playing more daily. Like you, I'm confused by Sano. Quality AB with NO production until a big HR today. Is thjs where he turns it around?

At some point there is a question of talent, production and continuity.. And the players have to have blame placed on themselves as well. Period! You are either a decent ML hitter or you aren't. And there is a question of approach. The game is cyclical. The days of pure hit and run and bunting are largely gone. Stealing bases like the Herzog teams of the 80's is also gone. But there is a place for those those things. And despite power and launch angle and all the metrics, isn't there just a place for being able to hit a baseball once in a while, hopefully hard where they "ain't" playing?

Left, right, power, speed, athletic ability, sweet strokes, good approach AB...where does the issue remain with this underachieving team?  So bad clutch hitting, is it the players? Is the approach being taught just wrong? And is it, really, the batting coaches? Or is it just the players all battling issues and slumps?

 

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Fair or unfair, the hitting coach will have to be changed if the offense doesn't right their course. Despite some late-inning heroics last night, here is the Twins offense in 2021:

Innings 1-6: .753 OPS
Innings 7+: .680 OPS

That's absurd and is a huge reason why this team has such a terrible record. They lose 10% of the their OPS the moment the sixth inning ends.

Is that the hitting coach's fault? Er, probably not, as he's definitely not out there telling a bunch of veterans to start missing the ball after they've batted twice. Could the team approach at the plate be partially responsible for that huge drop in performance? Sure, that's definitely a possibility but it still doesn't cover even most of that 10% drop in OPS.

But while the team can't fire all the players, they can always fire the coach, even if it isn't his fault (or even mostly his fault). And that's what will probably happen if this keeps up for another month or more.

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I still don't understand why we have co-hitting coaches. in no way should there be 2 of them. there should be one hitting coach and one assistant hitting coach. Maybe there is an issue where one teaches one way and the other a different way. i liken this to my 10th grade geometry class. We had co-teachers who said they both taught exactly the same. But they did not. One was able to make it make sense where the other one was extremely confusing and taught a lot of things backwards. I barely scraped a C out of the class when I had always been an A student in math. When you can't understand part of it it can make things confusing.

 

Also the Mets fired both of their hitting coaches awhile back out of nowhere. Although i think Lindor put pressure on the team to do it.

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I don't know about hitting coaches but did the Twins really hire Baffert, the horse trainer, as a consultant or was that a one month plus late April Fools joke? Old horse racing joke....I bet on a great horse; it took 10 horses to beat it. Now, Twins are a great team; it takes 29 teams to beat them.

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On 5/16/2021 at 7:43 AM, Brock Beauchamp said:

Fair or unfair, the hitting coach will have to be changed if the offense doesn't right their course. Despite some late-inning heroics last night, here is the Twins offense in 2021:

Innings 1-6: .753 OPS
Innings 7+: .680 OPS

That's absurd and is a huge reason why this team has such a terrible record. They lose 10% of the their OPS the moment the sixth inning ends.

My guess is the hitters are deflated given how the bullpen acts in innings 7+.  The pitcher struggles and the hitters give up.  We have seen this before; it's like the playoffs came early this year.

Apparently, advanced analytics can't predict who will fall like a house of cards when under pressure.  You actually gotta talk to players to figure out what they're about.  Who knew?

As for coaching, sure some hitting coaches can inspire the hitters to come back to re-take the lead every night, but the number of coaches who have that skill is not high.  Changing hitting coaches without fixing the pitching won't solve anything.  And even if the Twins had such a coach, the team would likely still be underwater right now.  The Twins would need an epic, hall-of-fame offense to overcome what they are given by the pitching crew every night.

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Hard to blame the coaches but difficult to understand why bunting isn't a matter of routine practice. Once upon a time Barry Bonds would place two cones on the field and begin batting practice by executing a series of perfect bunts to each side very close to the cones before he proceeded to bash line drives all over the field. No doubt there was quite a bit of practice to get to that point of expertise and he didn't bunt in games, but it may have increased bat control. I don'y know what the Twins do and am not advocating for more bunts. When the topic of hitting coaches is presented I wonder how much time and practice is spent on bat to ball skills. A personal frustration of mine while watching some of the Twins bat is there insistence on the same swing path no matter the pitch or location, predictable going back to the dugout on three pitches. My guess is that the coaches make suggestions and present information which the player then either tries to use or doesn't. 

This matter of a batting coach and their influence/ effectiveness is certainly worthy and i hope the Twins are looking into every nook and cranny for improvements.

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On 5/16/2021 at 7:43 AM, Brock Beauchamp said:

Fair or unfair, the hitting coach will have to be changed if the offense doesn't right their course. Despite some late-inning heroics last night, here is the Twins offense in 2021:

Innings 1-6: .753 OPS
Innings 7+: .680 OPS

That's absurd and is a huge reason why this team has such a terrible record. They lose 10% of the their OPS the moment the sixth inning ends.

Is that the hitting coach's fault? Er, probably not, as he's definitely not out there telling a bunch of veterans to start missing the ball after they've batted twice. Could the team approach at the plate be partially responsible for that huge drop in performance? Sure, that's definitely a possibility but it still doesn't cover even most of that 10% drop in OPS.

But while the team can't fire all the players, they can always fire the coach, even if it isn't his fault (or even mostly his fault). And that's what will probably happen if this keeps up for another month or more.

Agree entirely with this. Absurd is the word. All of it is absurd. Expectations vs results will definitely get someone fired and should, regardless of fault. Total system failure. I am waiting for Pohlad to speak the words, and then act accordingly. 

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5 minutes ago, Dodecahedron said:

My guess is the hitters are deflated given how the bullpen acts in innings 7+.  The pitcher struggles and the hitters give up.  We have seen this before; it's like the playoffs came early this year.

Apparently, advanced analytics can't predict who will fall like a house of cards when under pressure.  You actually gotta talk to players to figure out what they're about.  Who knew?

As for coaching, sure some hitting coaches can inspire the hitters to come back to re-take the lead every night, but it's not many.  Changing hitting coaches without fixing the pitching won't solve anything.

No doubt there are connections between poor defense, poor pitching, and the hitting but it should not really make a huge difference. Baseball is a game of dealing with failure and frustration and the mental preparation to avoid the pitfall of giving in because your pitchers are struggling and the defense prone to mistakes is a constant battle. The best players separate and focus, and a key job of a hitting coach is reminders of that.

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13 minutes ago, tony&rodney said:

No doubt there are connections between poor defense, poor pitching, and the hitting but it should not really make a huge difference. Baseball is a game of dealing with failure and frustration and the mental preparation to avoid the pitfall of giving in because your pitchers are struggling and the defense prone to mistakes is a constant battle. The best players separate and focus, and a key job of a hitting coach is reminders of that.

Sure. 

If we look at Brock's OPS numbers again:  With the short sample size of the year to date, the difference between .753 OPS and .680 OPS is what, 5 runs at the most?  That might not even be one more win.

Without a hall of fame set of hitters, these Twins just have no chance.  Sure, change coaches, change hitters, whatever, but that's not solving the problem.  It is strange to not see much chatter about firing the pitching coaches.

 

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1 hour ago, Number3 said:

I don't know about hitting coaches but did the Twins really hire Baffert, the horse trainer, as a consultant or was that a one month plus late April Fools joke? Old horse racing joke....I bet on a great horse; it took 10 horses to beat it. Now, Twins are a great team; it takes 29 teams to beat them.

It was a satirical article.  To date, Baffert has not been hired as a consultant...

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this subject will continue to be batted around as long as the Twins are playing this poorly. i slightly disagree that Cruz is 'excelling'. I would say he is 'cooling'. Hope thats not a trend. Donaldson IMHO has not really been so solid. Much is expected of this huge investment and he has been very inconsistent.

Last week, the Orioles, who also struggle to score runs had runners on 1st and 2nd none out and they laid down a perfect sacrifice moving the runners up a base. After the next hitter fanned (sound familiar?) next batter, instead of trying to hit a 5 run HR, saw the infield playing back and laid down a perfect drag bunt down the 3rd baseline....driving in a run while beating it out.

Thats just good baseball....and something the Twins will never do. Why not? They keep failing over and over doing the same thing. The name of the game is runs scored, not how hard you hit a baseball.  use all the tools in the box. Take what the opposition gives you. Twins will never improve doing the same things over and over, that don't work.

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Bunt to beat the shift. Everybody steals bases. All fielders learn to bluff. Pitchers vary their pace, pitch inside. Throw strike one. Get to 1 and 2, not 2 and 1. Hit and run. Squeeze plays. Double steals. Pick-off tricks. Catchers throw behind runners. 

Pressure works. Baseball has endless little ways of applying pressure to the other team, including managers interrupting the action for some small quibble, just when the opposition has momentum. 

Pressure builds up. When your players all are looking for ways to apply pressure, it forces the opposition to guard against more things. When your team is the one applying pressure, your players feel mentally and emotionally more engaged, more positive, more in control. 

When the Twins set the MLB record for home runs, every hitter looked dangerous. That's pressure. When I look at the Twins hitters today, I don't get that feeling at all. They don't look dangerous. They look more like bowling pins waiting to get knocked over. Same with the pitching staff a couple years ago. The relief staff were all zapping heaters 95 mph or better, picking corners, and Romo was making hitters look foolish with his sweeping curves and chess game stuff. 

Today's Twins don't look dangerous. They look dangerously close to complacent. 

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How to explain a huge performance gap in late innings and with RISP?

Clutch, and pressure, and intangibles might explain some of it. Maybe. No question the hitters have to be thinking they must perform, with the pitching staff struggling.

Talent may explain some of it. High-leverage plate appearances are no longer against a random pitcher. Today's game has optimized to put the opponent's best option on the mound at these times. Our hitters will see better stuff, fewer mistakes, and the best possible approaches to getting them out, and they may not have the talent to maintain performance in the face of that.

Approach may explain some of it. The Twins have chased the S in OPS, and not so much the O. But slugging numbers can come from a few bombas, where OBP comes from consistent performance - many successful events. If you only get on base once a game, you are an unacceptably poor hitter, but you only need to hit one home run every series to lead the league in slugging.

So the sabremetricians may be right and it's just variance. But if your statistical success is due to fewer events, and those events are made harder to achieve in high leverage situations, and you don't have the talent to overcome that, then variance results in a pattern of failure.

So, to answer your question: if the coaches are clinging to a power-over-on-base approach, then yes, we need new coaches. But I worry that this approach is coming from the top, and the whole roster has been optimized for it.

 

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58 minutes ago, yeahyabetcha said:

2019 was a juiced ball year.  The organization  and many fans to want a swing for the fence  approach.  Are the coaches going to get fired for doing what they were hired for?

There is no question that they will.

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Wasn't aware of the actual late inning numbers until reading Brock's comment above.  Got me thinking, is it possible they are worse in the last three innings because opposing teams are pitching their best relievers who have better numbers over an inning each compared with the starter for five or six innings?  Don't know, just wondering if that is a possible explanation.

As for firing the hitting coach?  Wouldn't do it now, would wait until season's end and then clean house...everybody.

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First I would establish a firm rule for all relief pitchers, and make it public: Your first pitch to every batter must be a strike. Doesn't matter if they pound it into the second deck. No more 1 and 0, 2 and 0, 2 and 1. Obviously you try not to throw it right down the middle, but every relief pitcher should prepare to pick a corner and put some kind of pitch in that corner. You have 4 corners to choose from, and however many types of pitches are in your repertoire. Pick one, and pick a corner. If you can't do that, you don't belong in the majors.

Second, I would require every position player to attempt at least one stolen base per week. Don't let opposing pitchers relax because it's that slow guy that never steals. Hey, we all saw Big Pappy steal bases. You slower than him?? Make pitchers hold everybody. Make their basemen stick a step closer to their bases. It opens up lanes for base hits. It causes wild pitches. It makes the game more fun to watch. 

Third, I would try to get Rowson back. Whatever he did, it produced a ton of home runs. I don't expect to see that again, but it's worth a try.

Fourth, bunt to beat the shift. Unless it's late in the game and you're down by three with the bases loaded...and maybe even then, if your bat is cold.

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On 5/17/2021 at 5:14 PM, jimbo92107 said:

First I would establish a firm rule for all relief pitchers, and make it public: Your first pitch to every batter must be a strike. Doesn't matter if they pound it into the second deck. No more 1 and 0, 2 and 0, 2 and 1. Obviously you try not to throw it right down the middle, but every relief pitcher should prepare to pick a corner and put some kind of pitch in that corner. You have 4 corners to choose from, and however many types of pitches are in your repertoire. Pick one, and pick a corner. If you can't do that, you don't belong in the majors.

Second, I would require every position player to attempt at least one stolen base per week. Don't let opposing pitchers relax because it's that slow guy that never steals. Hey, we all saw Big Pappy steal bases. You slower than him?? Make pitchers hold everybody. Make their basemen stick a step closer to their bases. It opens up lanes for base hits. It causes wild pitches. It makes the game more fun to watch. 

Third, I would try to get Rowson back. Whatever he did, it produced a ton of home runs. I don't expect to see that again, but it's worth a try.

Fourth, bunt to beat the shift. Unless it's late in the game and you're down by three with the bases loaded...and maybe even then, if your bat is cold.

I can't help thinking the problem is not skill, nor technique, but predictability. Swinging the bat at the same launch angle every at bat, for example. Some of your suggestions would help, while some might make the predictability even more pronounced.

 

Oh, and Rowson took a promotion when he left the Twins. He's not coming back as the batting coach.

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