Assistant Hitting Coach

The White Sox last week became the latest team to add an assistant hitting coach, hiring Harold Baines (who was the first-base coach last season) to assist Jeff Manto. This is a growing trend:

Mike Aldrete took the job with the Cardinals in 2008 and last year gave way to John Mabry, who recently was promoted to the top job when Mark McGwire left for the Dodgers. St. Louis is searching for Mabry’s replacement, while Los Angeles hired John Valentin to help McGwire after previously using Jeff Pentland and Dave Hansen in that role.

The Royals and Phillies each added a pair of hitting coaches this offseason, as Andre David will assist Jack Maloof in Kansas City and Wally Joyner will back up Steve Henderson in Philadelphia. The Padres made the move last offseason, hiring Alonzo Powell to work with Phil Plantier.

Both teams in this year’s World Series also had assistants, who now have official titles. The Giants moved Joe Lefebvre into the role during the 2011 season, and the Tigers did the same with Toby Harrah this year.

Besides the White Sox, the Cubs and Rangers have carried an assistant hitting coach at times in the past few years. And while the position hasn’t always stuck, its trend line clearly is headed upward…

The three clubs that added assistant hitting coaches before this past season — the Braves, Giants and Padres — all made significant gains over 2011 in runs scored and OPS, while jumping at least two spots in the National League rankings in both categories.

Am I silly not to be convinced by that rigorous analysis? Not that I want to make an argument that assistant hitting coaches are a bad idea, but surely the fact that three clubs that added assistant hitting coaches all made gains in two cherry-picked categories, with a sample size of one season, isn’t actual statistically-relevant evidence of anything, is it?

Also, the mere addition of an assistant hitting coach would seem to be far, far, far less important than the question of who it is, and how good they are at coaching hitting.

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Jeremy Blachman is the author of Anonymous Lawyer, a satirical novel that should make people who didn't go to law school feel good about their life choices. Read more at McSweeney's or elsewhere. He likes e-mail.

2 Responses to “Assistant Hitting Coach”

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  1. bowie says:

    Are you sure it’s not “Assistant TO THE Hitting Coach”?

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  2. Choo says:

    The impact of a hitting coach is debatable results vary on a player-by-player basis, but I can see the benefit of having two hitting coaches.

    Theoretically, it could speed up player evaluation. If a young player doesn’t mesh well with his one and only hitting coach (different techniques, philosophies, personality types; any excuse that could be attributed to poor results) the organization is mired in a holding pattern until the hitting coach is replaced. There is no guarantee that the young player won’t struggle again with his new hitting coach, but having two hitting coaches essentially condenses the process of evaluation and swing maintenance.

    You see a guy like Justin Smoak who was a complete disaster at the MLB level with hitting coach Chris Chambliss before his rebirth at AAA with Jeff Pentland. Had Pentland been perched on the big league rail in April, maybe Smoak would have had a successful 2012 season. Then again, maybe not, but had both coaches declared Smoak a disaster, perhaps the M’s would feel comfortable making a change at 1B now rather than waiting to see what Smoak does on his third tour of duty.

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