A wise man once said the following:
Okay, I lied -- it wasn't really a wise man, it was just Kenshin. But sometimes wisdom comes from where you least expect it. The point is there are times that might best be spent talking about baseball and Giant matters other than the current state of the team. I believe this is one of those times. So, I'd like to discuss a subject which is pretty timely because it concerns the Giants pathetic lack of offense, which we all got a great example of last night.
During his tenure with the Giants, there has been lots of speculation over what kind of job Dave Righetti has done. When the staff has been largely effective, he's been praised. When the staff has struggled, he's been criticized. And I guess that's how it should be. Like a manager, a coach must be judged on results, despite the fact we'll never really know much they contributed to them. For this reason, I've wondered why I haven't read much criticism of the Giants hitting coach. Only in the last couple weeks have I read a few murmurs of disapproval with that position on this blog, and none elsewhere. Where are all the "JOE MUST GO!" posts? Or the blurb in the Giants Notebook concerning "the Giants embattled hitting coach"? Maybe it's because his name is hard to spell. Lebrevbvre, or something. Or maybe it's because we don't see that he has much in the way of talent to work with. But surely we think someone needs to sit down Pedro Feliz at some point and explain how he should change his approach with a runner on 3rd and less than two outs, don't we?
Besides the obvious poor situational hitting the team has suffered through for quite awhile now, they also have a shocking lack of punch. You expect some poor situational approaches from a team full of sluggers, but the Giants are hardly that. In fact, over the last few seasons, the team has had consistently poor power production. A lack of homers cuts down on those easy runs, forcing a team to manufacture offense -- something the Giants don't do well at all. And while RBI's are not a great way to judge any particular player's production, someone on team must rack up a nice total for the team to succeed. No Giant has hit as many as 25 home runs or driven in as many as 100 runs in either this year or last (although both Durham and Feliz still have a chance this season). Much more alarming, no Giant besides Bonds has had as many as 23 HR or 91 RBI since Jeff Kent did it in 2002. When I realized that, a single tear streamed down my cheek. I looked like the old Native American guy in the anti-littering comercials from the 80's. Except sadder. Much, much sadder.
So, why don't we call for our batting coach's head? Surely, there's enough internet venom spewing to go around. I think it's probably for the same reason you never hear about the great hitting coaches around the league. Because, it seems to me, baseball fans view a hitting coach with the same sense of veiled mystery and ignorance as men view a clitoris. Sure, we all know it's there, and we understand its' purpose, but if it were left entirely up to us, I think most would just choose to ignore it completely.
But the job is there for a reason -- to maximize the potential of the team's hitters. And there are at least a couple of hitters on the Giants who either seem to be not performing up to their capabilities, or who have less than stellar approaches at the plate. Why, for instance, when Notgardo Alfonzo wants some batting tips, does he go to Pedro Feliz, the poster boy for poor plate discipline? Why is Lefeberverbvre not there to interrupt that conversation and steer Alfonzo as far from Feliz as possible? Now that I think about it, why isn't there a sign above Feliz's locker which reads: "PLEASE DO NOT ASK THE 3RD BASEMAN FOR BATTING TIPS"?
Say what you want about Dusty Baker's managerial tactics, but by all accounts he did a fantastic job as the Giants hitting coach. Will Clark was already an all-star when Dusty took over, but both Kevin Mitchell and Matt Williams made quantum leaps almost as soon as he took over the job. Mitchell wasn't shy about crediting Baker, either. We haven't seen anything like that in a long time. It would be nice to have one success story to hold onto. One guy who said he was struggling, and changed something at the coach's suggestion and it worked. But I also understand that trying to teach a millionaire athlete -- who's made it to the big leagues without any help from you -- to change the approach that got them this far could be very difficult. So, in order to research this facet of the story further, I used my McCovey Chronicles press pass to gain entrance into the Giants clubhouse before last night's game and interviewed Pedro Feliz about his hitting approach. The following is a transcript of this interview:
ME: "Excuse me, do you have a minute?"
FELIZ: (looks up) "Sure, what's shaking, bro?"
ME: "Not too much, Mr. Feliz. Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions?"
FELIZ: "No problem, dude. But call me 'Petey', everybody does."
ME: "Great, thanks...Petey. What I really wanted to know about is your approach at the plate. Sometimes you have that beautiful swing where you go with the pitch to right field, and you do it with really good power. Like that time you took Gagne into the right field arcade. But you don't seem to do that too much. How come you don't do it more often? Like with a runner on 3rd and less than two out, and the infield back. Shouldn't you just try to play pepper with the middle infield there, keeping your hands inside the ball to avoid grounding the pitch to 3rd? I know that adjustment would be hard work, and you might lose a few home runs, but overall I think you'd help the team more, and be a much better overall hitter too. Don't you think?"
FELIZ: (thick Latino accent) "I sweeng da bat, heet da ball. Sometime, I heet goot, sometime no so goot, sometime no heet ball."
ME: (blank look) "Wha... What the hell was that?"
FELIZ: (shrugs shoulders)
ME: "Five seconds ago you were speaking perfect English, now it's all broken."
FELIZ: "I try hard, meester. I no speak right?"
ME: "This is ridiculous. You're clearly just faking an unfamiliarity with the English language. You're not fooling me, you know."
FELIZ: (confused look) "Que?"
ME: "What, you just don't wanna answer that question? Is that it? You don't want to explain why you have such a selfish, lazy approach to hitting, so you're just trying to avoid it by acting like Sammy Sosa in front of congress?"
FELIZ: (big grin) "Baseball been berry berry goot to me."
So, as you can plainly see, trying to get a proud professional athlete to change their ways is obviously no picnic. But isn't that an integral part of a batting coach's job? Obviously, there are people out there who do this well. The question is, is Joe Lefebrevebrebvebrebvrebre one of those people?
COMMENT STARTER: How much responsibility should a batting coach shoulder for his team's performance? Can they have an appreciable impact on a team? How can you tell? Why don't any of them get as much pub as pitching coaches like Duncan, Mazzone, Peterson, Maddux, et al? Do the Giants need to make a change at this position in the off-season? And what is Grant going to think when he sees that I discussed female genitalia in a post?