When Joe Lefebvre was fired last year, most of us yawned. The offense was bad, sure, but how much of that was Lefebvre’s fault, and how much of that was the fault of the octogenarians in the lineup? I had my own problems with Lefebvre –a painful and deep-rooted phobia of silent letters, for one – but I had no idea if he was part of the problem with the wretched offense.
Carney Lansford was the replacement. As a major league hitter, Lansford wasn’t easy to label. He wasn’t a walking machine, but he generally exhibited good plate discipline. He wasn’t a slugger, but he hit enough homers to keep pitchers honest. Somewhere along the way, he found time to steal over 200 bases for his career. There was no reason to believe he would preach an especially aggressive approach, nor was there a reason to believer he would preach an especially patient approach. When he was hired, Lansford indicated that the Giants would focus on "selfless baseball", but that was the company line at the time. You couldn’t really expect him to say, "Small ball? What kind of 19th-century crap is that? We’re swinging for the fences, even if the count is 0-2."
At first glance, it would seem like Lansford has failed with whatever it was he was trying to do. The Giants probably aren’t going to break 100 home runs, and the team is dead last in runs scored. But how many players have really flopped this year? Brian Bocock, Omar Vizquel, John Bowker, Jose Castillo, and Eugenio Velez come to mind. Ted Williams wouldn’t have been able to help Bocock, and Vizquel was almost as bad last year with Lefebvre. Bowker came straight up from AA after his first good professional season, and even that breakout came with an iffy B/KK ratio. Jose Castillo has been frustrating organizations for several years now, and in April and May, Eugenio Velez was swinging like a boneless lemur. On which of these players are you prepared to judge a hitting coach?
A note of support for Lansford’s work: Fred Lewis has shown flashes of power, even if he’s called out on strikes far too often. Manny Burriss is making pitchers throw him strikes, driving the ball all over the field. Other than Vizquel, the veterans have either kept pace or improved over last year’s performance
Rebuttal to the note of support: The team is almost last in the world in taking walks. That has to be the most measurable aspect of a hitting coach’s influence. You can cherry pick players to make it seem like the team is doing okay, but it isn’t. The team can’t score, and a lot of that has to do with an impatient approach.
Rebuttal to the rebuttal: This team would struggle to hit 100 home runs if they were allowed to use aluminum bats. Of course they don’t take a lot of walks. If a pitcher falls behind to anyone in this lineup, that pitcher will challenge.
At the risk of sitting on the fence until I get splinters, I’ll have to put a big "incomplete" next to Carney Lansford right now. Things could have been worse – there was a chance this offense was going to be once-in-a-generation awful. Things aren’t good, brother, but they aren’t apocalyptic, either. There’s a chance that next year’s lineup will feature Pablo Sandoval, Manny Burriss, Travis Ishikawa, and other youngsters, so a column like this might have some more substance at the end of 2009.
Open hitting coach thread...