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In defense of Hensley Meulens, embattled hitting coach

The Giants can't hit. Is it the fault of the hitting coach?

You can only help a hitter so much.
You can only help a hitter so much.
Justin Edmonds

Say, the San Francisco Giants aren't hitting so well. Have you noticed? Seems like the kind of thing you might have noticed. Since their descent into the pits of baseball hell, which started after the June 8 game against the Mets, here's what they've done:

Date G Record PA R H 2B 3B HR BB SO HBP
Jun 9 to Aug 13, 2014 57 21-36 2121 189 461 76 16 30 146 428 16

Jun 9 to Aug 13, 2014 13 9 39 13 11 .238 .296 .340 .636 390

That seems ... ungood. That's an 85-dinger pace over a full season, which would be worse than any non-strike team since 1980. Their current .303 OBP would be the worst over a full season since the '92 Giants. Think about all the crappy lineups you've watched on and off over the last 20 years. This one might be performing the worst, and that's including the good times from April and May.

Here's where the Giants have ranked in swings outside of the strike zone since 2008:

O-swing %
2014: 13th NL, 27th MLB
2013: 13th NL, 24th MLB
2012: 14th NL, 26th MLB
2011: 13th NL, 28th MLB
2010: 16th NL, 30th MLB
2009: 16th NL, 30th MLB
2008: 15th NL, 28th MLB

This team hacks. Has hacked. Will always hack. Even when they're good, they hack. When they're not good, the hacking is abominable and obvious. As such, people are looking for scapegoats.

The hitting coach is nature's scapegoat. You might think that the goat is nature's scapegoat. You're wrong. It's the hitting coach. And pitching coach, but we'll focus on the one that concerns the Giants right now. There are folks who want Hensley Meulens fired. They want someone held accountable for the Giants hacking, and Meulens is right there, a goat ready for easy scaping.

This means it's a great time to bring up the McCovey Chronicles Theory of Hitting Coach Evaluation:

I have no idea how to evaluate hitting coaches, and you don't either.

It's impossible to extricate the philosophy of the hitting coach from the philosophy of the GM. Brian Sabean acquired Hunter Pence and has built a roster with Pablo Sandoval on it. Both of them made ESPN's list of the best bad-ball hitters, with Sandoval ranking #1 and Pence ranking #3.

Yet they're not the problem. Pence has been the best hitter on the team all season, and Sandoval's been one of the only good hitters on the team since that June 8 cutoff. It's one thing to say the Giants should be more patient, but it's another to suggest that the problem is Sabean building rosters with players like Pence and Sandoval, who have been generally productive. What should Meulens do with hitters like those that would be different from another hitting coach?

The only way I can even pretend to evaluate Meulens is to look at the players the Giants have acquired or promoted since he took over in 2010 and see if they've exceeded, met, or fell short of expectations:

Exceeded expectations
Buster Posey
Aubrey Huff
Pat Burrell
Brandon Crawford
Melky Cabrera
Angel Pagan
Hunter Pence
Gregor Blanco
Marco Scutaro
Michael Morse

Met expectations
Cody Ross
Carlos Beltran
Eli Whiteside
Mike Fontenot
Brett Pill
Chris Stewart
Ryan Theriot
Hector Sanchez
Joaquin Arias
Tyler Colvin

Fell short of expectations
Mark DeRosa
Jose Guillen
Miguel Tejada
Jeff Keppinger
Orlando Cabrera
Nick Noonan
Juan Perez
Brandon Hicks

Brandon Belt
Brandon Belt

I have no idea where to put Brandon Belt.

Quibble with some of those rankings if you want to, like Arias and Blanco, who exceeded expectations for the previous two seasons before falling into a pit this season. Just note that you can't quibble with Brandon Crawford, because there's no way that dude should have even come close to the hitter he's become, slump notwithstanding.

Now focus on the players in the "fell short" category, though. If you're in favor of ditching Meulens, your argument is that there is a person in this world who could have done more with the eight players under that subheading.

If you believe that person exists, you also believe he lives in a delicious candy house made of sugary bricks, and he's there right now, giving people money and treats. You can probably find a map to this man's house. You need to build a team, a hardy team, with ammunition and exploration experience. You should not be on a website about the San Francisco Giants right now. Find that man's house! Go! Go!

Look at the names under the "fell short" category. Good gravy.

This isn't to suggest that Meulens is responsible for Posey's MVP swing or Melky's surprising continuation of his newfound Royals glory. He didn't have to be the Scutaro-whisperer who made this GIF possible:



And he might not have been the one who got Pence back on track after a miserable start to his Giants career. What you have to do, though, is look at those names and think about expectations. What did you expect to happen with those hitters? Michael Morse's first half and second half combine for numbers that exceed expectations. How different would Morse be if Mark McGwire or Chili Davis were telling him what to do? I don't think he'd be much different. He'd be Michael Morse on the Dodgers, A's, or Giants.

It's possible there's something Meulens could have said over the last two months or five years to make the Giants more patient in a way that translates to more runs. But I don't know how to quantify that. You don't know how to quantify that. And if teams knew how to quantify that, if there were a way to evaluate definitively the value of a hitting coach from day to day, as if he were a hitter, the best coaches would make All-Star money. If teams could prove that Coach X reliably adds a few percentage points of production here and an upward trend in dingers there, they would scramble for them in the offseason as if they were Shin-Soo Choo.

But they're guessing. With a helluva lot more education behind their educated guesses, of course, but they're still aware it's an inexact science. All we can do is look at the hitters relative to expectations. Meulens has done well with what he's been given. He hasn't worked miracles with the lousy hitters, but neither did anyone else after him.

Sabean. That's the cat who gets the blame. And considering that I was expecting this team to hit well, I don't blame him if he's feeling a little blindsided. Posey's continued decline and injuries to Pagan, Belt, and Scutaro have been the problems. Sabean probably could have seen Scutaro, and to a lesser extent, Pagan coming. I figured Morse was going to be the biggest problem with this lineup (and he probably is right now), but he's been a contributor, overall.

I'm all for scapegoats. But I don't get how Meulens is the problem right now. He gets hackers to work with, and they generally do as well as expected. Sometimes they do better. Rarely do they do worse. The Giants might lose him to a managerial vacancy, but they shouldn't lose him to a kneejerk reaction.

Unless he really is the problem. Heck, I don't know. That claim looks dubious from here, though.