In the middle of Game 7, word leaked out that the Giants were planning to hire Astros assistant hitting coach Alonzo Powell to be their new hitting coach. This was weird timing all around, and my commitment to not writing about baseball yesterday was strong, so I apologize for not getting to the news until now.
Alonzo Powell is the Giants’ new hitting coach, everyone.
Powell comes from an Astros team that had a mildly successful season, and perhaps my favorite tidbit about them is that they hit .323/.380/.568 as a team in July. For an entire month, the whole lineup was one big, amorphous MVP candidate. They had their stumbles against the Yankees in the ALCS, and there were some games in the World Series in which the Dodgers handled them, but there’s no getting around that they were an excellent offensive team.
The Astros are an analytically driven team — perhaps the most analytically driven team -- so this lines up with the Giants’ stated desire to move in that direction with their coaching staff. I’m not sure if Powell is going to bring a slide rule to Scottsdale, but he’s clearly well-versed on the information and strategies that were presented to him by the front office that just won the World Series. That’s almost certainly a good thing?
Don’t know! Coaches are impossible to evaluate from the outside, and I’ve talked to people on the inside who can’t admit that, but don’t disagree. Here’s what we know about Powell:
- He went to Lincoln High in San Francisco, and he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Giants in 1983.
- He was traded to the Expos with George Riley for Bill Laskey
- Bill Laskey used to give me baseballs when I was a kid
- Those baseballs helped me develop a love for baseball
- That love for baseball helped me on the path to become a baseball writer
- You’re doing what you’re doing right now because of Alonzo Powell
- Alonzo Powell has strange, eerie powers that are affecting your current life at this very second
There are other parts, too. After fewer than 200 lackluster at-bats in the majors, Powell went to Japan, where he was a star. Considering that he hit .375/.452/.651 in Triple-A for the Mariners when he was 26, it’s possible that he got a raw deal with his major league trials, and he was taken down by sample-size goblins.
Perhaps my favorite tidbit about Powell is that he was on the the 2001 Newark Bears, and independent team in the Atlantic League. His teammates included Jose Canseco, Ozzie Canseco, Pete Incaviglia, and ... Hensley Meulens. Powell was 36 and had a .915 OPS. Meulens was 34 and had an .872 OPS.
The plot thickens, everyone. We have empirical evidence!
Powell was the Mariners’ interim hitting coach in 2010 (replacing Alan Cockrell, who was another Giants farmhand), and then he was an assistant hitting coach for the Padres from 2011 through 2015, before leaving for a lateral move with the Astros, where he’s been ever since.
So Powell has been a hitting coach before, but it was an interim gig for one of the worst offenses in major league history. When you look at the names on that roster, boy, you sure can’t blame the coaches. They had Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee in their primes and still lost 101 games. There’s nothing about Powell to glean from that gig. Woof. That team. I’m still staring. Please help me. I’m still staring at that Baseball-Reference page.
After that was the Padres, and while that’s not encouraging, it’s hard to see how we’re supposed to evaluate an assistant hitting coach in that context. And if we’re going to ignore his work there, wouldn’t that make it disingenuous to trumpet his work with the Astros?
Maybe. But I don’t care. The Astros have a lot of hitters. Some of them, like Carlos Correa, would be good anywhere. Even the Mariners couldn’t screw him up. [door slams shut in house, even though it isn’t windy] Yes, well, they might not have, at least.
I have no idea how much of Jose Altuve is natural, raw talent and how much is the Astros fostering it. Same with George Springer. But the Astros did turn Marwin Gonzalez into a surprising force, and they squeezed blood out of a Jake Marisnick-shaped stone, too. No idea if Powell gets credit for any of that.
What we know, then, is that the Giants’ new hitting coach is a hometown kid coming from an analytically minded organization that’s filled with power hitters who just won the World Series. It’s unlikely that Powell going to come over and start talking about choking up and slapping the ball the other way. The Giants aren’t shying away from the power-heavy era in which they’re currently flailing. This would seem to be their way of embracing it.
As with just about every coach, there will be no easy way to evaluate them. There will be no smoking gun, no obvious successes to point to right way. It will be a waiting game, and there doesn’t ever have to be a concrete resolution to the game.
It all sounds good from here, though. Hiring the assistant hitting coach from the Astros sure sounds better right now than hiring the assistant hitting coach from the Marlins, or something. Here’s hoping for 175 home runs next year.