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Who's Coaching the Coaches?
2003-05-20 08:26
by Jon Weisman

Those impatient with the Dodger hitting might be interested in what happened in Chicago late Sunday.

The White Sox, 20th in the major leagues in OPS and 24th in runs scored, fired their hitting coach, Gary Ward (coincidentally, the father of Dodger reserve Daryle Ward). The Sox averaged 5.3 runs per game last year but are only tallying 4.0 per game this year.'s Jim Baker commented on this firing today - I hope he and ESPN don't mind that I quote him extensively:

You can probably file this move under the category of "it is better to do something than nothing even if it has no real meaning." Did Ward suddenly lose the ability to coach hitters? After all, he was the man in charge of the bats last year when the Sox were scoring the third-most runs in the league. Said Manuel to John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times, "This is something that I thought we needed. We tried a lot of different things to get this going. I just think this is a thing we thought would be of a big help. I thought this would jump-start us.'"

Here's an area of baseball on which there is precious little research: the impact of changing hitting coaches on team offensive performance. Probably one of the reasons nobody has bothered to do an exhaustive study on it (at least, not that I'm aware of) is that it is pretty obvious what will be discovered: there is no correlation. Former Sox player Greg Walker is the man Manuel has promoted from the minors to replace Ward. Now something interesting will happen. Paul Konerko and Joe Crede will start to play more like themselves because players of their caliber tend not to stay in the .500 to .600 OPS range for entire seasons. Walker might end up getting the credit for something that was probably going to happen eventually anyway.

By the way, I think that what Baker meant to say is that there is correlation but there is no causation.

The Dodgers, of course, look worse offensively than the White Sox. Los Angeles is 28th in OPS and 29th in runs scored. Furthermore, because of Jack Clark's motorcycle-induced injuries, there is clearly been chaos with the hitting instruction. (I wonder if coaches ever have clauses in their contracts prohibiting them from potentially dangerous activities. Perhaps Jeff Kent will become a batting instructor in the next decade and we'll find out.)

The correlation of Clark's troubles and the Dodger hitting? Some players seem to be making progress in 2003; others have fallen off a cliff. You have your Alex Coras; you have your Adrian Beltres.

No one in the Dodger organization or the media has really questioned Clark's ability to coach during his time with the Dodgers. I haven't either. Frankly, my thinking has been like Baker's - hitting coaches are only as good as the players they work with.

Obviously, no one's going to kick the man when the asphalt's already kicked him pretty good, but even before the accident, Clark has had a fairly Teflon run.

But does that really make sense?

Look at the Dodger pitching staff. The Dodgers have used 13 pitchers this season. Twelve of them have been excellent, and the 13th, Andy Ashby, may only be underperforming because there has been so little need to use him. Regardless of their pedigree, every pitcher who has been used regularly this season has done well. Check their game logs and see if you can find any of the top 12 having had more than two bad games all year.

It isn't just park effects. The Dodgers' ERA is slightly better on the road this season.

Part of that has to be knowing which pitchers to assemble on a roster. Part of that has to be pitchers knowing they have to rise to the occasion - and doing it.

Part of that has to be coaching.

And the fact that everyone from Kevin Brown to Troy Brohawn is clicking on the mound for the Dodgers does force you to wonder why the hitting is so spotty. Could it really have nothing to do with the coaching?

Previous analysis has shown that while the Dodgers figure to have a weak offense, it shouldn't be this weak. They have a similar lineup to last year's, and just by approaching - not even matching - last year's home run total, they should be able to add the half a run per game that would allow them to win regularly. Instead, they're averaging only 3.6 runs per game.

Things are going well for the Dodgers right now. They're in a soft part of their schedule. San Francisco is melting. I'm just about the last person to advocate drastic measures, and I'm one of the first to criticize the level of talent the Dodgers put in the batter's box each game. but let me pose this: As nice as it is that Cora has raised his OPS above .700, isn't it much more important that Beltre get his above .800 or .900?

As Jack Clark continues his recovery and reasserts himself in the Dodger hitting mix, the Dodgers will need to see some across-the-board improvement. Because it is possible that we have reached the point when you start to look at the Dodger hitting instruction and say, "They must be able to do better."

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