Wally Joyner, a member of two Padres teams that reached the playoffs, has stepped down as the club's hitting coach. Joyner gave his resignation letter to General Manager Kevin Towers on Monday.
"It bothers me a lot that I have come to the point where it is clear that I need to move on," Joyner said. "I came to the job hoping to put my experience and ideas to good use in teaching and coaching the Padres' hitters, but it has become obvious to me in the past few months that the organization's approach is different from mine."
The question I have is whether anyone can point to any evidence that a hitting coach actually matters.
Sure, there have been isolated success stories -- we often hear about Jeff Pentland working with Sammy Sosa -- but apart from those rare instances, a hitting coach's impact on a team's offense is pretty much a crap shoot. Quick: who was the hitting coach for the 1996 Rockies? The 1975 Reds? The 1984 Tigers?
The fact is that every team has a couple of guys who have forgotten more about hitting than any coach could ever teach them and a couple of guys who have no business in the Majors and wouldn't be helped if God Himself helped them analyze video. For them, the hitting coach serves no real purpose. The bulk of the others are guys who know what they're doing but are nonetheless prisoners of yearly variation and regression to the mean. When they're up, we credit the hitting coach. When they're down, we blame him. My guess is that they have very little impact.
Not that there shouldn't be someone around to run the video sessions and serve as a second set of eyes for the hitters. I just think -- to use a political analogy -- that it should be a civil service position instead of a political one. Teams should hire a guy they trust to be a Hitting Technician (or whatever you want to call it) who is not subject to the same results-oriented referenda that gets guys like Joyner fired every year. A non-uniformed guy who is closer to the trainer than the manager in the hierarchy.
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The result of this sort of shuffling? Less drama, for one thing. I don't like reading about guys getting fired, especially when they're players I liked an awful lot when I was a kid. It could also serve as a cost cutting move, in that there will be one less job clubs feel the need to fill with big name, uniformed guys.
Most importantly, however, is that it will foster greater accountability in places where it matters. Hitting coaches often serve as the sacrificial lamb when things go sideways for a club. They're the first to go in a downturn, often because of some vague and ambiguous disagreement with respect to "hitting philosophy" which, if you think about it, is a concept which should flow from the front office down, not begin with the fourth-in-command in the dugout. If you have a competent technocrat of a hitting technician in the role there won't be any lip service to such nonsense, and no one will think that they're accomplishing anything by firing the guy.
To the contrary, the attention will be focused on the field manager who makes out the lineup card each day and the GM who put the tripe on the roster in the first place, and that, my friends, is where real change happens.