MLB.com Columnist

Terence Moore

Just leave the hitting coaches alone

Moore: Leave hitting coaches alone

Just leave the hitting coaches alone
Ranking somewhere between "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin" and "Who really killed JFK," you have this great mystery: Why are hitting coaches suddenly getting whacked nearly as much as baseballs throughout the Major Leagues?

Maybe it just seems that way. Then again, the Cleveland Indians, Florida Marlins and Texas Rangers already have fired their hitting coaches, and Braves first-base coach Terry Pendleton said, "During the nine years I was a hitting coach, I can't remember three guys being fired for an entire season, and we've just had three before the All-Star break."

This makes no sense.

Out of all the coaches in professional sports, the ones for hitters are the most overrated. As a result, they are the ones with the most unrealistic expectations from their bosses and others. In fact, when you think about it, hitting coaches aren't totally necessary. You either have a bunch of folks who can hit on your team or you don't.

Dwayne Murphy spent a dozen years in the big leagues, for instance, and despite winning six Gold Gloves in center field, he managed only spurts of goodness at the plate around a slew of bad ones. He finished with a career batting average of .246.

So how much did hitting coaches contribute to what Murphy did and didn't do with a bat?

"Very little," Murphy said, straight-faced. "There are things you can tell a guy, but he still has to be able to do it. Me, personally, I don't think [hitting coaches] play that big of a part."

Now get this: Murphy is in his second season as the hitting coach for the Toronto Blue Jays. Not only that, if you chat with Jose Bautista -- who went from nobody as a hitter to baseball's most complete slugger during his past two seasons in Toronto -- he'll quickly cite Murphy as a primary catalyst for his turnaround.

To which Murphy likes to shrug.

"There are things you see as a hitting coach, but most of the time it becomes a timing issue with the hitter," Murphy said. "I give them their routines, and those routines are just something to help them keep their swing, to keep the path of their bats, to keep their swings in order. We do our little drills and whatever. And we talk to them about their approaches at the plate against different pitchers.

"As for the rest of it, to be honest with you, they have to go out there and just play. It's up to them."

Yes, it is. But the Indians fired hitting coach Jon Nunnally in late June despite leading the American League Central at the time. He was blamed for the team getting shut out six times up to that point and barely scoring at least a couple of runs in most of its other games.

Nevermind the Indians' batting order was hurt by significant injuries and had nothing resembling those 1990s rosters of Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Albert Belle. To hear the Indians brass tell, Nunnally failed by not discovering ways to channel those all-time Tribe greats into the minds, bodies and souls of these current Indians -- you know, while pumping all of the pollution out of Lake Erie by early August. Without Nunnally, the Indians still are mediocre on offense. The same goes for the Marlins, who replaced John Mallee with Eduardo Perez in early June, when the Marlins began to implode everywhere after beginning the month just two games out of the NL East lead.

The Marlins' Hanley Ramirez continues to hit more than 80 points below his career average of .307, but common sense says neither Mallee nor Perez contributed much to that ugliness. That's because common sense says a hitting coach can't hit or miss pitches from his seat in the dugout.

The Rangers fired hitting coach Thad Bosley on the same day the Marlins replaced Mallee. In contrast to those other examples, Bosley reportedly had communication problems with players. Even so, the Rangers were hitting, and they've continued to do so. They entered Friday's action sitting in a fourth-place tie for the best batting average in baseball. You can attribute much of that to reigning American League MVP Josh Hamilton feeling comfortable again after recovering from an early season injury.

We're back to players again.

Like Murphy, Pendleton has been on both sides of this player-coach thing involving hitting, but unlike Murphy, Pendleton has a batting title and an NL MVP award on his resume.

"Hitting coaches just assist you," said Pendleton, thinking back to 1991, when he led the NL with a .319 batting average and 187 hits with the Atlanta Braves. "Back then, Clarence Jones assisted me as hitting coach, because there are times when a hitting coach can see things as they are starting to happen. As a hitter, you might think that everything [with your body] is staying where they're supposed to stay. But as a hitting coach, you can say, 'You're starting to do this. You're starting to do that.'

"If you believe in this guy as you're hitting coach, then you say, 'OK, I've got to straighten this out.' But if you don't believe in this guy, and if you start doing things drastically wrong, you start wondering to yourself, 'Why can't I get a hit?' "

You also might start doing something else. You might start blaming everybody but yourself for your hitting issues.

You'll likely start with your hitting coach.

Pendleton shook his head, recalling his nine-year stint as the Braves' hitting coach through last season.

"[Former Braves manager] Bobby Cox used to tell me once a week that I had the toughest job in baseball," said Pendleton, who was switched to first-base coach by new Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez when Cox retired after last season.

Under current hitting coach Larry Parrish, the Braves are one of the worst-hitting teams in baseball.

"I saw Bobby the other day, and he said, 'Aren't you glad you aren't the hitting coach now?'" Pendleton said, laughing. "How can I put this: It's almost impossible for every player on a team to be satisfied with the hitting coach, and I say that because everybody has a different way in which they like to get ready for a ballgame. So, every hitting coach does not have every answer. If he did, he'd be working for every ballclub.

"But here's what makes it a really tough job -- if you have one or two guys who don't like what you're doing, and if they're the right one or two guys, you're gone. That's really the bottom line in baseball, and that's a tough situation for a hitting coach."

It's an impossible situation.

Given the trend through the first half of this season, you can expect the situation to worsen.

Added Pendleton, chuckling, "Over the next five years, it will be interesting to see what happens. I'll tell you that."

Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.