Monday, September 24, 2007

Enough With Lenny

Lenny Harris might be a good hitting coach. I don't really know. But it certainly seems like he hasn't done much to help, as the team's plate patience seems to have eroded post-Page. At any rate, nats.com has a puff piece on Austin Kearns, crediting Lenny with a minor adjustment or two that's helped Kearns to get on track. He hit his 10th homer of the second half today, doubling his first-half total. And coming into today, he's hit an excellent .283/ .387/ .451. He had a terrible first half, burying his chances of putting up overall numbers, but his second half has been right where we expected him to be; it's just hidden.

The piece credits Harris for shortening the team's swings, since they were trying to hit too many homers. As evidence for his success, it points out that "The team is hitting over .260 since he came on board."

First, I'd point out the complete and utter folly of using batting average to measure how well a team is doing offensively. The object is to score runs, not win the batting title or have the most hits. Second, is .260 really an accomplishment? The NL average is .266. And a .260 batting average would be tied for fifth worst in the league. As it is, the Nats are fourth worst. That's something to crow about?

The next sentence is kinda funny too. Beware the passive voice! "Harris, who is credited for helping Dmitri Young become one of the league leaders in hitting and helping Wily Mo Pena learn to hit to the opposite field, acknowledged that it bothers him that the Nationals are last in the league in runs scored this season, but believes it will get better."

While it's true that Dmitri's hot streak coincided with Page's leave, it started instantaneously, almost as if Harris worked his magic in one night. I suppose that Harris had some role on it, but let's not forget that Young was also coming back from leg and foot problems. He wasn't healthy at all until after Page left. Harris certainly got lucky in his timing.

I, too, love the Wily Mo learning to hit to the opposite field line. He's had a few hits to the opposite field, mostly, it seems, on pitches that have fooled him. The balls went to the opposite field, not because he was looking for a sharp single, but because he's damn strong, and those little shots that would be flares or grounders to the second basemen are going over or through him. Luck? Design? Maybe it's Lenny's residue. And I really love the idea that what's made Pena so good is not his 8 homers or his .531 slugging average, but those 3 or 4 dinky flares the other way.

If that's the height of Lenny Harris' offensive strategy, no wonder the team's in last place.

  • If you missed it back in July, I took a look at the team's results with Lenny and Mitchell, and pointed out that the team's walk rate and plate discipline plummeted with Harris. If I were to update the numbers, the larger sample of games would make the numbers slightly more favorable for Lenny, but the overall trends -- at least from the few things I spot-checked -- remain.

  • 18 Comments:

    • Yeah...I can't say I've done any research, but it sure seemed like these guys were swinging way too often...especially early in the at bats. It got to the point where I was hoping someone would be fined for not waiting for strike one.

      I know that's a simplistic approach, and that appropriate aggression goes a long way in being a successful batter. But there needs to be a plan. And I haven't seen evidence of one with these guys.

      I'd think that more overall success would be present if a cohesive approach was used. Or at least a consistent approach for each hitter. A plan.

      The tinkering can help (although it sure could hinder)...but I don't really see a philosophy and regular approach at the plate.

      By Blogger Jim H, at 9/25/2007 12:08 AM  

    • On the other hand, I'll bet the average length of a Nationals game under Lenny has gone way down.

      Some of those idiots who normally show up at the stadium in the 4th inning are now surprised when the fans are singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" as they settle into their seats with their overpriced, undercooked hot dogs.

      By Anonymous bdrube, at 9/25/2007 8:03 AM  

    • Maybe Hitting Coaches in the Bigs are just over-rated in general in terms of real impact. Seems to me that they can primarily provide feedback and psychological support. You'd think that most big leaguers would have established what works for them before they reach the majors. In fact, you expect it. The overall approach of a team, the situational hitting approach, is more driven by the manager than by the hitting coach.

      The best thing a hitting coach can provide is scouting of opposing pitching and imparting that information to his hitters so that they are best equipped to use their unique skills. I just don't think you can change a batter fundamentally at this level. Shouldn't have to.

      By Blogger Tim Bilbro, at 9/25/2007 8:08 AM  

    • Harris certainly got lucky in his timing.

      Perhaps. Certainly luckier than the naysaying blogger's timing. How many runs last night from walks? How many total walks for the Nats?

      By Anonymous Cherry-Pickin' Stats, at 9/25/2007 8:28 AM  

    • Sure. They're middle of the pack in walks. They were at the top of the league last year.

      This year's team has walked less if you just focus on Harris' time with the team. Some of that, of course, is NJ, but that post shows that there is/was some decline among a bunch of players.

      You certainly can't tell me that Zimmerman has a more disciplined approach this year than last, for example.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 9/25/2007 8:53 AM  

    • Chris, over the past 30 days the Nats rank 6th in the NL in runs scored with 137 and the team has hit .270/.343/.431. The addition of Wily Mo Pena (as well as the end of the season urgency for players with sub-par years) has seemed to energize what had been a very anemic offence. While I don't really know how much influence Lenny has had on this, I like the direction the numbers are going.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/25/2007 9:37 AM  

    • What I see from Zimmerman is his staring blankly at far too many grooved first and second pitches followed by wild flails at balls in the dirt.

      BTW, if winning games is the objective, how do last year's and this year's walk rates correlate to W-L record?

      By Anonymous CPS, at 9/25/2007 9:38 AM  

    • You're right. Things have been better lately -- Kearns' improvement in the second half has been dramatic. And Harris probably deserves credit for that.

      Well, I don't think you can directly correlate walk rate with win %, but it's a component of how many runs the team scores, and it's far fewer this year.

      don't conflate the offense as the reason they're doing as well this year. they allowed almost 100 more runs last year. THAT'S why they're winning this year despite the anemic offense.

      you put last year's offense with this year's pitching, and you've got a .500 team.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 9/25/2007 9:43 AM  

    • Part of this might be a perception thing.

      1. There's the Lenny Harris as a Cincy Red Crony angle. 'Nuff said.

      2. There's the Hitting Coach with the Most Skewed Zen Posture - to -Observable Results angle. That's not really Harris-specific at all. The thing is, being a hitting coach is (to outward appearances) the sweetest job in the world -- at least until you're fired.

      When we see hitting coaches on TV, what are they doing? Leaning on the railing, peering at the action intently, offering nuggets of advice, simulating an abbreviated swing. It certainly looks they are involved, perceptive, patient, and sound.

      MASN feeds directly into that perception, and Lenny is naturally telegenic. At even a superficial level, he sort of looks good in his role, and that image is buffeted by Carpenter and Sutton saying the same. Who the hell really knows whether that is the case, but who can really rebut it just based on appearances and the combined efforts of 25 players of varying styles and quality?

      3. Based on what they've said about their jobs/hitting philosophies, most bloggers (and many blog readers) are more inclined to prefer Mitchell over Lenny (all other things equal), even if the results are not solidly in favor of the former over the latter. Mitchell seems to advocate a patient approach, whereas Lenny seems to advocate an aggressive approach. Many of us have had it drilled into our heads for a decade or more than patient = intelligent and aggressive = kinda dumb.

      Even if there's more than one way to skin a cat, there's enough truth in that dichotomy that many of us will view Lenny's contributions with skepticism, whether we know it or not.

      Or I could just be deconstructing myself right here. ;-)

      By Anonymous Basil, at 9/25/2007 9:58 AM  

    • Pardon me, but at this level, these guys should know how to hit.

      Kearns is streaky...which might be why the Red traded him (and Lopez) for that horrible picher, with the silly haircut.

      What was his name?

      By Blogger Ray, at 9/25/2007 10:27 AM  

    • Those who say that professionals don't need coaching are way off. There are minor adjustments (as with Kearns with his hands) that always need to be analyzed.

      Top professionals in other sports have coaches. Golfers have swing doctors (Yes, Tiger has a swing coach). Top tennis players have coaches. Why do people think that baseball hitters no longer need coaching?

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/25/2007 11:00 AM  

    • wow, you just beat me to the Tiger comparison. Baseball players definitely need hitting coaches. Things change every day.

      Also, when teams scout for young talent, the least important thing they look for his hitting -- teams assume they can teach that. You can't teach a shortstop to have a strong arm, or a centerfielder to run like a deer. But you can teach a player to hit. Compare Zimmerman's power in college (with aluminum bats and inferior pitching) to his power now. Someone taught him something...

      By Blogger Natsfan74, at 9/25/2007 11:08 AM  

    • You can't teach a shortstop to have a strong arm, or a centerfielder to run like a deer.

      Can you teach bat speed or hand-eye coordination? If I were a scout I might find those attributes important.

      By Anonymous CPS, at 9/25/2007 12:06 PM  

    • I was only joking to suggest that hitters don't need a swing coach. Mainly, just in agreement with the title Chris' latest rant, I mean blog.

      Everyone needs coaching, even if it is only to confirm what you're doing is right, or ajdust this or that.

      But, the point I think worth making is that it is really overstating it to give a coach anything more than "footnote credit" for the achievements of any given player.

      Hitting coaches do have a tough job - because they have to work with what they have and not mess it up.

      At the ML level, these players can all hit. I don't buy the argument that the phrase "they can be taught" means these coaches can take anyone off the street (like me, for example) and school 'em in how to intentionally take a Major League pitcher to the oposite field.

      Kerns will always be streaky.

      By Blogger Ray, at 9/25/2007 3:27 PM  

    • "You put last year's offense with this year's pitching, and you've got a .500 team."

      Yea, Chris! Let's do it!

      By Anonymous JohnR (VA), at 9/25/2007 4:31 PM  

    • Jaramillo always seems to get a lot of praise and good reviews. Sign him up.

      By Anonymous Tulsa Fan, at 9/25/2007 5:51 PM  

    • Uh...it wasn't a save situation.

      Uh...the "new construction" really bothered him.

      Uh...his second cousin twice removed's cat was diagnosed with chronic feline flatulence.

      Uh...he didn't get any calls.

      Uh...hey, what can I say, he's "League Average," so back off!

      By Anonymous Chad Apologist, at 9/25/2007 11:05 PM  

    • if my math is correct, the Nats averaged 3.9 runs per game thru 8/17, the day before they got Wily Mo.

      Since then, the Nats have averaged 5.2 runs per game.

      Is this all because of Wily Mo? Lenny? The law of averages?

      By Anonymous e, at 9/26/2007 11:38 AM  

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