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Monday Mop-Up Duty: the Branson factor, 1B market heating up?, and remembering Kiner

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SOUTH HILLS – One 2014 storyline that has gone under the radar due to the AJ Burnett saga, and the ‘when will they do something’  lamenting  is new hitting coach Jeff Branson and what his presence means for the 2014 Pirates’ offense.

It’s tough to place a value on a hitting coach. I’ll take bat speed and talent over coaching every day of the week, but I do think certain hitting coaches can provide an impact. The curious case of Eric Hosmer is my favorite example of this, and I’ve brought up his curious 2013 in this space before.

 

Hosmer was hitting .262/.322 /.331 on May 29th of last season when Kansas City fired their hitting coaches and brought in George Brett,who, fwiw, is close with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.  Hosmer hit .317/.365/.492 after Brett’s arrival.

 

Coincidence? Perhaps. But I don’t think so. There was a clear change in Hosmer’s approach and aggressiveness after Brett came on board. He began to pull and lift fastballs again. Whether it be the message, trust, or training techniques there are hitting coaches who can add value (See Kevin Long in New York). Can Branson be one?

 

Because as much as you’d like to see another impact bat added a first base, shortstop or right field, the biggest thing that could happen for the 2014 Pirates’ offense is for Pedro Alvarez to take a Chris Davis-like step forward, and extrapolate his end-of-season performance. Remember Alvarez’s NLDS ? Using the whole field? Competitive at bats? An RBI in every game….. The biggest thing that could happen is the Pirates improve their lowly 2013 performance against off-speed pitches: 27th in the game in production against curveballs and 30th, last, against changeups.

 

There was some criticism about  Hurdle electing to remain internal with his hire of Branson, who was Jay Bell’s assistant last year. Some wondered if Hurdle did not want to give a name brand hitting coach autonomy, though Hurdle dismissed that idea when I asked him for this Sunday story on Branson.

 

“We went after (Texas Rangers hitting coach) Dave Magadan very aggressively last winter. Magadan was the brand name as far as I, and many others in our industry, were concerned. We were in relentless pursuit of him, and he chose Texas. And what is Texas doing this offseason to bolster their team? They are looking to add more offense.”

 

Hurdle said the trust aspect is most critical for a hitting coach and cited trust as a main reason Branson was hired. Branson has worked with many of the current Pirates in Triple-A and at the major league level.

 

“How does a coach get the player to listen? One of Jeff’s strengths, I believe, is developing trust,” Hurdle said. “You are not going to allow a coach to coach you until you trust them. I think that’s the challenge a hitting coach has, more so than any other coach, because a swing is a very private and prized possession.”

 

A hitting coach might be able to improve upon some of the Pirates’ issues – 9th in running scoring, 11th in average, 3rd in strikeouts in the NL last season – but there is still one glaring positional question mark that likely needs external, on-the-field upgrading: first base.

 

STARTING NINE THOUGHTS ON THE REMAINING 1B MARKET …

9. It looks like Nelson Cruz will likely land in Seattle which will add another significant log to the corner outfield/first base logjam the Mariners have. Like the butterfly effect, Peter Gammons thinks this could start a chain of events in which the Pirates upgrade first base via trade: https://twitter.com/pgammo/status/431747539562274816

 

8. Depending on the cost, I like Smoak, particularly if you limit the switch-hitter to facing only right-handed pitching. While PNC Park isn’t a hitter’s paradise, it would be a welcomed home for Smoak who has had his numbers suppressed in Safeco. Smoak fits Neal Huntington‘s preference for post-hype sleepers. When Smoak was coming out of South Carolina he was getting Mark Teixiera comps and he is a former first-round pick who was the prize in the Cliff Lee-to-Texas deal.

 

7. But Smoak is going to cost something in a trade. Is that cost/production better than what remains on the free agent market?

The Boston Globe reported Sunday that the Pirates and Kendrys Morales have “mutual interest” if the the Pirates can find the “right price,” which presumably means a club-friendly deal. Morales will cost more than Smoak in dollars and he’ll also cost a club its first round pick in 2014. But Morales could be getting desperate as there appears to be few suitors for his service.

And Morales can hit.

Career wRC+ vs. RHP

Morales 124

Smoak    101

(League average is 100).

Both are switch-hitters but neither sniffs Gaby Sanchez‘s 145 wRC+ number vs. LHP so a platoon still makes sense with either player.

 

kendrys-morales-ap2

Morales makes some sense …  but is he really an everyday 1B?

 

6. I haven’t been carrying the Morales flag, but he’s the best available 1B out there according to Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA forecasts. PECOTA’s projection for Morales is pretty strong as it is a conservative system: .273/.336/.449, 23 HRs, 80 RBIs. 2.7 WAR

PECOTA’s forecast for Smoak is not as a strong: .233/.323/.389, 16 HRs, 61 RBIs and 0.3 run.

 

And just for fun Mitch Moreland and Ike Davis‘s PECOTA forecasts from the annual guide:

Moreland: .251/.321/.421  16HR, 56 RBIs 0.9 WAR

Davis:          .238/.332/.429  17HR, 55 RBIs  1.5 WAR

 

It’s really remarkable how similarly unappealing these trade market options must be for the Pirates.

 

5. One problem with Morales? How much of liability will he be at 1B?

 

4.  Then there’s the internal candidate, Andrew Lambo.

PECOTA projection (250 plate appearances): .231/.289/.406, 9 HRs. 32 RBIs.  Not encouraging.

 

3.  If you’re going by PECOTA and focused on 2014, Morales makes the most sense. Look, all of these options will cost something, so that makes Morales even more attractive.

 

2. Down the road, if Josh Bell can improve his hit tool/pitch tracking he could be a strong candidate to move to first base. Stetson Allie is a lottery ticket, and the pipeline is in general relatively dry at first base. But it’s important to note there are relatively few true first base prospects, most players are converted there after failing to hold down a position higher on the defensive spectrum.

 

1. Remember Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse were unsigned at this time a year ago, so it’s not too late for the Pirates to upgrade their roster.  AJ Burnett and Francisco Liriano were February additions in each of the last two years. Huntington likes to let the market play out and look for value (See : trade deadline).

 

HE SAID IT:

“Him coming into the booth for a ballplayer was the equivalent of a real spiritual person getting to meet the Dalai Lama. And really that’s what it was like. He transcends generations.”
—Former Mets pitcher and current SportsNet New York analyst Ron Darling on the passing of the great Ralph Kiner.

Our own Bob Cohn wrote a fine piece on Kiner here

 

STAT OF THE WEEK:

Kiner’s home runs per season from 1947-51:  51-40-54-47-42

His strikeouts: 81-61-61-79-57

Crazy.

 

NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK

Malcolm Gladwell work is always worth a read and ‘David and Goliath’ should be of particular interest for those looking for advantages inherent in the underdog.

- TS

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Comments

  1. Unless Jeff Branson has a background in psychology I don’t think he’ll offer anything. Hitting coach at the major league level might be the most useless job in professional sports.

  2. Nate83 says:

    The only issue with Morales I see is that if you are going to give up a first round draft pick to get the guy I would think you would want to get him for 3 years to make it worth it. If we are concerned if he can even hold up for 120 games for one season how do you take a chance and sign the guy to 3 years. It’s not like we have him playing DH as a fallback plan. He really seems more like an AL player to me.

    I don’t see him signing for less then 10 million per year and I don’t see the Pirates spending that much on a guy with questions about health. If they didn’t value Loney’s all around game enough to go to 3 years at slightly less then 10 million per year I can’t imagine they give Morales 2 years for 20 million or 3 year for 30 million.

  3. Nate83 says:

    The best thing a hitting coach can do is convince the players to be students of the game and learn their swing and study footage of what they have changed during slumps. Also the mental aspect of just being aggressive and plate approach I guess could have some value.

    It does seem like a job that has very little effect on results. It would be interesting to see a team go without a hitting coach on year and see what happens.

  4. NMR says:

    I strongly disagree, Hidden.

    There is no question that pitching coaches are vital to team success as they not only help the pitching staff physically (mechanics, bullpens) but also strategically (game plans against specific hitters).

    If you don’t have a hitting coach doing the same thing with the hitters, who has the advantage?

    The old addage that hitting/pitching coaches are meaningless died a while ago. Just not true.

  5. BostonsCommon says:

    Travis, you point about the lack of depth at 1B in the minors is well taken. If Lambo doesn’t work out, even the most optimistic projections wouldn’t have Bell ready until 2016. IMO it’s probably pointless to assume anything comes from Allie until it actually does.

    It’s a tough spot to be in.

    If the 25th pick in the draft this year is a college bat that can project to 1B, is it any more likely to reach Pittsburgh before Bell, if at all?

    I think I’d take the route that increases my odds of finding production at 1B now, AND in the future. That probably means passing on Morales, likely using the 25th pick on a college bat, and trading to add another name (Smoak, Davis, et al) into the 2014 1B ring in Pittsburgh.

  6. NMR says:

    -Holy smokes, what kind of values for defense, baserunning and positional adjustment can PECOTA be using to project Morales at 2.7 WAR? He’s only come close to that once in his career (2009) during a season in which he hit .306/.355/.569. Considering he’s one of the worst baserunners in baseball, I’m awfully skeptical of whatever input gets that projected slash line up to 2.7 WAR.

    -Huntington has honestly played the 1B trade market perfectly thus far.

    There is a glut of 1B/RF/DH guys out there right now of varying degrees of crapiness – Ike Davis, Smoak, Moreland, Carp, Lind, Barton – that may have little value to their teams in a backup role. Once teams get down to making roster decisions, spots on the 25-man become scarce. Are these guys really the players you want on the bench over utility players that can run and play multiple positions? I doubt it.

    This means that asking prices will go down. Considering none of these guys are anything approaching safe or productive players, it doesn’t make any sense to me to pay premium prices on lottery tickets.

    Wait it out.

  7. NMR, there are very few philosophical differences in hitting. The coaches stress and hammer the same points. The value add of a hitting coach is to lend an ear and psychologically help work through slumps. A trusted friend or colleague offers nearly the same thing. If I were running a team I’d certainly still have a hitting coach. But it would be more of a life coach than what you’d actually perceive a hitting coach to be.

  8. NMR says:

    It isn’t a hitting coaches job to simply know and understand hitting philosophy. It is his job to analyze his hitters, spot problems, and offer the correct advice to fix them.

    It just seems laughably simplistic to me to say that all a hitting coach can do is be a good friend. Just ridiculous.

  9. Nate83 says:

    Agree and in the meantime our lottery ticket can have a chance to sink or swim. Lambo is as good a bet as any player we are talking about to be a productive first baseman this year. I’m not suggesting giving the guy 400 AB to see what we have but I don’t have any issue with going into spring training and going through the first 30 games with him being the platoon partner because as NMR points out nothing the Pirates have passed on so far is a dramatic improvement to this team. They may be safer bets then Lambo to not be just horrible but their ceilings don’t get you any more enthusiastic then Lambo’s.

  10. Kendrys Morales seems like a liability when he’s standing, jogging or spitting anywhere other than inside the batter’s box. His 2012 advanced stats are surprisingly similar to the ones he posted in his career season of 2009, however.

  11. And I’m telling you the difference between hitting coaches in professional baseball with that aspect of the job is minimal. So yes, being a good friend is the #1 attribute to the job. Did you read Hurdle’s quotes? He said as much.

    Hurdle said the trust aspect is most critical for a hitting coach and cited trust as a main reason Branson was hired. Branson has worked with many of the current Pirates in Triple-A and at the major league level.

    “How does a coach get the player to listen? One of Jeff’s strengths, I believe, is developing trust,” Hurdle said. “You are not going to allow a coach to coach you until you trust them. I think that’s the challenge a hitting coach has, more so than any other coach, because a swing is a very private and prized possession.”

  12. The Gunner says:

    I think it is highly unlikely that Kendrys Morales will end up with the Bucs. He isn’t the BMTIB’s type of player.

  13. NMR says:

    You’ve done a great job demonstrating the huge difference between traditional, old school baseball thought and the current day coaching that winning teams employ.

    I absolutely promise you that there are hitting coaches out there who actually do something.

    Times change.

  14. NMR says:

    See, the only problem with that becomes the fact that 30 games is far, far too small of a sample for which to judge.

    Jurickson Profar was the best hitting prospect in the game and only hit .234 in over 300 PA last year.

    My preference would’ve been to give Lambo Travis Snider’s roster spot which would allow him to split AB’s with Tabby through the first half of the season.

  15. Nate83 says:

    Not judging just asking Gunner. You don’s seem extremely pro of con in term of the front office so when you refer to them as BMTIB I’m not sure if you are just using that because it’s a term people are familiar with or that you actually think they are really bad and found it funny that Nutting used the term. It’s usually anti-front office posters using that term.

    That term was used when they signed Pedro Alvarez I think and for the most part didn’t make sense at the time. Signing your first round draft choice shouldn’t be praised. In retrospect the term would have made more sense after the Cutch extension or this past off season which not only found them getting really good value out of some free agent signing and trades but also a dramatic jump in some of the prospects development.

  16. NMR says:

    I think Andrew Lambo’s projection is a good reminder of how hard it is to hit for average while striking out over a quarter of the time.

    These slash lines projections come down to simple math. Batting average is a function of the amount of times one puts the ball in play and how often those balls turn into hits. Unless Lambo shows a proclivity for very high BABIP’s, it will be impossible for him to hit for high average.

  17. Nate83 says:

    I tend to agree but it probably would be enough time to figure out if he is just completely overmatched both at the plate and in the field. If it is Lambo they go with the situation will have to be fluid. If after 30 games he is adequate in the field and isn’t striking out 33% of the time and giving us about equal production as we got last year from our first baseman then the leash can be lengthened and we can see what he does over the next 30 games or so. However if he is costing games because he is just lost at the plate and in the field I don’t think you can wait until the All-star break to find a solution. If he looks like Nate Mclouth did in 2012 I can’t see running him out there 75% of the games.

    Hopefully after the first half of the season Lambo will have 10-12 HR, and he will be batting .250-.260 and playing defense at least as good as Jones and we are saying thank god they didn’t waste a prospect trading for one of those other players who wouldn’t be doing any better.

  18. Nate83 says:

    That is why Pedro will have trouble ever getting his average much above .260 no matter how hard he hits the ball unless he brings his strike out totals down which seems unlikely at this point. Maybe he can remove 30-40 strikeouts from his totals per year but he’s not going to drastically reduce them to the point he is mistaken for Joey Votto.

  19. Travis Sawchik says:

    I don’t think a hitting coach has to have a PHD in sports psychology – there are still important approach/mechanical details – but what is interesting is the South Carolina Gamecocks nearly won three straight College World Series titles and they are the only club – professional or amateur – that I’ve seen employ a full-time sports psychologist in their dugout.

  20. Nate83 says:

    He has to bat .333 on balls in play just to bat .250. He has to bat a ridiculous .400 on balls in play to get to .300. Nothing in his minor league stats show that the strike out rate will greatly improve if not even be worse at this level. So the value comes in his power. There is no guarantee that his power will translate to the Major league’s.

    10-15 HR’s in my opinion is not enough to overcome the cost of having two players in the line up that would strike out as often as Pedro and Lambo. Too many empty outs in the middle of the line up. The Braves seemed to be OK with having this type of line up last year but their season went through tremendous streaks of winning and losing and in the end they didn’t make it far in the playoffs.

  21. Nate83 says:

    There may be something to this. The Seahawks just won the Super Bowl using some feel good about yourself techniques. We know the military training didn’t work (please don’t take that comment seriously), so maybe some feel good about yourself one on one soul searching would work.

  22. Andrew says:

    Thank the lord spring training starts soon because if we are discussing Morales we are truly out of things to discuss.

    NMR I think the projection assumes, Morales is a DH. And I agree about waiting for to trade for another platoon option. I think it is interesting that we hear the Pirates are okay with Sanchez or Sanchez plus Lambo, and yet there are continued rumors (of different degrees of credibility) about trade targets.

    I am going to assume Morales is a DH until proven otherwise. One can malign the Mariner’s front office as much as they want but I think it says something that Morales was a DH the last two years and the Mariners put out a below average fielder at first in Smoak. Depending on what metric you use Smoak is in the back half, around Garret Jones (DRS), Prince Fielder (UZR). It is a huge assumption that a guy who missed an entire season rehabbing a lower leg fx can be relied upon at first.

  23. Andrew says:

    There is tradeoff between power and contact, which is fine is you can take a walk.

  24. And that is the thing. That is really the only separator among hitting coaches. Every hitting coach at the major league level will look at a swing and spot the same defects. They’ll point those same things out to a player and he will roll his eyes because he will have heard the same things a 1000 times from a 1000 other hitting coaches. Even if the player wanted to fix it, it would be almost impossible at this stage of his career. Every coach will utter the same phrases and cliches that every player above freshman ball has heard. But where a hitting coach can make a difference is with the mental part of the game. Shutting off the brain and all distractions and putting all the past failures aside and executing on just that one next pitch. That is why Clint Hurdle might be the most perfect hitting coach. When you hear him talk and the way he relates to players and their lives you can tell he gets it.

  25. Nate83 says:

    That is why I’m not completely opposed to Ike Davis for the right price because he walks enough to keep his OBP up to decent amount. For the same reason if we got deeper in the season and the White Sox wanted to dump Dunn to save some money I would be open to him coming at the trade deadline. He walks an unusual amount of times for a power hitter with so many strike outs.

  26. Travis Sawchik says:

    He’s never going to be Votto but if he reduces his K-rate by 3-5 percent and better employs the whole field, Alvarez can be a star-level hitter on the left side of the infield. Alvarez’s swing mechanics appear to be relatively simple and efficient to me. There’s no big trigger, there’s not a lot of moving parts. On one hand, he should be a more efficient hitter. But on the other hand … his 16% swinging strike rate and his inability to do anything against off-speed stuff away makes you wonder if there are some pitch recognition abilities that just aren’t there.

  27. Andrew says:

    I side with Nate here I think spring training plus a month and half call tell you something. Stats wise you get a fairly accurate picture of contact and swing strike rates, to take NMR’s Profar example after 300 PAs, his BB% and K% were acceptable. And from a scouting stand point I think you learn something, at least if Lambo can provide quality major league ABs this season.

  28. Nate83 says:

    I love to believe he is capable of reducing his K-rate but he’s not exactly progressing in the right direction. There are too many at-bats for me to think he will change much from this point forward. He still has great value with his power. I’m just not sure his value is the amount it may require to sign him when he becomes a free agent. I feel his better chance to show improvement is by laying off pitches and walking more often and maybe getting deeper in counts and increasing his BABIP by .10-.20 points. In short I think he will always be a swing and miss type player.

  29. Travis Sawchik says:

    Andrew, I’m down to my last cord of Hot Stove fuel.

  30. Nate83 says:

    I appreciate all your hard work. You have found a way to make a rather monotonous off-season at least seem a little interesting. Good discussion and talking points throughout these cold months.

    Will you and/or Rob both be going down to spring training at some point? I’m looking forward to hearing reports on some of the guys we know are not going to make the team. I personally find the future of the Pirates more interesting then the current crop of players. I would love to hear how Hanson, Taillon, Glasnow, Kingham and others look.

    It may be the first time in years that we hear a bunch of stories of players stopping what they are doing and watching this prospect or that prospect take a bullpen session or batting practice.

  31. The Gunner says:

    Nate

    Apparently, I use the BMTIB term out of habit. But, let’s give some credit to NH; he has improved greatly in the past couple years. He has built a damn good farm system that has landed us the likes of Pedro, & Cole (with Taillon & Polanco arriving in mid June.) People are concerned over NH’s lack of activity this off season but, I can understand that he is waiting things out until the asking prices for Moreland, Smoak, Davis, Lind etc. come down. Really, why overpay for these guys – none of them are all universe types!! NH is a pretty smart guy (maybe some of his intelligence will rub off on his boss, Frankie Coonelly. I still can’t figure out what value Frank brings to this party.)

    I think shortly NH is going to pull a rabbit out of his hat & sign AJ for this coming season. 2014 is looking to be another good year for the Bucco faithful.

  32. NMR says:

    So you’re trying to tell me that all through the minor leagues, coaches do nothing to develope hitters but work with the mental part of the game?

    Come on, man.

  33. Nate83 says:

    I agree that it is looking more and more like AJ is coming back. In the end none of us really knew anything and everything was pure speculation. I would love to see the Peter Gammons of the world stop putting information out there like 15 teams have a chance at AJ. Sure that many called his agent but there really was never more then 3 or 4 teams that had a chance. I understand in today’s world a misleading twitter comment is better then no twitter comment but it’s getting worse and worse every year.

    I think they acted quickly on Martin last year because they saw him as really the best fit and maybe only fit for this team. In terms of first base this year I think Loney was the guy they saw as the best fit and they view all the other options as about being about the same. After missing out on Loney they are willing to let things play out and see which player becomes expendable and therefore cheaper to get from another team.

    I’m with you on Coonelly and for me you can throw Kyle Stark in there as well as somebody I’m not a big fan of.

  34. The Gunner says:

    I just hope the AJ thing gets resolved sooner rather than later. The attorneys are probably going back and forth working out the contract language at this very minute.

  35. NMR says:

    Pedro’s biggest issue mechanically is getting soft on his front side. When he doesn’t hit off a stiff front leg, his hips fly open and he casts his hands. Impossible to hit the ball the opposite way when this happens. But I strongly agree that pitch recognition is his biggest enemy.

    This may be cheating, but the quickest way for Pedro to reduce his strikeouts is to limit his AB’s against lefties. 28% career K-rate against RHP, 38% against LHP.

    I do find it interesting that his swinging strike rate jumped to 16%, yet his strikeout rate didn’t budge.

  36. NMR says:

    I agree on Davis, but I have to see more than a month to believe he isn’t completely beaten. He was worse than terrible before being demoted.

  37. Nate83 says:

    I saw somebody today suggest that maybe they give him 10 million with a second year that is a team option with something like a 2 million buyout. This essentially is the same as him playing for 12 milling this year and deferring some of the money. I suppose he could pitch awesome this year and want to come back next year as well. In that case the Pirates would just pick up the option for 2015 and have a very useful pitcher to help bridge the gap to some of the youngsters with Liriano and Wandy probably moving on.

  38. Nate83 says:

    Wow 38%. That just sounds crazy. He could bat .500 on balls in play and barely reach .300 against lefties. It almost doesn’t matter what his power numbers are against Lefties it’s not worth playing him. Production has to be better from other options.

  39. The Gunner says:

    Sounds like they are on the right track if that is the BMTIB’s approach with AJ. That boy sure can pitch and I want him back in Black & Gold ASAP!!

  40. What part of “major league level” did you not understand? I’ve only said it in just about every comment I’ve made on this subject.

    Come on, man

  41. Nate83 says:

    That is true. He was as bad last year at the beginning as I fear Lambo will be this year.

    In the end we know more then likely somebody will be available if Lambo becomes a liability and the Pirates have enough trade assets to make something happen if needed. The correct course of action in my opinion is to do exactly what they have up until this point. Wait and see because after Napoli and Loney (and that can be debated) there really is nothing out there that you can definitively say will be better then our internal options.

  42. Andrew says:

    No worries, everyone is stoking the fire with twigs and branches right now.

    Jeff Sullivan has a piece on the paucity of first base options for the Pirates.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/whats-really-available-at-first-for-the-pirates/

  43. 21sthebest says:

    +++

  44. NMR says:

    “Every coach will utter the same phrases and cliches that every player above freshman ball has heard.”

    Perhaps I have a different understanding of the word “freshman”?

  45. NMR says:

    Very well done. Also interesting to see the Carp comparison to Lambo. Never made the connection, but that is essentially spot on.

  46. Nate83 says:

    Nice find Andrew. The column does a nice job of summarizing what little is available. I honestly am perfectly fine with rolling the dice with Lambo. I’m no less confident in his ability to contribute positive results then anybody mentioned after the list of players in that column. Every one of those players has issues so why not try the guy we already have and see if he can overcome some of his.

  47. Jim S. says:

    I think it may be a depth perception thing with Alvarez. Some guys just don’t pick up the movement of the ball as well as other guys.

  48. Jim S. says:

    Ok, getting a late start on this post.

    I am concerned about Lambo at 1b to open the season. If we go that, of course I hope he hits well right away. But, I have this feeling that he is a lot like Smoak and Moreland, only a few years behind them. It may take him a year or two to become a productive hitter. 30 games is not a fair assessment of him, but if he is not hitting on May 5 or so, how far can we let him go and trust that he will get to his PECOTA projection? 60 games of not hitting? At least with the other guys, we have somewhat of a track record at this level.

    I’d feel better about Smoak or Moreland. As NMR has said, by Huntington not caving and paying the asking price for these guys already, he may end up having a shot at them for a cheaper price if they become expendable in March. I have said it before, but I would not want to play poker with NH. He sticks to his guns, whether we like it or not. My question about the PECOTA projections for Moreland and Smoak is do we know how that breaks down vs. only RHP? The Pirates do not need those guys to hit vs. LHP. FWIW, Smoak hit .260/.361/.477 vs. RHP last season in 357 PAs (308 ABs).

    As for Kendrys, I honestly don’t know what sort of fielder he is. I noticed that he only appeared in 30+ games at 1b last year. I heard last week on MLB Radio that Eric Wedge says Morales would provide average defense at 1b. Mabye there is some merit to that. Jim Bowden has said the same thing, although I think he sometimes just parrots what someone whom he trusts puts out there. Plenty of people have labeled Kendrys a defensive liability. So, I’m not sure what to think. If he truly is an awful fielder, coupled with footspeed that makes Gaby look “fleet” then I say pass. On the other hand, if he truly does provide average defense at 1b, maybe we could grab him in June (assuming Lambo Leap is not performing). No draft pick compensation, and I believe Kendrys would jump at a greatly reduced 1 year deal by then. The guy hit .277/.336/.477 last year. He pretty much hits equally from both sides of the plate. He only struck out 114 times in 657 PAs. As for his health, I would point to the 657 plate appearances last season and 522 the year before. Since he hits similarly righty or lefty, maybe we could slide Gaby in at 3b vs. tough lefties that are not good match-ups for El Toro? Or, is Gaby no longer capable of handling 3b defensively?

    Good conversation, guys.

  49. NMR says:

    The question about Morales isn’t as much about the quality of his defense as it is about his ability to stay healthy while playing the field for an entire season. The demands on the body for a 1B are much greater than DH.

    I’m certainly no Doctor, but as Andrew said above, there seems to be a reason why Morales wasn’t given many opportunities to field.

  50. I think the work George Brett did with Eric Hosmer proves my point that psychology and mental aspects of hitting are the true value of a hitting coach. Read some of these comments.

    ——-
    “George Brett looked at Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer and saw a few mechanical things to fix. His stride was too big. He was too close to the plate, choking off those long arms. But mostly, Brett saw a broken hitting soul.

    ——
    Brett had an idea. General manager Dayton Moore did, too. So after Moore finally convinced Brett to take the hitting-coach job with Pedro Grifol as his assistant, he didn’t say anything about the swing or the leg kick or the arms.

    “Rescue us mentally,” Moore told Brett.”
    ——-

    “That’s when the Royals fired those new hitting coaches, Moore eventually wearing Brett down enough to take the job with Grifol and be Hosmer’s emotional life raft. Officially, Brett was the hitting coach. Really, he was more like a swag coach.”
    ———-

    Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/09/21/4498525/confident-hosmer-carrying-royals.html#storylink=cpy

  51. Jim S. says:

    Good point, NMR. He definitely was a DH for a reason, and I have not heard Smoak is much more than average at 1b. I trust the Bucs to make a good internal judgment about his ability to handle the position.

  52. Jim S. says:

    I once heard George Brett say that his philosophy as a hitter was basically, “See the ball, hit the ball.” That was a long time ago, and I’m sure he was being overly simplistic. But, he basically said that he never felt like he was recognizing fastballs from curveballs, etc. He said that he knew there must have been some sort of mental calculation going on his brain that was instructing the rest of his body on what to do with each pitch, but that he never felt like he could slow it down enough to realize what was taking place. He felt he was just a natural hitter and he never felt the need to mess with his swing much because he thought it was just screw him up.

    So, I thought it was odd that Brett ever agreed to become the Royals’ hitting coach. But, I think he only agreed to it for a short time. And, I also think he went in with the intent of specifically improving the mental approach to hitting for some of the guys he felt had more talent than they were displaying. That is just my guess, and I am basing it on what I heard him say about his own hitting philosophy many years ago. He could have changed his thinking since then. For all I know, he may have devised a specific technical plan for each hitter.

    Overall, though, I think a hitting coach has to have a different plan for each hitter, much like a pitching coach cannot rely on a “one size fits all” philosophy. I’m guessing some coaches are better at the mental approach to hitting, while some are better at breaking down film with a guy and working on swing mechanics. I think both approaches are taking place at the MLB level.

  53. NMR says:

    Bahahaha…

  54. Jim S. says:

    Worse than terrible?

    Oh yeah, I think the word you are looking for is “horrific.”

  55. NMR says:

    Or “Barajas”. :)

  56. Steelkings says:

    A pitching coach also brings a game plan for hitting against specific pitchers. He is responsible for the offense. He will develop a BP plan. IE. If the team is facing a pitcher who throws a lot of sliders away, he will input a ton of oppo in the BP. He game plans for the bench hitters who will likely see the back half of the Bull Pen. There is a lot more to it than just swing mechanics. A good hitting coach develops the routine. And that routine helps Hitters gain the confidence needed to improve in areas where they are weak.

  57. NMR says:

    Exactly!

  58. Steelkings says:

    Again I would say at this point the Pirates made a mistake not hanging on to Garrett Jones for another year and making a move at the trade deadline.

  59. Steelkings says:

    Morales likely takes away the possibility of improving the Position at the trade deadline. I mean if Morales is struggling. To large of an investment not to live or die with.

  60. Steelkings says:

    Speechlessly stupid. How embarrassing for George Brett

  61. NMR says:

    One thing I found interesting about that Brett/Hosmer narrative is that three significant changes to mechanics, “His stride was too big. He was too close to the plate, choking off those long arms.”, get overlooked by talking about the mental part of the coaching.

    I find this interesting because I believe this is the same emphasis that it takes to train hitters. You can’t always just show the video, lay out the drills, and expect the changes to take. Often times the mind has to be fixed first.

    But make no mistake, all the “swag” in the world wouldn’t have helped Hosmer unless the physical changes came with it. This game is too damn hard to believe any different.

  62. Steelkings says:

    Mental Smental…Now that Brett is Gone, and unable to chisel the mental make up of one Eric Hosmer in 2014. Will Hosmer turn directly into a donkey?

  63. Jim S. says:

    I don’t think I’m following the logic.

    Don’t get someone you think will work out because there is a chance it might not work out?

    Last year, they had no production at 1b before the deadline. Then, they got Morneau and still had no production after the deadline.

  64. Jim S. says:

    Yes, Barajas is a more accurate description.

  65. Ghost says:

    Ohhhh, I missed a good one today. But I am with you, NMR. There ARE real differences in mechanical approaches out there and effective hitting coaches (or elder teammates) most definitely influence those players open to discussion. Almost every great hitter — from Williams, to Aaron, to Mike Schmidt (whose book I’m now finishing) — all talk about key advice they received or epiphanies they had on their own in the midst of their careers.
    If this topic continues tomorrow, I gotta find my way here earlier and sink my teeth into it.

  66. NMR says:

    I was waiting for you to dig in, buddy. You’re usually all over these conversations.

  67. Steelkings says:

    “Proper thinking is 50% of effective hitting, and it is more than just doing you homework on a pitcher or studying the situation in the game.It is “anticipating”, too,when you’re at the plate, and a lot of hitters will say thats college talk for guessing and some will be heard saying in a loud voice, “Don’t do it!’ They are wrong. Guessing and anticipating goes hand in hand with proper thinking.
    A simple example: If a pitcher is throwing fastballs and curves and only the fastballs were in the strike zone, you would be silly to look for a curve, wouldn’t you?

    Isnt that everything that was wrong with Locke in the second half and Melancon at the end of the year. Hitters learned what not to swing at more than what to swing at. Players have way too much to do to figure that out on their own. Thats what a qualified hitting coach helps players do.

  68. The Gunner says:

    Looks like A.J. Burnett signed a 1-year deal with Phillies for $16 million………..

    http://www.nj.com/phillies/index.ssf/2014/02/aj_burnett_signs_with_phillies_according_to_report.html

  69. geo says:

    Brett resigned as Royals hitting coach in late June of last year, after just one month on the job, and Hosmer did just find without him.

  70. geo says:

    *just fine

    (Where is an edit function when you need one?)

 
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