San Francisco Giants: Hitting Coach Carney Lansford Unfairly a Scapegoat
With the news that both GM Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy have received two-year extensions to stay in their respective roles for the San Francisco Giants, fans and media alike are starting to look for a new scapegoat.
Managing partner Bill Neukom and the rest of the Giants ownership group saw it fit to retain both men in their respective roles. Why they made such a decision is a question fans will be pondering for a long, long time.
But since it is apparent that the organization as a whole believes that Sabean and Bochy were a positive influence on the team, fans are looking for a new figure to blame.
Thanks to San Francisco's putrid offensive output in 2009, hitting coach Carney Lansford has been chosen by many as the man to blame for the Giants' inability to produce offensively.
The Giants finished 25th or worse in baseball in the following offensive categories: runs, home runs, RBI, total bases, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and batting average. However, they still managed to finish the season 14 games over the .500 mark.
Can you really blame the hitting coach for the downright hideousness of the Giants offense this past season?
Let us get one thing straight: the second-year hitting coach for the Giants was an extremely productive hitter in his playing days.
Lansford, unlike the Giants' previous hitting coach, Joe Lefebvre, actually comes with credentials.
The former longtime Oakland Athletic played 15 seasons at the major-league level, recording 2,074 hits, 332 doubles, 40 triples, 151 home runs, 874 RBI, 224 stolen bases, a minuscule 1.3 K/BB ratio, and a career .290 average, .343 on-base percentage, and a .411 slugging percentage.
With numbers like those, do you really think he was coaching Aaron Rowand to take fastballs right down the middle and to swing at breaking ball after breaking ball in the dirt?
I think not.
Remember, we can't forget that the Giants teams of 2006 and 2007 were just as miserable at the dish (if not worse) than the Giants of the past two campaigns.
Joe Lefebvre was the Giants hitting coach during those years and his career average of .258 and rather insignificant playing career made his being a scapegoat justifiable.
However, what could Lansford have done when he inherited an absolute garbage lineup? With free-swinging veterans like Rowand, Bengie Molina, and Juan Uribe, and veterans who are just so old that they forgot how to hit (Edgar Renteria, Randy Winn), what is a hitting coach suppose to do?
None of those players are going to change who they are at this point in their careers, and it is not like a hitting coach can become a fountain of youth, and make the 2009 Randy Winn morph back into the 2005 version.
The only players Lansford really could work with are the players who are looking to prove themselves and, arguably, those players made tremendous improvements. Pablo Sandoval, Eugenio Velez, Nate Schierholtz, and Andres Torres all made significant strides this year.
First and foremost of the group is Pablo Sandoval. The "Kung Fu Panda" was hitting just a buck ninety-five with zero home runs and an abysmal .268 slugging percentage 11 games into the season. However, over the following 13 games, he raised his average to .322, with two home runs and a slugging percentage of an even .500.
Did Bruce Bochy help with that turnaround? Did Bengie Molina? Did Brian Sabean? Highly doubtful.
Perhaps the "Panda" made some adjustments on his own, and kicked it in gear, but most likely what happened was that Lansford gave Sandoval a couple of ideas to strengthen his approach at the plate.
Furthermore, Nate Schierholtz transitioned from just an average young player that fans casually hoped would get more playing time into a player many started referring to as "Nate the Great."
Now, looking at his final numbers—a .267 average, .302 on-base percentage and a .400 slugging percentage—isn't pretty. But, in hindsight, you can throw his final numbers out the window because Schierholtz got nowhere near the everyday playing time he deserved.
Again, are Nate's mediocre final numbers something to blame Lansford for or Bochy?
During the summer, (the only time period where Schierholtz was playing every day) the Giants right fielder delivered, and when he got hot, oh boy, did he get hot.
From June 19 to July 3, Schierholtz raised his average from .253 to .321, racking up 20 hits, three doubles, two home runs (one of which was an inside the park), and 11 runs scored. In that span, Schierholtz hit a blistering .454 and helped carry the Giants to a 9-5 record.
Although Nate's production at the plate would start to fall off, he still managed to maintain an average above .300 for quite awhile, as he was hitting .301 into late August while getting consistent playing time.
However, for some peculiar reason, from late August and into September, manager Bruce Bochy elected to decrease Nate's playing time. Consequently, Schierholtz's final totals suffered and with at-bats coming so infrequently, it was tough for him to find a rhythm.
Perhaps part of the reason for Schierholtz's decline in playing time was the emergence of outfielders Eugenio Velez and Andres Torres.
Velez, who, granted, must have gotten quality coaching in the minors that enabled him to turn his MLB season around, was a different player when he was recalled in late July.
After starting off the year with the big club, Velez struggled to the tune of a .194 average in just 34 at-bats. But amid his return, the 27-year-old turned his year around, raising his average to a high of .333 on August 10th and improved his season OPS totals from an abysmal .438 in late May to a respectable .708 to end the campaign.
Although a major portion of Velez's learning curve must have taken place in the minors, I'll ask again: Who do you think was more of an influence on Eugenio's emergence at the plate, Bochy or Lansford?
Before this season began, the 31-year-old Andres Torres was a career journeyman who had hit just one home run and had a career average of .210. In just one season with the Giants as a spot-starter in the outfield, Torres hit six home runs, hit .270 with an on-base percentage of .343, slugging percentage of .533, combining for a ridiculous ly impressive .876 OPS.
In just one year with the club, he was able to become a fan favorite who many now wish will replace the 60-million-dollar man Aaron Rowand as the everyday center-fielder.
Talk about a turnaround, aye?
Again, was Torres's season just a freak coincidence? Perhaps, but not likely. Did Bruce Bochy give him some new outlook at the plate? Probably not. Did Brian Sabean have some insane scouting knowledge and actually expect this amount of production from Torres? Not in a blue moon.
What is most likely the case? Well, even though no Giants fan can know for certain, the most logical scenario is that Lansford—who is a former batting champion, I might add—helped Torres improve his approach at the plate.
If fans and the media want to complain about the lack of offense, then blame the men who were just awarded contract extensions. Yes, their team did manage an impressive 16-game turnaround from 2008, but what did the GM and manage really do?
Sabean does deserve some credit; he did retool the bullpen after all. But there is no way he could have expected Jeremy Affeldt to go absolutely bonkers and record a 1.73 ERA after being in the mid-threes the last two seasons. There is no way he could have predicted Justin Miller and Brandon Medders would perform the way they did this season.
Therefore, when you combine a bullpen that really performed better than their talent level suggests, and a starting rotation which was pretty much identical to the prior season's (other than Randy Johnson), how much of the Giants' 2009 success can you correlate to the job Sabean did?
Considering he left his offense out to dry by overpaying for a washed-up Edgar Renteria, trading for a powerless Ryan Garko, and an often-injured Freddy Sanchez, did he really deserve a contract extension?
And as for Bochy, why did he deserve a contract extension? Granted, the common assumption is that he is a great leader in the clubhouse, but since we, as fans, cannot witness the clubhouse game in and game out, we can only assess what were able to see on a daily basis.
What did we see? Well, for starters, we saw Bengie Molina continue to hit in the cleanup spot, despite putting up offensive numbers that many eighth-place hitters of American League teams put up.
We also saw Edgar Renteria continue to receive playing time despite the fact that Juan Uribe was clearly the better option at shortstop.
We saw Randy Winn hitting in power spots in the lineup, despite the fact he didn't hit a single home run after the opening month of the season.
We saw Aaron Rowand become the most frustrating at-bat to watch since AJ Pierzynski, and, despite that, Bochy rarely took him out of the lineup.
We saw Nate Schierholtz ride the pine, despite being both defensively and offensively superior to Randy Winn.
We saw Brian Wilson continually used for four-plus-out save opportunities, even though he is nowhere close to the elite status of a Mariano Rivera or a Trevor Hoffman.
We saw Merkin Valdez pitch in tight situations ahead of guys like Medders and Miller.
We saw obvious bunting situations end up with no bunt and no runs scored in that inning.
And finally we saw hit and runs put on with Sandoval the runner and Garko the batter. Can you say, "WTF?"
If fans should blame anyone, blame the men who field the team and make the main decisions.
Don't blame the individual coaches.
Because, just like pitching coach Dave Righetti, Carney Lansford did one heck of a job last season, especially considering with what he was given to work with.
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