In case you missed it, Kurt Menshing over at Mack Avenue Tigers examined the thought that many (myself included) have had that Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon should be fired.
When you take a peek at the poor offensive statistics that the Tigers have posted as a team this year, it would easy to have the knee-jerk reaction to want to see Legendary Lloyd given his walking papers. Maybe a new voice is needed to wake these guys up. But when Kurt looked deeper at the numbers of a couple of players, what he found was that McClendon role in the steady decline of the Tigers’ offense was minimal at best.
McClendon took over as the hitting coach in 2007, after serving as bench coach the year prior. 2007 saw career years from Magglio Ordonez, Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco and the Tigers finished second in the AL in runs scored at 5.87 per game.
Even a quick glace at the three players listed above this season will show a significant drop in production this season. Remember though, Ordonez and Polanco are both on the wrong side of their primes, as they were back in ’07, so a decreased level of performance should certainly have been expected.
As for Granderson, what we may be seeing is the evolution of him as a hitter. Two seasons ago, Granderson was still a gap hitter focused on line drives and using his speed to gain extra bases. This season, Granderson has hit home runs (and fly balls) at a significantly higher rate, thus leading to a lower batting average and OBP. Kurt also points out that his BABIP is down from years past, which will happen as fly ball rates increase, but also illustrates that bad luck is playing a role.
Granderson was certainly never a prototypical lead-off hitter, and he appears more suited now to hit in the middle of the order. But again, that is something that had always been projected to happen as he matured.
If the Tigers have been guilty of anything as it pertains to offense this season, it was that they came into this season relying too much on older hitters to stay healthy and maintain production levels they had in the past. In the post-Steroid Era, it is much more likely that older players will see drops in production earlier and more severely than they had over the past 12 to 15 years. The days of outfielders staying healthy and continuing to mash into their late 30′s are very simply behind us.
As was the case with the overwhelming majority of players prior to the steroid explosion of the 90′s, hitters today will see sharp declines at an earlier age. Ordonez, now 35, has been victimized by declining bat speed that really began last season, but has taken a sharp down-turn this year. There is very little chance he will be able to regain that bat speed at any point as he gets older.
Similarly, Polanco and Carlos Guillen have a lot of games on their bodies, and while much of Polanco’s struggles can be attributed to bad luck, Guillen’s injuries are something that are likely to continue. Again, when you enter the season relying on thirty-somethings to carry the load, you run the very real risk of having to then rely on AAA players to pick up slack that they frankly are not yet capable of doing.
As far as McClendon is concerned, he has done a phenomenal job getting Brandon Inge to finally take instruction, and the results have been there. Inge has been one of the very few bright spots on this team, and without his production, the Tigers would very likely be looking up from third place.
Through his tutelage, McClendon has also succeeded in getting solid production from hitters like Clete Thomas and Ryan Raburn, and Adam Everett, while still not a major threat with the bat, is having his best offensive season is recent memory.
The problem with this team’s offense is absolutely not the hitting coach, it is in fact two-fold. The lack of quality players still in their prime is the biggest issue. Granderson is evolving into the hitter he likely will be throughout the next decade, and Miguel Cabrera continues to assault opposing pitchers, but nearly everyone else is either on the down side of their careers or not yet to their prime.
Coupled with that, the Tigers rank near the bottom in the AL with a .327 OBP and also have grounded into more double plays than any other AL club. So when they do get runners on base, frequently those runners are eliminated via the double play.
The Tigers have actually stranded fewer runners than any AL team. So part of the issues lie simply in hitters being too aggressive and not waiting for a quality pitch to hit. It is difficult to teach pitch recognition, and that has been an organization problem for decades.