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Griff says...Spotlight on Terry Pendleton

Since offense is seemingly the most critical factor to improve for the Braves to reach the play-offs, let’s talk about the key person responsible for managing our offensive production, Terry Pendleton.

We cannot blame Pendleton for all our offensive challenges in recent years. After all, he is not in charge of the personnel put on the field. It is not his fault Kelly Johnson was in the lineup too long, Prado was a bench player too long, Kotchman was at first, McLouth was batting lead-off, Infante was hurt the first half, Schaffer was hurt, Garret Anderson was hurt, Francoeur fell apart, Chipper had a bad year and McCann had vision problems. But should he take some of the blame?

In my estimation he does indeed need to shoulder some of the blame. Kelly was an inconsistent hitter because he continually fidgeted with his swing. Kotchman had an uppercut swing that was never addressed. Chipper was a probable Hall of Fame veteran so Pendleton doesn’t give him advice, same as Garrett Anderson. Why not? Francoeur changed his swing and in my opinion, it did not work. It is easy to make a bunch of excuses and say Pendleton can’t make anything improve because it is up to the players. But that concept would remove the need for a hitting coach if we accepted it. You could go back a few years to Andruw Jones and see that either he would not listen, or TP’s approach was not working, or TP left him alone. At some point we have to recognize there is a trend behind these problems and not that it is strictly an individual thing.

Let’s talk about where the hitting coach should have an impact and compare TP’s style. First of all, there needs to be an overall team hitting approach regardless of individual style and tendencies. That approach should involve the count strategy and patience. It should involve team considerations number one and should require that each player stays within himself and the limits of what he can do in a given situation. From my observation, the Braves have none of those and I believe that is the responsibility of the hitting coach. TP has not effectively implemented any observable team hitting approach. Although TP can’t do anything if Cox doesn’t put the steal sign on or hit and run, it is TP’s responsibility to make sure the hitters advance the runner, try to go the other way in certain situations, and try to hit a fly ball to ensure a sacrifice when needed. It is his job to make sure they are patient at the plate and work the count in their favor. If they do not, we should see Terry talking to them after such at bats. I never see that happen.

You can contrast this with the Yankees and Red Sox for example and you will clearly see that they are much more selective about pitches and force high pitch counts from the opposing starters, which gets them into the bullpens earlier than most other teams. That is an effective hitting approach. Obviously it has not had a negative influence on their home run production, rbi’s or average because the statistics speak for themselves.

In contrast, the Braves are not patient hitters, do not force a lot of high pitch counts, and swing at too many first pitches. Look at Escobar as an example. I believe a good hitting coach would have taught such a talented young player how to be selective and strategic. Clearly either TP’s coaching with Escobar and Francoeur did not work in this area or the players have no self control. But at some point you have to followup with disciplinary measures supported by the Manager if players do not listen to what you say.

Overall, TP’s style is to wait for the player to come to him. I’ve heard him even say it before. That makes no sense to me whatsoever. Most players have too big an ego to ask for advice. And it eliminates interaction with veterans because they feel they know their swing better than anyone else. Clearly LaRussa believes this or we wouldn’t be hearing comments from Matt Holliday about how McGwire is helping him. Clearly Holliday is pretty accomplished already but is willing to listen.

From my point of view, a hitting coach should have feedback and comments for every player before and after every at bat. They should review a couple key swing thoughts, what this pitcher tries to do, and the game situation before each hitter goes into the ondeck circle. It should only take 30 seconds. There is plenty of time for that. After their at bat, he should provide input about what he saw, suggestions for the next at bat, and any other positive or negative feedback appropriate. TP pretty much just stands there looking out from the dugout unless someone comes over to him.

I think it says something about our hitting coach when McCann and Chipper reach out to their fathers when they are struggling, and Francoeur reached out to a minor league coach and even one from the Rangers I believe. You never hear a Braves player credit Pendleton when they are doing well, or go on a streak, or get out of a slump. When Kelly went on a streak at the end of last year, he credited a swing change he implemented from when he was in the minors.

I’ve also noticed that it often takes the Braves a second or third time around to really get after a starting pitcher. We do not often score early and cause a starter to leave early or struggle. That puts more pressure on our starters to be perfect. In the second half last season we scored early a bit but we were just on a complete roll at that time. It needs to be more than an occasional happening.

There is indication of a lack of preparation and execution when we get shut down by young pitchers, ace pitchers, lefties and sometimes relative unknowns. All of that goes back to the hitting coach. No, he cannot execute for the players. But I don’t see a strategy and if he is giving them individual advice regularly then he must not have any credibility because they do not listen and no one is holding them accountable for it.

I remember the days when we had Don Baylor and Chris Chambliss as hitting coaches. It was quite frequent that they were given credit by players for their help in getting swings ironed out and improved hitting performance. Seriously, I cannot remember anyone saying that about Terry.

The fact that we were 5th or 6th in offense last year has less to do with TP than individual talent and our run in the second half of the year. If we could be more patient, get ahead early in the games and force a lot of pitches thrown by opposing starters, it could be a critical factor to our success this year. It would let our dominant starters relax and just perform early in the game. That is the influence I expect from a top notch hitting coach and I don’t feel we are getting it.

My next blog will be on Thursday. The topic will be about the importance of the Catcher. Griff says…later.

6 comments:

  1. I don't believe hitting coaches can be the type of micro-manager you require. Nor do I see TP do anything different from any other of our past hitting coaches or the hitting coaches from any other team. I distinctly remember TP's frustrastion that Francoeur went out side the organization for help & wouldn't listen to him I believe that's one reason he's no longer here. If TP was performing his job well, you can rest assured that Bobby, Wren or Schurhotlz himself would get rid of him.

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  2. You make good points. I've long been disappointed with the throwaway at bats that Braves players seem to have when nobody's on base. Rather than driving the ball or going to the opposite field, it seems that most guys are trying to (1) pull the ball, and (2) hit it deep. This results in lazy fly balls and a lack of manufactured runs. That being said, I'm more optimistic with this year's starting lineup as guys like Prado, Diaz and McCann do hit to all fields.

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  3. I don't have any reason to think Bobby doesn't wait on his coaches way too long just like his players. Talking to a player after each at bat is not micro managing, it is just doing the job of a hitting coach. From my viewpoint, TP does less as a hitting coach than others in the job.

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  4. I don't disagree thst Bobby extends the same amount of misguided patience with coaches as he does with players, but because the camera doesn't stay on the dugout too long I--nor a lot of other people--really have first hand knowledge of what goes on. TB seems to talk to the players more after they've done something right & almost ignores them when they do something wrong. He may not be one to dress them down in public, but again, I don't know. What I do know is it was widely reported that when TP worked with Andruw Jones, the latter did everything right in practice, but he kept his same bad habits in the games themselves. The solution was again apparent. They dumped Jones, not TP.

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  5. Griff - Not to change the subject, but will you consider posting an article containing your thoughts on (1) the 2007 Texeira trade, (2) the long-term impact it had on the Braves organization, and (3) updates on the players involved. I feel like this trade has been swept under the rug, and Braves don't realize how much the deal altered the organization.

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  6. Anonymous - I don't have many thoughts other than the obvious, without doing quite a bit of research. If it was in anticipation of only renting him for a year in hopes of winning the pennant, that was desperate. If we planned to sign him the next year and thought we could compete with the Yanks, that was stupid. I forget if there was someone other than Andrus and Saltalamacchia involved. So far, it hurts that we lost Andrus but with Escobar someone would have to move anyway. The biggest problem with the eventual Teixeira trade was thinking Kotchman had some value. That is really poor judgment in hindsight. Kotchman is all we got for Teixeira really. Wrenn said that was all he could get under the timeline and pressure. That's what he always says. I'm not a Wren fan although he has gotten lucky with a couple trades. Any tough trades he always loses.

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