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Who’s to Blame for the Giants’ Offensive Woes? Carney Lansford, of Course!

October 16, 2009
Carney Lansford, bearing the sins of the Giants hitters.

Carney Lansford, seen bearing the sins of the Giants hitters.

Okay, not really.  But that’s the way they’re making it sound.  The Giants officially cut ties with Lansford after one season of below-average offensive production with him as the hitting coach.  This is the same organization that gave Joe Lefebvre five years before they removed him from his duties, so it makes me wonder if he was rubbing some of upper management the wrong way- which seems entirely possible considering his tendency to say what’s on his mind.  Some people just don’t take kindly to that.  Andrew Baggarly, of course, has some quotes from Lansford.  First of all, Bochy informed Lansford of this decision two hours before Lansford buried his father-in-law.  Come on now.  Either he was completely unaware of this, or he’s kind of a jerk (I’m guessing the former and not the latter).  In any case, here’s some of Lansford’s quotes with some of my thoughts:

“Two things I learned: Never take a job for sentimental reasons and never take a hitting coach job with an offensively challenged team. You’re setting yourself up for a no-win. Had I had an offense like the Dodgers or Angels or Red Sox or Rockies or Yankees, and had we underachieved, I’d really take it hard. But I think everybody knew, and we all expected, that we’d be an offensively challenged team. That said, we were able to stay in the wild card hunt until the final week of the season. I’m really proud of that. We kept the fans interested and excited for six months.  I believe in my own mind that the team overachieved, and I believe that’s due to the coaching staff and Boch motivating these guys. I really think that’s true.”

Some people are going to dislike Lansford for his comment on “sentimental reasons” and working on an “offensively challenged team.”  But by choosing to be the hitting coach for the Giants, he put himself in a position where he’d be an easy target should the offense not perform, which is exactly what happened.  He’s also right when he says that the Giants overachieved.  Whether or not it’s due to the coaching staff or “luck” or what-have-you, the Giants will regress next year unless they add a few competent hitters to their lineup.  Not one, but a few.

“My only comment on the situational hitting is the first thing I was told when I took the job is it was atrocious. Did we work on that? More than you’ll ever know. They just didn’t get it done. We had meetings, we talked about the thought process, we talked about what pitch to look for. I don’t know if anyone had to move more runners than I did, as much as I had to move Rickey (Henderson) all those years. But going out early and doing it against batting practice? Anybody can do that. It comes down to games, when guys are throwing 95 mph fastballs and curveballs when you don’t know they’re coming. You can emphasize the heck out of it, but at some point you just have to find a way to get it done.

This is the most important paragraph in my mind.  Lansford makes an outstanding point.  You can preach patience or selectiveness, you can talk about approach all you want- but it ultimately comes down to whether or not the players are willing to make the adjustment.  There are coachable guys (look at Pablo Sandoval, for example- he changed his approach drastically and really took off), and there are guys that you just can’t coach.  Perhaps it’s a matter of finding someone that can “reach” the player, but it’s rare to see a guy that swings at everything develop the plate discipline of, say, a Barry Bonds or Todd Helton.  Especially over the course of one season.

“At some point, guys have to take responsibility for not doing that. That’s one thing I stressed to the guys – Step up and be responsible for yourself. Guys at the big league level, by the time they get there, should know how to do that stuff – move runners, get a guy home from third with less than two outs. If guys are learning that at the big league level, it’s too late. A major league player should not be as poor at it as we were in my two years. Do I take it personally? Of course I do. I know it cost us games. I’m a human being. I’m not a machine. But I’ll sleep good at night knowing I took my best shot.”

Another good point.  This is something that has to begin early in a player’s development if you want to make a drastic change to their approach at the plate.

I’m disgusted that the Giants have cut ties with Lansford like this.  It’s not his fault that he was handed a bunch of hitters that swing at everything and have no notion of plate discipline.  But, it just so happens that the Giants did hack a bit more than usual in 2009- they saw an increase of O-Swing % (swinging at pitches outside the zone) by 6.4%, their Swing % increased by 3.3%, while their Contact % decreased by -3.8% (as compared to their averages from 2005-2008).  While it’s true that the Giants saw a decrease in their discipline, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Lansford is the cause of the problem.  New faces bring new approaches.  And on top of that, didn’t Bochy say that he wanted the hitters to be more aggressive?

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