Another season, another chance to blame Shelton

by Gary Shelton on March 31, 2016 · 1 comment

in general, Tampa Bay Rays

Shelton remains the Rays' most consistent target./JEFFREY S. KING

Shelton remains the Rays' most consistent target./JEFFREY S. KING

Thursday, 6 a.m.

Blame Shelton, that's what I say.

At least, that's what I've always wanted to say.

I'll bring the tar, you bring the feathers, and we'll give Derek Shelton a whole new look. Someone light the torches. Someone storm the dugout. If you're looking for a scapegoat, why not him. Look at his history, and he hasn't turned anyone into Babe Ruth. Or Ted Williams, for that matter.

It's his fault. Why can't everyone see that? Batters strike out. They pop up. They hit into double-plays. Darn them. Doesn't it occur to him to tell them “well, don't do that.”

I jest, of course, because we are a matter of days now before the world turns on Derek Shelton once more. He has been charged, constantly, with the failure to turn lousy hitters into great ones,

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as if that is the sole province of a hitting coach. He is in the business of creating homecomings, one batter at a time, and Tampa Bay fans have not found him satisfactory.

Only thing: it's all bunk.

This debate has gone on for years, because the Rays' offense has been lousy for years. Endlessly, I've argued it's because they've pretty much had lousy hitters, and no hitting coach on earth can change that.  To misunderstand that is to misunderstand hitting coaches, and hitters.

Look, it's an important job. A good hitting coach can help a batter through the kinks. He can study tapes of his swings, and he can put him through drill work. But he cannot create a hitter any more than a quarterback coach can create a quarterback. Danny Murtaugh used to say that only God can make a hitter. That's worth keeping in mind as the Rays go through their paces again.

For the record, this will be Shelton's seventh season with the Rays. At the end of any of the other six, he could been fired at the whim of the front office, and no one would blink. It's a low-cost change for a club. And so, it seems that the Rays are pleased with him. Why do you suppose that is?

Again, his job is to help hitters. It is not to create them. If there were a hitting coach in baseball who could improve a team's average 20 points, even 10 points, then he would be able to write his own ticket. Hits are that precious in the big leagues.

Go back to the quarterback coach comparison. You know who Joe Montana's quarterback coach was? It was Sam Wyche, the old Bucs' master of misdirection. Dan Marino, for a while, had David Shula. And so on. I daresay that if Peyton Manning had a different quarterback coach, his touchdown passes would be pretty much the same.

And so it goes. None of Tony Gwynn's 3,000-plus hits belong to his hitting coach, whoever that was. None of Wade Boggs' do, either.

I've had this argument a lot over the years. Who, for goodness' sakes, has Shelton had in the batting order that is a star? Who is he keeping out of the Hall of Fame?

B.J. Upton? He hit .255 as a Ray; he has hit .209 since then.

Casey Kotchman? He hit .306 for the Rays in 2011. He hit .217 with Seattle the year before, .229 with Cleveland the year after. A .260 hitter, his year with the Rays was his only one above .300.

Carl Crawford? He hit .307 in his last year in Tampa Bay, which was Shelton's first. He hasn't hit that high since.

And so it goes. Good hitters usually hit okay here. Bad hitters don't. Because the Rays are unable to pay the best hitters on the market, they're usually making do with less. Which is, of course, an uphill battle.

It will be the same this year. This year, the Rays are a game of Trivial Pursuit, and the team insignia should be a question mark. This team could win 75. It could win 90. Or anywhere in between.

Think of the job ahead of Shelton. The Rays' order is full of hitters who need a bounce-back season.

At first base, you have Steve Pearce. He hit .218 last year with Baltimore. When Pearce doesn't play, Logan Morrison will take his slot. He hit .225.

Now, at second base, Logan Forsythe had a fine year. The question is whether he can do it again. After all, he hit .223 in 2014 and .214 in 2013.

The shortstop is Brad Miller, who is fighting a throwing problem. He hit .258.

The third baseman is Evan Longoria, who has lost much of his power. Eight years in, he's a .271 hitter.

The left fielder is Desmond Jennings, who played only 28 games last year. He's a lifetime .249 hitter.

Kevin Kiermaier is a fine defensive centerfielder, as everyone knows. He hit .263.

Steven Souza, the right fielder, hit .225, which is five points above his average.

The DH is Corey Dickerson. He had a decent average last year, but injuries kept him to 10 homers.

Curt Casali, the catcher, had a nice stretch with 10 homers in 101 at bats. But he still hit only .238.

So, yeah, you can understand why the fans want to blame the batting coach. They long for someone who could raise someone's hands an inch and alter their body shift, and voila, it will be as if Willie Mays has come home. Never mind that it doesn't make sense. So much about blaming the batting coach doesn't make sense.

As an organization, the Rays have never done particularly well at developing hitters. Oh, they can throw some pitching at you, and it seems to be as deep as ever on the farm. But hitters? It doesn't matter how many times the Rays draft them, they simply die on the vine.

So, yeah, you can blame development. You can blame scouting. You can blame finances.

Or you came blame Shelton. That's easier.

After all, doesn't everyone do it?

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Cecil March 31, 2016 at 4:01 pm

I haven’t been one of those that blame Shelton for our hitting woes. That said, I think it’s things like what happened last year – the philosophy of the Rays while batting was, I believe, to take pitches, stretch the pitcher, get into the bullpen, work the count – and we had nothing. Then in August they changed the philosophy – be aggressive, go out and don’t wait, hit… and it seemed to work better, and it seems to be the philosophy for 2016. I think when something like this happens, the fans ask why it took so long for the Rays to change, and because it’s a batting change, blame Shelton for not pushing that through the organization earlier. Joe Madden said Shelton was great, so who am I to argue with that?

Cecil

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