The Nationals fired Rick Eckstein today, and it couldn’t have come as too much of a shock to the fanbase. I find it hard to place blame on any one particular manager for a team’s woes. And as I’ve mentioned, the hitting numbers of the starting lineup of this team – which includes 7 out of 8 with an OPS over .750, 5 of them over .800 – aren’t atrocious.
But as a team, the numbers are about as bad as you can get. And if a hitting coach is gonna get fired for anything, this should probably be it. What’s a worse indictment than a team with individual talent and individual decent numbers that still cannot score? Well, perhaps it is all just a terribly unlucky run since they got healthy and the RISP hitting was going to work itself out. Either way, it’s really hard to fault the Nats for moving on.
In Rick Eckstein’s place, they hired Rick Schu, who was a member of the Nats organization already. Schu was in the majors for 9 seasons where he was a light hitting corner infielder for the Phillies, Orioles, and Expos, along with a few other stops. He spent the early 90s as a 30+ year old in AAA until returning to the majors in 1996 for a very brief stint with the Expos.
As a coach, Schu spent 12 years in the Diamondbacks organization, mostly as an organizational hitting instructor, which is precisely what he’s been doing for the Nats. Schu was the Diamondbacks hitting coach from July of 2007 to early May 2009. Bob Melvin, the team’s manager, was fired in 2009 after a 12-17 start, right before they were set to play the Nats. Schu left with him, most likely not of his own accord.
If you’re looking for any insight as to how Schu will do, the 2008 Diamondbacks (his only full year as hitting coach) ended up just under the NL league average in runs per game. Their best hitters that year, though, were Stephen Drew, Orlando Hudson and Conor Jackson. It wasn’t the lineup the Nats have, that’s for sure. At the point he was out in 2009, they had only played 29 games so it’s hard to judge, but their offense was able to put up big numbers in a bunch of games while scoring 2 runs or less in almost half their games. Sound familiar?
His name was in the hat for another hitting coach position as recently as this winter, when the Red Sox talked to him for their position. Will his philosophy be any different than Eckstein’s? I have no idea, and even if it is, I really don’t know if it will matter.
As I mentioned, this team isn’t hitting poorly. Yes, they are scoring terribly. But their hitting numbers aren’t nearly as awful. Maybe it’s the hitting coach’s fault. Maybe it’s the manager’s. Maybe it’s a statistical anomaly that will correct itself independent of the hitting overlords. But if that happens, Schu will get the credit.
A great article that was, coincidentally, put out on SBNation as I was writing this one talks about just this kind of statistical anomaly. It should be required reading for all Nats fans, especially if they think someone can come in and fix the way this team hits with RISP. It will either fix itself, or it won’t. A team full of .800 OPS guys hits, and that statement is sort of independent from who is on what base.
Some fans might think this is an irrelevant move, to little too late on a sinking ship and all that. My title and some of the things I’ve written might suggest I feel that way as well. But I don’t think it’s nearly as cynical a move as others might. It was time for Eckstein to go just because if you don’t get rid of a guy for these kind of results, you’d never get rid of anyone. I just have my doubts that it was really Eckstein’s fault, and that Schu, or anyone else, would make a big difference. But to not make the move would be even worse at this point, something had to be done, and this was a logical step.