The Colorado Rockies fired Don Baylor after the 1998 season. They never should have brought him back.
The club's Baylor managed were referred to as the "Blake Street Bombers." They set all sorts of records for home runs. From 1993 to 1998 Colorado baseball fans were not real baseball fans, they had fallen in love with a game that was more like slow-pitch softball. Scores of 15-12 were more common than scores of 3-2.
After a 1995 season in which the Rockies set a record for being the fastest expansion team to ever make the playoffs, Baylor was rewarded with the National League Manager of the Year award. His team had slugged their way to the post season.
What most people around baseball forget is that the 1995 season was just 144 games due to the previous year's player's strike which carried into the beginning of the '95 season. That is an important fact because around baseball, those following the Rockies knew that the only reason that club found themselves in the playoffs was because of the shortened schedule.
The Rockies bullpen had been completely blown out. In that season, only one Rockies starting pitcher recorded double digit wins. In fact, only two starters won more games than they lost. Three members of the bullpen had nearly as many innings pitched as several of the starters. Why does this matter? Because Baylor's focus was on the offense.
If his focus was on the offense, than he is in the perfect role as the hitting coach, right? Wrong. Part of the reason Baylor burned out his bullpen was because he was so focused on his offense driving the ball out of the ballpark, that really, relievers throwing several innings in back-to-back days didn't really matter. It didn't matter how many runs a guy gave up, the offense would eventually get up and slug their way back into the game.
Baylor managed in the days of video game numbers at Coors Field. When the likes of Vinny Castilla, a light-hitting shortstop showed up to the ballpark and hit 40 home runs in three straight seasons.
There was no such thing as bunting in the early days of the Rockies. Why bunt? Even relief pitcher Curtis Leskanic hit a ball into the left field seats once.
After an 11-year hiatus from the Rockies organization, Baylor was welcomed back with open arms as the hitting coach. In his first year-and-a-half, Baylor has largely escaped the critical eye.
Despite the Rockies road hitting woes, Baylor gets a pass.
With runners in scoring position, the Rockies rank near the bottom of the National League, yet Baylor gets a pass.
The problem with Don Baylor's coaching is that he does not believe in small ball. He is from the school of thought that a baseball game is won via the long ball. If your team is down three runs, simply wait for two guys to get on, then hit the ball out of the park.
What this results in is an abnormally large number of strikeouts, and dominating pitching from the opposition, and piles of losses.
The two best examples of Baylor's bad theory come from Ian Stewart and Clint Barmes.
Stewart has all the power in the world. His talent suggests that he could be a top-flight lefty who hits 35-40 home runs per year. While he could be that kind of talent, he is nowhere close to it. Stewart all too often finds himself swinging at breaking pitches out of the zone and watching fastballs on the inner half of the plate. The third baseman is all too often firing for the fences instead of looking to put the ball in play.
Barmes might be the biggest example of Baylor's ineptitude. He is a scrappy second baseman who should be a more talented version of David Eckstein. He should be grinding out at bats and finding holes to drop the ball into. With his pop, he should be able to drive the ball out of the park on a few occasions. The problem for Barmes? He strikes out way too much because he is trying to pull everything he sees into the left field seats. Pitchers recognize that and throw a slider away in the dirt that the second baseman waves at far too often.
Baylor also cannot seem to figure out what is wrong with players swings. Why when a young player is struggling can they go down to Triple-A and fix what was wrong in a matter of a month.
Dexter Fowler had been struggling from the left side of the plate for his entire Major League career. Many had called for him to abandon switch hitting. Finally, the Rockies sent him down to Triple-A where hitting coach Marcel Lachemann had his left handed swing Major League ready in just three weeks. Since returning, Fowler has been better from the left side than from the right.
Chris Iannetta spent time in Triple-A and when he returned the results were similar. He had more confidence and took better at-bats.
Brad Hawpe, a normally streaky hitter, has been a model of consistency in 2010. The only problem for the Rockies is that his consistency has been on the bad side. After making his first All-Star team in 2009, Hawpe has essentially disappeared. With just seven home runs in the middle of August, why has Baylor not been taking heat for not being able to fix a former All-Star's swing?
The problem for some of these player's continued struggles might be in part because of Baylor's lack of enthusiasm for his job. He has repeatedly thrown his name into the hat for the many managers jobs that have opened up over the course of the season. In an article about the Orioles then-opened managerial spot Baylor very candidly suggested that he was bored as a hitting coach.
Why shouldn't an offense look like they are going through the motions, their coach has made it clear that he is.
The fact is, this Rockies team cannot win on the road. They cannot win more often than not because they can't score runs. Their problem is not that they aren't a good team, their problem is that they are taking a bad approach at the plate. Instead of swinging for the fences in every single at bat, the Rockies need to be thinking about base hits and continuing their rallies. If they could string together three or four hits in a row, it would go just as far as a three-run home run, plus the pitcher is throwing more pitches and fielders are out of position.
The biggest problem that no one is talking about in the Rockies organization is Don Baylor's inability to get the job done as the hitting coach.
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