Inbox: Rays to work on situational hitting?
Tampa Bay beat reporter Bill Chastain fields fans' questions
I don't know if Steve Henderson was a good hitting coach or not, but he was certainly not the reason that the Rays' offense was so sporadic -- lots of runs one game, none the next. The Rays, as usual, were 11th in the league in sacrifices with 25 -- three teams had over 50. ... If the Rays hire a new batting coach that can teach them how to bunt, then it will be a good move -- if manager Joe Maddon uses it, which is not a given.
What do Derek Jeter (Yankees), Curtis Granderson (Tigers), Denard Span (Twins), Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox), and Chone Figgins (Angels), have in common? Yes, they are all leadoff hitters for teams in the playoffs and they all led their teams in stolen bases. On the other hand, the leading basestealer of the Rays, Crawford, bats second. ... Crawford not wanting to hit leadoff is ridiculous since the first inning is the only one he is assured of batting first. Is it better to lead off the game with no outs and no one on base, or bat second in the first inning with one out and no one on base at least 60 percent of the time, followed by the middle of the order? The lineup is the manager's responsibility, not the hitting coach's. Surely, it wasn't Henderson that insisted on batting Upton leadoff the final 100 games. How many games did that cost the Rays? No player that strikes out more times than games played should be a leadoff hitter.
Beside his inability to bunt, Crawford takes a false step with his right foot when attempting to steal a base and none of the Rays know how to take a proper lead off first base. It's probably a good move to get rid of a quality assurance coach if he didn't point out these deficiencies and if he did point them out along with bunting technique, etc., it didn't do any good because the problems have not been fixed. Surely, others in the organization see the same poor techniques that I see. It is unbelievable to me that a player of Crawford's talent does not make the effort to be the best player that he can be by learning how to bunt and refining his baserunning technique to be even a more productive hitter and basestealer. The bottom line is that no matter who the hitting coach is, the Rays have the responsibility to make the corrections necessary to have a more balanced offense that is capable of scoring runs in all game situations. The Baseball Gods are a fickle bunch. They gave the Rays a pass in 2008 and got even in 2009. The Rays should not expect another pass and fix what is wrong. They have a lot to work on, including the handling of their pitching staff. That's another story!
-- H.B. Gonzalez, Tampa
Mr. Gonzalez, I think the Rays and you are on the same page. Maddon is not the kind of guy who will blast anybody or anything on the team publicly, but it's clear he wants the situational hitting to get better so that on the nights when the hitting isn't clicking they will somehow be able to score some runs by grinding out good at-bats. That means getting runners home with a man on third base and less than two outs or how they hit with two strikes -- and also, bunting. Henderson is a good man, he works extremely hard and he knows a lot about teaching hitting, which his results suggest. So I don't believe the Rays are making him the scapegoat. I just believe they want to try someone new who will have a fresh approach for addressing the team's deficiency in regard to situational hitting.
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As for Crawford, that has been a decision between Crawford and Maddon as Crawford has never been comfortable in the leadoff spot. Maybe that's subject to change, but that's the way it's been in the past.
I think the Rays quit when they traded Scott Kazmir. If they had kept him, I believe they would have contended for the Wild Card. Trading him sent the wrong signal to the team and the fans.
-- Larry, Gainesville, Fla.
First, I think Kazmir can still be a quality Major League pitcher, and he's done OK for the Angels since the trade. But face it, for most of the past two seasons, Kazmir has been a glorified five-inning guy. So when the chance came for the Rays to unload his contract -- $8 million in 2010 and $12 million in 2011 -- they jumped. While some believe the move sent out a vibe that management had given up on the team, that's not the reality. The Rays are simply an organization that can't afford to pay someone like Kazmir $20 million over two years while he works to figure it out -- and I hope he does because he's a nice kid. The bottom line is this: the Rays will head into the 2010 season with a rotation of James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis. That looks pretty solid in my opinion.
Pat Burrell seems to never swing at the first pitch and it always seems to be a strike. He should just go up there and hack at it. Seems the scouts have him pegged.
-- Cliff, Tampa
Burrell had myriad problems in 2009, from injuries to not hitting a home run against left-handed pitching -- and he was signed to strengthen the team against southpaws. I thought signing him was a good move when it happened, and like everyone else, I questioned the signing after watching his season unfold. Now Rays fans and management alike are left to wonder whether the 2010 season was simply an off season for Burrell, or has he made the final plunge in productivity that players see before they call it a career.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.