After further review, Larry Parrish was fired as Braves hitting coach on Friday.
One day after manager Fredi Gonzalez said his entire coaching staff would return in 2012, Braves general manager Frank Wren announced that Parrish would not be brought back. Parrish was fired with a year left on his two-year contract, which will be paid in full.
The firing came two days after the Braves completed a 9-18 September collapse and blew an 8-1/2-game wild card lead in 3-1/2 weeks, equaling the largest September lead every blown by a National League team.
Wren said the move was not made to satisfy fans or media members who wanted someone held accountable.
“That was not the reason that we did it,” he said. “There were enough questions in our mind that we couldn’t go forward to 2012 with the feeling that changes would be made — and changes needed to be made. They need to be made with a number of our hitters, and with our whole offensive production. Bottom line, you’ve got to have confidence that that can be done.”
Wren said the team would conduct a wide-ranging search for a replacement, and that there was no timetable or rush to make the hire.
The Braves ranked 26th in the major leagues in batting average (.243) and on-base percentage (.308) in 2011, after finishing fourth in the majors in OBP (.339) in 2010 under former hitting coach Terry Pendleton.
They hit .205 while averaging 2.6 runs during a 3-9 skid that closed the season, including five consecutive losses capped by Wednesday’s 13-inning defeat in the season finale.
“I want to see guys be tough outs,” Wren said. “We didn’t have enough tough outs. The bottom line is, we didn’t battle at the plate. And that’s got to change.”
Wren said Gonzalez might have been caught off-guard when asked by a reporter Thursday morning, just 12 hours after the season-ending loss, about the status of his coaches.
Wren said he asked Gonzalez this week whether he wanted all his coaches back, and Gonzalez told him yes, but with some reservations because he thought issues needed to be addressed. Wren and Gonzalez met for three hours Friday to discuss all aspects of the team.
Gonzalez said Parrish should not be made a scapegoat for the Braves’ collapse, and Wren said there was blame to go all around, including veteran hitters who know what’s required.
“Larry’s not ‘the guy,’ you know?” Gonzalez said, meaning Parrish wasn’t the cause for the collapse. “It’s just that maybe we need to do something a little different…. I got off the phone while ago with him, we talked for about 35 or 40 minutes. He understands the business.”
Parrish, 57, was one of two new coaches hired last season after Gonzalez was hired to replace retired manager Bobby Cox. Bench coach Carlos Tosca was the other new hire brought in by Gonzalez, after serving in that capacity to Gonzalez when he managed the Florida Marlins.
Parrish, a former major league player and successful Detroit Tigers minor league manager, was hired despite having no experience as a hitting coach at any level other than roving minor league instructor. Glowing recommendations influenced the hire.
Some players said it was apparent during spring training that communicating within a new organization would take time for Parrish. The Braves’ offense slumped badly at the beginning of the season, then improved during the summer before hitting rock bottom during the playoff race.
Several players including Jason Heyward and Martin Prado regressed sharply from 2010. Without naming specific players, Wren said he was not confident, after meeting with Parrish and Gonzalez on Thursday, that Parrish had a plan to help key players going forward.
The Braves were at or near the bottom of baseball in hitting with runners in scoring position from mid-May through the end of the season, and were particularly bad advancing runners and driving them in front third base with less than two outs.
“It’s situational hitting, it’s not just settling for a good swing and then a strikeout,” Wren said. “That’s a bad at-bat in my mind. Philadelphia just left here. They battled every day, up and down that lineup. They’re going to make a pitcher work to get them out. Too many times if you made three or four good pitches against us it was pretty easy to get through our lineup. That needs to change.
“That was probably our Achilles heel. We had a team that very easily could have won 95 games, but just …our biggest deficiency was our situational hitting.”