It made no sense that Fredi Gonzalez would announce, barely 12 hours after the worst collapse in National League history was complete, that his entire coaching staff would return. It made no sense that such a flop wouldn’t spawn at least some measure of re-evaluation.
Today the Braves started making sense. They fired hitting coach Larry Parrish. We can only assume Frank Wren saw what everybody else except Fredi G. saw — that the hitting had been substandard all season.
To reiterate: This should not have been a bad-hitting team. This wasn’t a lineup built around the fanciful notion that Troy Glaus might revert to 2002 form. (Although Troy Glaus did, in May 2010, revert to 2002 form.) The lineup the Braves trotted out after the trading deadline was comprised of seven guys who have made an All-Star roster and the league’s best-hitting rookie. Wren stitched together a fine everyday eight.
But they didn’t hit. Or, more precisely, they hit home runs and nothing else. They were third among NL teams in homers, third-worst in on-base percentage. You can manage that without a batting coach.
The Braves hit .235 in September, a time when more hitting was needed to back up a rotation overrun by rookies. They scored seven runs in their final five games. Had they won even one of those final five, they’d have gotten to play a 163rd game in St. Louis on Thursday. The Braves led 3-1 after three innings of Game No. 162 — and worked 10 more innings without a run.
To retain Parrish would have been the height of folly. The man had never been a big-league batting coach and spent the summer proving he wasn’t one. Who among the Braves seemed to hit better under Parrish than under the hugely chastised (and subsequently reassigned) Terry Pendleton? Brian McCann stopped being as patient. Martin Prado got lost. Jason Heyward got so confused he wound up getting benched.
A hitting coach cannot actually hit for his men, but he can instill an approach. Parrish’s approach seemed to be: Swing hard in case you hit something. (The Braves had the fourth-most strikeouts among NL clubs.) This team entered September with baseball’s fourth-best record because it had hit just enough homers to buttress a stellar rotation and a lockdown bullpen, but two starting pitchers were lost and the bullpen began to buckle from the strain, and when that happened the Braves had nothing.
The Braves hit .243 as a team. The average National League player hit .253. Think about that. Think about a lineup of Uggla and Chipper and McCann and Heyward and Prado and Freeman and finally Bourn falling so far below average … and then deciding the batting coach had earned his keep.
Parrish is a nice enough man who surely knows his baseball, but the men under his tutelage performed so far short of expectations and abilities that he could not possibly have kept his job. Simply to retain credibility as an organization, the Braves had to make this move.
By Mark Bradley