I have been on a mission for a few weeks now to find out if it's in any way logical to put any of the blame of the Pirates complete offensive ineptitude on the shoulders of hitting coach Gregg Ritchie. My original hypothesis was that he had very little to do with it. Big league hitters don't need coaching, they just need confidence and consistency. While they certainly need help with both of those things, I don't think it's a make or break job. I have always felt that no hitting coach can make a huge difference on a team.
First I talked to Kevin Orie, former Major League player for the Chicago Cubs and Florida Marlins. Orie basically agreed with me, noting that the coach functions are basically another set of eyes that is there to correct minor things that he sees going wrong. It's a player by player thing. The coach has to know what each player has to do to be at his best, and he needs to step in and correct them when they are getting away from that. Orie said that most big leaguers don't need a bunch of coaching, since they have been basically fully developed by the time they get to this level, but they do rely on the coach to help them see their swing from a different perspective.
After that I talked to the man himself, Gregg Ritchie. I left the Pirates specifically out of it, and just asked him the gist of what his job is.
"You're there for the guys. You're there to help them do what they've gotta do – to take the next step and help them be the best they can be" said Ritchie.
He also stressed the importance of the mental side of hitting.
"It's generally a lot of mental [things], it all starts with a a thought, with a mentality, a belief that you can hit, that's number one. All of us believing in each other – that's number one. The mechanical side is secondary to the mental thought".
The players won't say it, but there just has to be some serious lacks of confidence in the clubhouse. How can a team that's the worst offensive team in the league by far be mentally positive and ready to go every game? It doesn't seem possible in the slightest. Is there anything Ritchie and Hurdle can do? I would argue no. You have to see success before you get real confidence, and there's not a whole lot the coaching staff can do to get them to that point.
Ritchie went on to say that he agrees that his job is largely being another set of eyes to see things that players don't, as Orie mentioned. He did note that he Pirates have a lot of young guys up here that might need more help than a big league veteran might. It's different for every player, but he largely doesn't try to make big changes with guys.
So does this answer the original question at all? No, not really. I do still hold to my belief that you can't put blame on the manager or the hitting coach for their guys struggling. The Pirates don't have a lot of offensive talent. Outside of Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez (at times), they don't wow you. Those guys are going to struggle at times. Is a .217 team batting average acceptable? No. Should the Pirates be trying to do everything (logically) that they can to fix it? Yes. Is firing Gregg Ritchie going to help the problem? The jury's still out on that one, but my answer is no.