What Has Merv Done with the Kids?

When Merv Rettenmund was hired to replace Dave Magadan as hitting coach of the Padres, one of the hopes was that he would be able to get more out of the kids in the lineup. Rettenmund has been back in San Diego for one month now; what is he doing with the future of this ballclub?

The answer, albeit in a small sample, is very good things. Here’s a quick look at how Josh Barfield, Adrian Gonzalez, and Khalil Greene have fared this season under both hitting coaches:

Josh Barfield

Mags 220 .255 .292 .373 .047 .025 .118 .250 55.00
Merv 86 .407 .452 .523 .074 .088 .116 .229 86.00
Stats courtesy of David Pinto’s Day By Day Database.

The main differences in Barfield’s game are that he is doing a better job controlling the strike zone and, of course, hitting absolutely everything. There has been no appreciable change in power, which is fine because that’s not really the kind of hitter Barfield is. If even some of the gains in batting average and ability to draw walks are permanent, this bodes very well for his future. What I really like is that Barfield is doing this after the league has had a chance to see him. That’s always a good sign for a rookie.

Adrian Gonzalez

Mags 212 .269 .318 .439 .066 .405 .170 .386 30.29
Merv 104 .288 .308 .558 .029 .130 .270 .333 11.56
Stats courtesy of David Pinto’s Day By Day Database.

This is fascinating. Gonzalez has become a completely different type of hitter under Rettenmund. He has gone from working counts and driving the ball into the gaps to hacking his way to homers. The gains in power are pretty stunning, and it’s great to see Gonzalez step up in that area. However, the drop in plate discipline is equally stunning. This is not a sustainable approach. Best guess is that at some point he’s going to have to give back some of that power unless he wants to go the way of Carlos Pena. That said, the power surge is mighty impressive.

Khalil Greene

Mags 228 .211 .301 .399 .109 .560 .188 .500 25.33
Merv 96 .354 .404 .552 .058 .375 .198 .324 24.00
Stats courtesy of David Pinto’s Day By Day Database.

It’s early, but this potentially is a scary development for opposing pitchers. The batting average is way up, the walks are down a little, and the power hasn’t changed. One of the problems Greene has had in the past is not being able hit for average, hit for power, and control the strike zone at the same time. His average is now at .253, which isn’t great but is significantly better than it was a month ago. Greene needs 11 doubles to break his season high in that category. He needs three home runs to do the same there. And he needs 10 more unintentional walks to set a career mark. Oh yeah, Greene has 71 games in which to do all this. He’s not there yet, and who knows how much of a role Rettenmund has played in Greene’s recent improvement, but I like where he’s headed.


What conclusions can we draw after a month of Rettenmund? Hard to say. It’s clear that all three kids in the everyday lineup have stepped it up since he joined the club, but they’ve all done it in very different ways. Two have seen their batting averages spike, and one of those has improved his selectivity at the plate in the process. The third has seen his power blossom at the expense of his batting eye.

It will be interesting to see the types of adjustments each of these hitters has to make over the coming months and to what extent they are able to maintain the gains made during Rettenmund’s first month back with the Padres. At the very least — and regardless of whether you want to assign causality to their improvement since June 16 — Barfield, Gonzalez, and Greene have shown themselves, each other, the fans, and the brass exactly what they are capable of doing. This could be a fun story line to follow during the second half of 2006.

14 Responses »

  1. Barfield is EXACTLY this type of player… But by “type” I don’t mean it the way you did Geoff…

    If you remember last year, in May or so, Barfield was hitting in the low .200′s w/ very little power. Then he went on to end the season w/ a BA well over .300… Barfield will likely sustain a lot of this success now that he knows the league.

  2. If Barfield can play good D and get on base any power he can come up with is icing on the cake, he will make a great #2 hitter or even fill the leadoff spot in few years.

  3. Do the padres have any legitimate OF prospects (outside of Johnson) in the minors? I ask because I don’t see Roberts or Cameron starting for the team in 08. In looking at minor league stats the only viable prospect it looks like they have is Peter Ciofrone in Lake Elsinore, has any one seen this kid? Does it look like he can work his way up?

    P.S. I did not include P Mac or Cust because we all saw Klesko patrolling LF the past 2 years and we know what happens in petco when a 1B is your every day left fielder.

  4. Allow me to posit an alternative hypothesis. These changes in output are simply the normal types of variance one sees during the course of the season. We are only talking about a sample size around 100 PA’s, and anyone can produce any set of numbers in that amount. Their numbers probably very little to do with the change in hitting coaches. Remember, precedence does not imply causation.

  5. Trav I agree that it is a small sample size but it’s kind of a large coincidence that all three of them started to perform better in the same time frame.

  6. Trav: You are absolutely spot-on. The numbers are merely interesting at this point. We’ll have to check back in later to see whether these changes in output are signal or noise. Still, the early returns are nice.

  7. My favored hypotheses at this time are: (a) Barfield and Greene are second-half hitters throughout their career; (b) Gonzalez is getting better his second time around the league and his solid stroke flourishing with continuous playing time.

    Given Barfield’s improvement, I have no idea why he is still hitting 8th; Scrub/journeyman/hasbeen du jour 3B should be hitting there.