Are Houston Astros' Hitting Problems Fault of Coaching?

By Josh Sippie
John E. Sokolowski – USA TODAY Sports

Coaching the current Houston Astros is an unenviable position. Players are coming and going and the fans are inevitably going to blame management for their team’s failures. But as long as the team is consistently showing improvement, a lot of judgment must be withheld, given the current rebuilding status of the team.

For the most part, the Astros have indeed shown improvement, but their two biggest concerns are still just that and have shown very little, if no signs of improvement.

Take for instance strikeouts. Most team strikeout records are quivering in their boots, completely aware that the Astros are shattering nearly every team strikeout record in the books. A young, inexperienced team is going to strikeout, that’s assumed, but the scary part is that, on paper, it’s not getting any better.

Have a look at the Astros’ team strikeout numbers and MLB rank by month:

April – 254, 1st

May – 256, 3rd

June – 238, 2nd

July – 234, 3rd

August – 278, 2nd

Notice anything? They haven’t improved. Statistically speaking, they’ve even gotten worse. The Astros are the only team in MLB that has spent every month in the top-3 in strikeouts.

Hitting coach John Mallee has his hands full with the new, young crop of Astros. Maybe his time in Houston isn’t good grounds for an argument because of the status of the team, so something else to consider is Mallee’s track record with other teams.

In the two years that Mallee has been the hitting coach of the Astros, they’ve averaged 8.9 strikeouts a game, compared to 7.3 a game before hiring Mallee. But again, the individual players change on a daily basis, so to blame coaching immediately is a bit preemptive.

The Florida Marlins had Mallee as their hitting coach for two years, and the team averaged 8.05 strikeouts per game, as opposed to 7.6 the year after he was fired, and 7.3 so far this year.

As a minor league hitting coach, Mallee’s various teams  averaged just around 6.0 strikeouts per game, excluding his last two years when those numbers jumped way up.

When Mallee was fired by the Marlins in 2011, many players spoke up in outrage. Two players in particular were Chris Coghlan and Logan Morrison, both of whom lauded Mallee’s coaching abilities, and for good reason. Coghlan averaged 1.5 strike-out-per-at-bat less while under Mallee’s tutelage.

The big picture for all these seemingly obscure stats is that judging a hitting coach’s performance is nearly impossible. There are far too many factors that contribute to the success of a team, so to think that firing John Mallee will solve all the Astros’ problems is silly and unrealistic.

The Astros are a team in transition, and everyone in the organization is very new to their post, from owner Jim Crane to GM Jeff Luhnow, to manager Bo Porter to the gross majority of their position players. It’s a brand new type of play in Houston, and it’s going to take time to develop.

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