The position of hitting coach was going to be an important addition for the Rockies heading into 2023. The team not only posted some franchise worst numbers in 2022 but continually struggled in many aspects of their offense under the previous tutelage of Dave Magadan. The Rockies did improve on their overall strikeout numbers, but that came at the cost of the loss of power and an overabundance of groundballs.
So, with the need to boost the offense and find a new voice to establish a new philosophy of hitting, the Rockies have turned to long-time former San Francisco Giants hitting coach Hensley ‘Bam Bam’ Meulens to crack the case of the missing offense.
Meulens spent seven years as the Giants' hitting coach, helping the team win three World Series titles within his first five years there. After serving as a bench coach from 2018-2019 with the Giants, Meulens was hired as the bench coach for the New York Mets in 2020 but then fired after the season. He most recently spent the 2022 season as an assistant hitting coach for the New York Yankees, a year in which Aaron Judge broke the single-season American League home run record. He has seen plenty of success and is obviously well-regarded and highly respected in baseball, but can he help the Rockies? Let’s take a look at the Giants to see if we can answer that question.
Press the Power Button
The immediate elephant in the room is that the Rockies don’t hit as many home runs as they once did. The 149 home runs they tagged in 2022 ranked as the second-fewest in a full 162-game season since 1993. The Rockies had just two players hit at least 20 home runs and failed to have a player hit 30 home runs in consecutive seasons for just the second time in team history. Meulens has a lot of work to do in that department and it will definitely be a challenge.
During his seven-year tenure with the Giants, their offenses weren’t exactly known for hitting home runs. The World Series champion 2010 Giants hit 162 home runs during the regular season, the team-high during Meulens’ hitting coach days. After that first season, the Giants never hit more than 136 in a season, achieving that mark in 2015. Their low marks came in the 2012 and 2013 seasons when they hit 103 and 107 home runs respectively.
You may be like me looking at those stats and thinking “Oh great, still no power” and you might be right, but we may have to consider the way those rosters were constructed. Aside from a couple of heavy hitters in 2010 like Aubrey Huff, the Giants haven’t had many prolific power hitters during Meulens' time. Sure, Buster Posey was a great hitter, but home runs weren’t his defining feature. The same goes for Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, and any other player on their teams.
There is promise, however, in the fact that his teams have hit very well at Coors Field. From 2010-2017, the Giants batted .286/.339/.475 with 102 home runs at Coors Field which is encouraging. It’s also promising that they hit fairly well at all the division parks, which leads us to the next factor that Meulens has to figure out; hitting on the road.
The biggest challenge for the Rockies is that after 30 years they still haven’t figured out how to hit on the road. Over the past couple of seasons, the Rockies have become one of the worst teams on the road, struggling to hit home runs or even make quality contact. Any success they have at home is quickly negated by a one-win road trip.
Meulens time with the Giants saw those teams put up strong numbers on the road. In eight years, the Giants posted an OPS over .700 six times on the road, in comparison the Rockies haven’t posted an OPS over .700 since 2017. They also had a .255 AVG during those eight years, never hitting less than .244 under Meulens. They put the ball in play and have an impeccable ability to get on base.
Linking back to home runs, the Giants averaged 77 home runs on the road compared to the average of 50 home runs at home in San Francisco. Those numbers were boosted by games played at Coors Field, but still, the point remains that Meulens promotes contact and putting the ball in play, especially on the road. A key factor that remains is that Meulen’s isn’t a simple home run-generating coach, but rather a solid approach that then can lead to power if you have the right players, a factor that will help on the road if the Rockies can execute a plan.
The other glaring problem for the Rockies is the overabundance of ground balls that the team hit in 2022. They led all of baseball with a 46.8% ground ball rate and were dead last in fly balls with a 32.9% rate. Things weren’t that different for the Giants when Meulens was hitting coach, as they had a GB rate of 45.8% with a 33.9% FB rate. Again we can look at the makeup of the Giants rosters and a lesser emphasis on power in those years, but hopefully he has learned to improve those numbers during his time with the Yankees in 2022.
The Yankees out the ball in the air 39.8% of the time compared to the 41.2% on the ground. Add in the 19% line drive rate and you’ve got a lineup that has a fairly even split of how they are putting the ball in play that is beneficial to the overall lineup. But, and I keep stressing this, it comes down to how the roster is constructed and if Meulens is given the tools to reach his own coaching potenial.
Looking to 2023
Meulens is a well-respected coach that Bud Black and the Rockies believe can help the team overcome the challenges they have faced the past several seasons. It’s hard to gauge if this is a good move or not until the team starts playing next year. I’ll remain optimistic thanks in part to the fact that he got quite a bit out of those Giants teams from 2010-2017, especially when they featured reclamation projects, aged veterans, and young rookies. It’s well known that the Giants have usually been carried by phenomenal pitching and generate enough persistent offense to win games. Coors Field and Oracle Park play very differently in terms of environment, so it’s not always a one-to-one comparison for Meulens and what success he may have based on the past, but it is still relevent in his mindset.
If the Rockies hired Meulens simply because he last won a World Series almost 10 years ago, then it’s following the same pattern in which they seem to sign free agents. However, I’m optimistic that a new voice and pair of eyes can help improve the offense, but it’s a tall task and the Rockies still have plenty of work to do this offseason to put them in a position for success in the coming season.
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For some further info and insight from the man himself, Thomas Harding had the chance to talk with Meulens and his hopes as the new hitting coach for the Rockies. He also sights the need for balance and notes the way they had to play baseball in San Francisco is different than how he will approach the Rockies. It’s also worth noting that the Rockies interviewed three internal candidates as well as four external candidates for the position.
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Arizona Fall League
It was a close one today, but the Rafters came up just short in the ninth inning to lose 9-8 on Tuesday. The Rockies had a full slate of representation both on the mound and at the plate in this one. Zac Veen went 1-for-4 with a double and a walk, while Grant Lavigne went 2-for-5 with a triple. Rounding out offense was Braxton Fulford behind the dish, where he went hitless but did draw a walk. For the further context of their at-bats, be sure to check the box score link above.
On the mound, Fineas Del Bonta-Smith and Stephen Jones saw some action. Jones entered the game in the fifth and was stung for two runs on three hits, including a two-run home run. Del Bonta-Smith entered the sixth inning and was stuck with the loss after he allowed one run on one hit in two innings work, with that lone hit being a go-ahead home run.
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