The SF Giants bats have gone silent in recent months. It is no longer a slump, but a trend that just might keep them out of the playoffs. If the bats do not wake up before the end of the season, will primary hitting coach Justin Viele take the fall for it?
Will SF Giants hitting coach take the fall for team's offensive struggles?
I should preface this by admitting that being a hitting coach is really a thankless job. You only notice them when the team is not hitting. Oftentimes, when the team is hitting, they go unnoticed and most fans do not even know their names.
When Gabe Kapler was hired as manager, he brought in a trio of young hitting coaches in Viele, Donnie Ecker, and Dustin Lind. Ecker was the primary hitting coach with Viele and Lind playing roles as well.
The Giants flourished with Ecker at the helm. It was a rare case of the hitting coach receiving credit for the team's offensive production. The 2021 team slammed 241 home runs, which was the highest total in the National League.
Of course, they went on to win 107 games that year and the team's lineup was a huge catalyst with Ecker working behind the scenes. Both Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt had unexpected resurgent seasons with both crediting Ecker as playing a big role.
His work did not go unnoticed as he was hired by Texas Rangers manager Chris Woodward to be their bench coach and offensive coordinator. Woodward was fired midway through last year, but Ecker was retained by current manager Bruce Bochy. Bochy, the old-school manager, kept the younger and more analytically-inclined Ecker.
It is hard to ignore how the offense has not been the same since his departure and this year's lineup is struggling in just about every facet. Their 93 wRC+ indicates that they are a below-average offense. Plus, they have an 8.8 percent walk rate, 25.0 percent strikeout rate, and a .149 ISO.
All of those marks rank in the middle of the pack or worse. The strikeout rate is the fourth-worst mark in baseball. Or, to put it differently, they are striking out way too much while not offsetting that with power, which is typically the trade off teams make. If you have a high strikeout rate, you can tolerate it if the team is hitting for power.
However, the Giants have only hit 136 home runs this year, which is 20th in baseball. Of course, the offensive woes become crystalized with the team's lack of production with runners in scoring position.
They have a lot of players with past track records. However, with the exception of Wilmer Flores, no one is really hitting anywhere near their career marks. This is a problem, which leads us to Justin Viele.
A couple of years ago, Eno Sarris of The Athletic did a study concluding that the average tenure for a hitter coach was 1.5 years. I cannot find the link but I am including this to highlight that the shelf life of a hitting coach is low.
Viele was hired by the Giants when Kapler took over after the 2019 season. In his four seasons, the lineup has gotten progressively worse. Now, all of this is not his fault at all. Age regression and injuries are a big product of this as well as not having serviceable depth at premium positions.
Second base might be the perfect microcosm for this. Thairo Estrada missed nearly the entire month of July with a hand fracture. In that month, Giants second basemen posted a .365 OPS in 69 plate appearances. Is that Viele's fault? Not at all. That is a function of poor organizational depth.
Nevertheless, is Viele's job in jeopardy. I am not going to speculate on that. However, in general, when a team's offense performs below expectations, the hitting coach is usually the first to go. Would that be fair in Viele's situation? It is hard to make the case one way or the other because the hitting coaches typically go unnoticed until the team struggles.
The lineup has struggled for much of the season, so the Giants might look for a scapegoat. Viele seems like one of the primary victims of this given his position.