Greg Gross is just two weeks into his tenure as the Phillies hitting coach. Perhaps ironically, perhaps not, the Phillies offense has come alive in his short tenure with the big league club, bumping their team average from .251 under Milt Thompson to a .316 mark with Gross over the past two weeks. Meanwhile, at Gross' old stomping grounds at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs are much the same offensive club without Gross. The club that struggled to hit through much of the season and had a .250 average under Gross, is hitting .251 under the Phillies routine of rotating hitting coaches.
When the Phillies fired Thompson, the reasoning was that they just wanted a "different voice" to get through to the club's hitters. The reasoning actually made a lot of sense, since players - especially high priced players - tend to start tuning out coaches who don't have a compelling way to get player's attention. It happens all the time with managers and pitching and hitting coaches are no different.
Gross hasn't introduced much new to the Phillies; there was no need to do that. The Phillies have quality hitters who know what they're doing at the plate and Thompson wasn't really at fault for the demise of the Phillies offense. Instead, the hitters were just going through the motions and the firing of Thompson simply got their attention.
Meanwhile, back at Lehigh Valley, having various hitting coaches coming and going isn't the best possible situation, but it's likely to be workable. The first of the guest hitting coaches to come to the IronPigs was Steve Henderson. While Henderson was there, super-prospect Domonic Brown was with Lehigh Valley and there were immediate questions being asked about how helping a young hitter could be done effectively with a bunch of different voices telling him how to approach International League hitters and hone his skills. One serious concern was that having different coaches working with players could result in those hitters getting different input into their approach at the plate. "That's not going to be an issue," stressed Henderson. "We'll all communicate and let each other know what we're doing and what's going on with the club. I certainly won't try to change a hitter's approach or reinvent things here."
Brown was recently reunited with Gross when he was moved up to the Phillies, but the concern now at Lehigh Valley is Matt Rizzotti, who has suddenly put himself squarely in the middle of the prospect radar in the Phillies organization. Rizzotti has gone from starting the season as a middle-range prospect at High-A Clearwater to a quality prospect playing at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. So, is he concerned about not having one hitting coach to rely on? "No, not really. Especially at this point of the season, I think most hitters are pretty much locked in on their approach," said Rizzotti. "I know what I need to do to be successful, but I'm sure if somebody sees something, they'll let me know and we'll work on it, but I'm not concerned about it."
The bottom line is that over the long-term, a hitting coach, just like a pitching coach or manager, can make a difference in a ballclub. Short-term though, it's unlikely that the Phillies offensive explosion has all that much to do with Greg Gross, who really doesn't have a magic wand, but our investigative report has, in fact, turned up the secret to turning around an offense. While Gross was at Lehigh Valley, there was always a bag full of bats laying just outside the IronPigs clubhouse and an Indian dream-catcher was always hanging above them. That dream-catcher went missing a couple of weeks ago.