Is it Time to Ask, Who is Rick Eckstein Helping?

Back in 2019 when Bob Nutting stepped up and finally did something right for this organization after years of sleeping at the wheel by firing his management staff, a couple guys stayed along for the ride.

The players reportedly sung the praises of and openly campaigned for the retention of Rick Eckstein their hitting coach.

Now, that made some sense, in 2019 these players hit, so rocking the boat on something that was working maybe wasn’t priority number one. Still, when they hired Derek Shelton an ex hitting coach himself, I found it at least a little surprising that he didn’t push to be able to put his own stamp on the club.

Now, the easiest thing to think is, well look at this lineup, no hitting coach is going to make that better, right?

Sure, that’s fair. But I’m not expecting him to turn Ka’ai Tom into an All Star, I expect him to help find something in some guys who have real talent and help them find what makes them a threat.

Bryan Reynolds is hitting, but it’s really hard for me to give credit to the hitting coach. This is what Bryan has always done, with one glaring exception last year. A year in which I personally believe he was instructed to try for more homeruns, which destroyed what he is.

Adam Frazier has done well, but he’s been the same hitter since 2018. He’s streaky, and his short compact swing are built to keep him competitive most at bats.

Colin Moran is a guy who has improved drastically right? We keep hearing about his approach this season, but if you really dig into the numbers and spray charts, he’s exactly the hitter he was last year too, he’s just getting more opportunity.

So I ask again, who is Eckstein helping?

Kevin Newman worked with Jon Nunnally (AAA hitting and outfield coach) during Spring Training to hone in his approach, and poof, it’s gone. He’s starting to get closer to it now but we went a month before anyone really forced him to adjust.

Cole Tucker was also sent to work with Nunnally after the season along with Jared Oliva.

The Pirates brought in Christian Marrero as Assistant Hitting Coach this season and he’s largely worked on the video and mechanics side of things.

In fact the only person who’s success has been directly attributed to direct work with Eckstein has been Ke’Bryan Hayes, and hey, if you’re only gonna catch one fish make it a big one right?

Listen, if someone challenges Dale Earnhardt Jr. to a race and then hand him the keys to a 1993 Subaru Justy, of course he isn’t expected to win no matter how good a driver he is. But I suspect he’d be expected to get that crippled wagon across the finish line with at least showing he could drive that thing better than anyone else.

Where is the improvement from any of the number of players they’ve brought in here for a trial? Again, Ka’ai Tom wasn’t going to come here and turn into Jose Canseco, I mean he might only be as big as his bicep, but shouldn’t somebody be doing something better?

What about Gregory Polanco, he had his best season as a Pirate back in 2018 after an adjustment was made to back him off the plate. Here he is in 2021 right back on the plate, having the same struggles he used to have. I noticed when he returned from his self induced IL trip that he was again, backed off the plate, so it’s finally been noticed and addressed. Why did it take so long?

I realize this piece is more about asking questions than it is an explanation but at some point, someone who actually matters is going to start asking the same things.

What I’m seeing right now is a team that overall is much more interested in finding a way to draw a walk than to swing the bat with intent to do damage.

Again, on base percentage is crucial for a club with next to no pop, but the only guys hitting keep finding ways to get on, with nobody capable of driving them in short of drawing a bases loaded walk or praying for a wild pitch.

It’s not about making gold rope out of Twizzlers, it’s about finding a way to get more out of everyone individually.

Something has to change, because if it doesn’t, right or wrong, the hitting coach will.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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