Yay! The Angels have a new hitting coach. That's a good thing, right? It has to be, doesn't it?
By all accounts, Don Baylor is one of the best hitting coaches in the league for both his coaching ability and general clubhouse presence. Surely this will pay off for the 2014 Angels since the story we've long clung to is that the Halos have had nothing but the worst hitting coaches throughout Mike Scioscia's tenure. That's the assumption anyway. We don't actually really know. All we have to go on is the kind words of players who were under his tutelage and the beat reporters who hung around Baylor. Baylor might be the greatest hitting coach in the world for all we know, but will it actually translate to an increase in production for the Angels?
Well, there's one way to find out and that is looking at the numbers. Starting at a macro level, we can do before and after comparisons of how the many teams that Baylor has served as hitting coach have fared. To do this, we'll look at the team numbers the two years before he hot hired, the numbers during his tenure and one year after he left the team. For the purposes of this exercise we will only look at his hitting coach career and ignore his managerial stints in Colorado and Chicago as well as his bench coach gig with the Mets.
Milwaukee Brewers (1990-1991)
So far, so good. Steady improvements across the board as average, walk rate and, to a lesser degree, power went up. Considering that Baylor's two years coincided with Yount and Molitor entering their mid-thirties, it is a strong endorsement that the team didn't decline. Then again, they are Hall of Fame talents, so Baylor may not have done a darn thing.
St. Louis Cardinals (1992)
It is probably impossible to draw any real conclusion from a one-year stint (which is going to be an issue going forward), but the Cards clearly improved under Baylor. Having Ray Lankford and Bernard Gilkey blow up in their sophomore campaigns helps. St. Louis didn't miss a beat after Baylor left, but acquiring Gregg Jeffries at his absolute peak will do that. Whether you buy the results or not, this work here landed up the managing gig in Colorado the very next season.
Atlanta Braves (1999)
A big falloff for the Braves in Baylor's lone season, but losing Andres Galarraga and his 157 OPS+ is a big mitigating factor. If anything, that 1998 performance was probably an unsustainable anomaly. Again, Baylor lasted just one season as he was then named the manager of the Cubs.
Seattle Mariners (2005)
Another one-year stint with a lot of turnover that coincided with the retirement of Edgar Martinez but also the addition of Richie Sexson.
Colorado Rockies (2009-2010)
Baylor returned to the Rockies just when they traded Matt Holliday and still saw the offense improve. Again, Baylor dealt with a lot of turnover on the roster and some young talent coming up, including Carlos Gonzalez. But, with the exception of Seattle, he once again left the team in better shape than when he arrived.
Arizona Diamondbacks (2011-2012)
Again, not a whole lot of difference. The production stayed about the same despite Upton falling off in 2012 and getting traded in 2013 but also getting Paul Goldschmidt in 2012. Where the team will go from here remains to be seen.
Overall, it seems like having Baylor as the hitting coach probably helps, but not in a significant way. Teams generally hit better, but it is impossible to know how much of that is Baylor and how much is personnel or organizational philosophy changes. While these are hardly conclusive, the trends at least suggest that Baylor coached teams tend to see a small rise in walk rate and power. That is pretty in line with how Dipoto wants to generate offense, so Baylor is at least a good fit even if he turns out not have magical powers that will fix Josh Hamilton.
The only real conclusion we can make is that Baylor probably won't be the hitting coach for long. For whatever reason, Don has the wanderlust having never stayed in a hitting coach position for more than two seasons. Part of that is him getting better job offers and part of it is regime change, but it generally seems that he isn't much one for hanging around a long time. In other words, enjoy Baylor while it lasts.