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In defense of Brewers hitting coach Andy Haines

It may be convenient to blame the hitting coach, but any negative impact of Haines himself on the offense is minimal at the worst.

Kansas City Royals v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

The Brewers were just swept at home in a discouraging three-game set against the division rival Cincinnati Reds. After the Crew scored a grand total of four runs in the series, criticism of hitting coach Andy Haines returned after subsiding during the team’s recent hot stretch.

The calls for Haines to lose his job are nothing new. Fans were frustrated with both the offense and the hitting coach after a horrific showing in 2020. However, the pandemic-shortened season was arguably the strangest on record. Players had their initial spring training halted and did not play organized baseball for months. During this period, the league gave no indications of when they could expect to return to the diamond. When Major League Baseball implemented the new schedule, players participated in a watered-down training camp against their teammates. Due to the strange conditions and unusual ramp-up procedures, many hitters struggled to perform at their usual rate. J.D. Martinez and Kris Bryant, both of whom immediately returned to their usual selves in 2021, are a couple of high-profile examples whose performances suggest that offensive performances from 2020 are perhaps best left ignored. The Brewers saw this play out on their roster; Avisail Garcia is back to producing at his usual rate, and Omar Narvaez is having a career year.

The 2020 season cannot be used as a legitimate knock on Haines. Nonetheless, many Wisconsinites are quick to bring up other arguments to vouch for his dismissal. Are these criticisms valid? Let’s investigate.

Claim #1: Haines has made the Brewers offense worse

Many insist that the Brewers have seen their offensive output worsen since Haines took over as the team’s hitting coach. To put that theory to the test, here is a comparison between how the Brewers have performed under Darnell Coles, their previous hitting coach from 2015 through 2018, and under Haines. The MLB average for each statistic during each period is listed in parenthesis.

Milwaukee Brewers Offense Under Andy Haines vs. Under Darnell Coles

Hitting Coach AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BB% K%
Hitting Coach AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BB% K%
Darnell Coles (2015-2018) .249 (.253) .319 (.320) .413 (.414) .316 (.317) 93 (100) 8.6% (8.2%) 24% (21.4%)
Andy Haines (2019-2021) .234 (.247) .319 (.320) .412 (.423) .314 (.318) 93 (100) 10% (8.7%) 25.6% (23.3%)

The Brewers are hitting for a lower batting average under Haines, but they are also walking more frequently. As such, their on-base percentage has not budged from one coach to the other. Their power output has also improved because their slugging percentage has remained the same despite the batting average decline. The Brewers have seen their strikeout rate tick up under Haines, but that has coincided with a similar rise in K’s across the sport. It is difficult to attribute the increased whiffs to him. They have, however, demonstrated more patience by drawing more walks.

Overall, the Brewers have not gotten worse offensively under Haines. While there have been some tweaks around the edges, their overall output has been nearly identical to the previous hitting coach.

If we break it down from a year-to-year perspective, we notice that the Brewers performed notably better in Haines’ first year with the club (98 wRC+) than they have in 2021 (89 wRC+). Much of that can be explained by context. The 2019 Brewers had Yasmani Grandal, Mike Moustakas, Eric Thames, Ryan Braun, and God Mode Christian Yelich. Save for Yelich, who is not currently hitting like Barry Bonds, the 2021 Brewers do not have any of those players. They do have Travis Shaw, Daniel Robertson, Jace Peterson, Pablo Reyes, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. The quality of the hitters on the roster carries far more influence on a team’s offensive performance than any hitting coach ever will.

The Verdict: No, Andy Haines has not made the Brewers offense worse overall. The team’s production since 2019 has been virtually the same as it was under the previous hitting coach. Haines is also coaching a roster that includes nearly as many utility players as it does legitimate bats.

Claim #2: Haines is responsible for poor situational hitting

This is a frequent complaint. In particular, fans lament a perceived lack of production with runners in scoring position. It sure does seem like the Brewers regularly fail to drive in runners.

To find out if Haines is a contributing factor, we’ll apply the same approach as we did to evaluate the previous claim. This time, the focus is specifically on production with runners in scoring position.

Milwaukee Brewers Offense with Runners in Scoring Position

Hitting Coach AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BB% K%
Hitting Coach AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BB% K%
Darnell Coles (2015-2018) .248 (.257) .336 (.339) .409 (.416) .315 (.319) 93 (100) 11.3% (10.8%) 23.8% (20.7%)
Andy Haines (2019-2021) .233 (.257) .343 (.343) .404 (.432) .316 (.326) 92 (100) 13.4% (11%) 24.8% (22.3%)

The Brewers have the worst batting average in the league with runners in scoring position since Haines was hired as their hitting coach, which is certainly a problem. That said, the Brewers get on base at a league-average clip in these situations. Their wOBA with runners in scoring position is the same as their overall wOBA. The inability to drive in runners did not start with Haines, but rather dates back to his predecessor.

The Verdict: The Brewers do a poor job of driving in runners, but there is not enough evidence to indicate that this is explicitly a Haines-related problem. They also struggled in this area under Darnell Coles. Perhaps the organizational strategy is more to blame.

Claim #3: Andy Haines Ruins Hitters

Of the arguments that Haines should be relieved of his duties, this is the most convincing. People point to examples of hitters who began to struggle once they had Haines as their hitting coach. This begs the question, how many hitters have been “ruined” by Andy Haines?

The table below includes hitters who have taken at least 100 plate appearances as a Brewer in the Haines era after having previous big-league experience. That’s a pretty low bar to clear, but it does weed out the more random players who only spent a week or two with the team. For each hitter, their performance before and during the presence of Andy Haines in the dugout is listed side-by-side.

The Haines Effect: Does Andy Haines Ruin Hitters?

Player Career wRC+ Before Haines wRC+ Under Haines Difference
Player Career wRC+ Before Haines wRC+ Under Haines Difference
Christian Yelich 130 152 22
Yasmani Grandal 117 122 5
Mike Moustakas 98 114 16
Omar Narvaez 112 110 -2
Lorenzo Cain 110 86 -24
Manny Pina 91 87 -4
Ryan Braun 137 113 -24
Eric Thames 109 117 8
Avisail Garcia 103 94 -9
Kolten Wong 96 115 19
Jedd Gyorko 100 119 19
Ben Gamel 99 89 -10
Daniel Vogelbach 97 122 25
Luis Urias 79 88 9
Orlando Arcia 72 69 -3
Jace Peterson 76 99 23
Cory Spangenberg 94 61 -33
Billy McKinney 91 66 -25
Jesus Aguilar 120 83 -37
Hernan Perez 75 63 -12
Eric Sogard 74 54 -20
Jackie Bradley Jr. 93 40 -53
Justin Smoak 104 70 -34
Travis Shaw 111 59 -52

There are 24 hitters on this list, and 11 of them saw their wRC+ decline by 10 points or more from their previous career marks. That might seem like a lot, but it becomes far less convincing when accounting for context. Most notably, Ryan Braun was on the tail end of his career, and his 113 wRC+ across 2019 and 2020 was a touch higher than his 108 wRC+ over the previous two seasons combined. Haines did not affect him.

As for the rest of the list, Lorenzo Cain has dealt with injuries and opted out of last season. Cory Spangenberg had an 83 wRC+ the year before he joined the Brewers. Eric Sogard and Hernan Perez were always bad, so it isn’t exactly a shock that they got worse as they passed their “prime” seasons. That’s nearly half of the 11.

Haines’ greatest failures as the Crew’s main hitting instructor occurred when he failed to get Jesus Aguilar and Travis Shaw back on track from serious slumps. Aguilar immediately rebounded the following season with the Marlins and is having a similarly productive 2021, but Shaw has failed to recapture his former self. Jackie Bradley, Jr. has also transformed into the worst hitter in the sport, and Haines has been unable to correct it. Of course, while JBJ had a couple of productive seasons at the plate in Boston, he was never as especially good hitter to begin with.

Justin Smoak and former fourth outfielders Billy McKinney and Ben Gamel round out the list. Perhaps if you squint hard enough, you can blame Haines for them being worse than normal, but that is a bit of a stretch. Smoak’s demise occurred in 2020, and the lefty-swinging outfielders had been mixed bags in their brief careers.

On the flip side, Moustakas nearly matched his career high for home runs, Daniel Vogelbach and Kolten Wong have been solid, Narvaez is currently having his best season, and Luis Urias has developed enough power to be a league-average bat this year. If poor performances earn Haines criticism, shouldn’t the positive ones earn him praise? The individual success stories help to balance out the failures.

The Verdict: Haines may have a legitimate weakness when it comes to helping slumping hitters. When a Brewer hitter gets into a funk, things seem to spiral out of control rather than improve. That said, some hitters have improved under Haines, and most reliable hitters have remained solid. There is no “Haines touch” that turns gold into straw.

The Final Verdict

Andy Haines is like most hitting coaches. He has little impact on the team’s run production. Some hitters have performed worse under him, and some have improved. In other words, it is difficult to give him either a positive or negative review from an outside perspective.

It is important to remember the true role of these coaches. Every hitter has his own stance, routine, and approach that he feels comfortable with. It is not Haines’ job to disrupt these individual preferences and mold each player into what he believes is the ideal hitter. Rather, he is there as an advisor whenever a hitter asks for his help or input. He may also approach them if he notices that they have developed a bad habit or gotten away from what has historically made them successful. It does not hold their hand every step of the way, and he is not responsible for every single offensive outcome.

There is some evidence from his track record that he may not be the best at correcting a struggling hitter, but beyond that, there is not much to find fault with. The team’s consistent inability to hit with runners in scoring position and put the ball in play traces back to the kind of players that the front office chooses to add and the offensive strategy that they put into practice. If anyone should be held responsible and catch some heat, it is the decision-makers who are higher up on the totem pole. The pressure is on them to bring in offensive upgrades at this summer’s trade deadline.

If Andy Haines is a part of the problem at all, he is a very small part of it. He does not deserve the constant criticism that he receives. He’s doing everything he can. Those who are calling for his firing should ease up a little bit.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs