Or do the A's just keep running bad hitters out there who simply can't be turned into, or spun as, good hitters?
in regards to the draft, it's hard to say because there is disagreement over whether good hitters are the result of good scouting, good player development, or both.
In regards to players acquired from other teams, it's hard to say because often there are available "extenuating circumstances" -- if the player isn't pushing 40, he's coming from Coors Field or he's coming off a major injury.
It's actually far from easy to know whether the A's are a team with a scouting problem, a development problem, or a problem of the worst luck since the Donner Party said, "Are we supposed to go left or right? Let's flip a coin."
I don't profess to know any of the answers. What I do know is that when I think about the A's organizational hitting philosophy I keep coming back to the same troubling pattern...
The way the A's have handled the position of "hitting coach" strikes me as quite odd. I have no opinion, whatsoever, as to who is the best and worst hitting coach out of Chili Davis, Thad Bosley, Dave Hudgens, Gerald Perry, Jim Skaalan, or whomever I have forgotten by trying to name recent hitting coaches off the top of my head.
I don't know what the A's think a hitting coach does, or is for, but it seems odd that a team, at the major league level, would randomly hire a different hitting coach virtually every year, sometimes rehiring one from before, as if either a hitting coach didn't matter or as if every hitting coach was interchangeable. Consider what this means for a hitter...
They work with a hitting coach one year, perhaps one who preaches "zone hitting," or "all fields hitting," or "find a good timing mechanism," or whatever that coach's specialty or core belief might be. Every coach will tell you that in fact he differentiates, trying to customize his tutelage and support to each individual hitter, but in reality every coach or teacher has some core strengths, beliefs, or styles that he brings to the equation.
Next year the hitter has a brand new hitting coach, despite playing at the same level for the same organization. Then the guy leaves and a new guy comes. Then he leaves and one of the old guys comes back. Then he leaves...
Here's the thing that bothers me. Do the A's even have a philosophy they believe in? If you skimmed Moneyball but forgot to actually read it, you might say it's "work the count," but the A's have brought in plenty of hitters who have little plate discipline -- Jay Payton, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Eric Fox -- and haven't tried to change them. Heck, Kurt Suzuki would be a better hitter if someone got through to him the value of plate discipline but the A's seem happy to let him chase bad balls away on 3-1 counts and try to pull them. I don't think that's what the A's think is important. I don't have any idea what they think is important and I'm not sure the A's do either.
If you grew up in the Texas Rangers' organization, you knew that the Rangers believed in Rudy Jaramillo, that Jaramillo and the Rangers were in harmony with how they viewed the philosophy on hitting. With the A's, a player not only has no idea who will be offering their pearls of wisdom next, but more importantly you have no idea what the A's believe in -- or whether there's anything they do believe in so as to know who to hire.
Perhaps hitting coaches are utterly interchangeable and inconsequential and only the A's are at the forefront of understanding this little known truth. I'd be more open to that if the A's weren't also the team that can't seem to develop or create a good hitter to save their life.
I'll tell you some philosophical beliefs I hold in regards to hitting. I think hitters should "zone hit" as if the count were 3-1 until they have two strikes, looking for a pitch, or a location, or just a "very hittable pitch" and being "selectively aggressive". I also believe you should try to "hit the ball hard in the direction it's moving," meaning that a ball tailing away is one you should try to hit hard the other way while a ball on the inner half should be pulled hard. Rolling over on balls tailing away is a great way to slump. I'm also a fan of the "cobra" approach where you strike hard and quick with your swing, keeping it short but forceful.
These may or may not be the best hitting philosophies, but at the very least they are philosophies. I couldn't begin to tell you what the A's philosophy is. I find it hard to believe that Hudgens, Skaalan, Perry, Bosley, and Davis just happen to share all the same "basic, useful ideas about hitting" -- if they did, why did the A's let Perry go and if Perry wasn't the answer why did he return?
I'm not suggesting that hitting coaches are so vital to a team, or that they determine the success or failure of a group of hitters. What I'm suggesting is that the A's approach to hiring, firing, and replacing hitting coaches matches the same paradigm as the team's annual hitting stats suggest: That the organization really doesn't have much of an idea one way or the other when it comes to hitting and as a result will generally get the worst a hitter has to offer.