The Terry Crowley effect

This was supposed to be a part of my last article, Trouble in Birdland, which detailed the problems in the Baltimore Orioles organization and offered both a short and long term guide to getting the franchise back on the right track. But in my research of Terry Crowley, I felt a need for a separate article devoted entirely to him.

A quick synopsis of Crowley’s career: He played professionally for 15 seasons, mostly as a reserve. He’s known as one of baseball’s all time best pinch-hitters. Crowley became the hitting coach of the Orioles in 1985, not too long after he retired as a player. He spent four years with Baltimore before moving on to Minnesota, where he spent eight years as the Twins’ hitting coach. In 1999, the Orioles rehired Crowley to be the team’s hitting coach and he’s been there ever since.

Before I go any further, let’s get the obvious out of the way:

1. Terry Crowley is not solely responsible for the struggles of the Baltimore offense.

2. Terry Crowley has not had the most talented group of hitters to work with.

3. Most of the blame should fall on the players because they are the ones actually hitting.

All that being said, there have been two constants over the past 12 straight losing seasons in Baltimore: Peter Angelos and Terry Crowley. Crowley has somehow managed to survive six managers: Ray Miller for one year, Mike Hargrove for four years, Lee Mazzilli for one-plus year, Sam Perlozzo for two years, Dave Trembley for three years, and now Juan Samuel for a few games. Can anybody think of any coach who has survived so much turnover on one team with results being as bad as the Orioles have had over the last 12 years?

Maybe the offenses Crowley has presided over have been great and it’s been the pitching that has been the organization’s downfall? Well, let’s examine Crowley’s entire career as a hitting coach…

Orioles hitting coach, 1985-1988

Pre-Crowley years, 1983 and 1984

AL Ranking BA/OBP/SLG/OPS, Walks

1983 – 7/1/3/3, 2
1984 – 12/6/8/6, 1

The Crowley years, 1985-1988

1985 – 8/3/1/3, 3
1986 – 8/8/10/10, 6
1987 – 12/13/10/11, 9
1988 – 14/13/14/14, 8

Post-Crowley years, 1989-1991

1989 – 12/7/11/8, 2
1990 – 13/6/13/13, 1
1991 – 11/11/4/9, 8

Twins hitting coach, 1991-1998

Pre-Crowley years, 1989 and 1990

1989 – 2/2/2/2, 11
1990 – 4/10/8/8, 13

The Crowley years, 1991-1998

1991 – 1/1/2/2, 9
1992 – 1/2/7/5, 9
1993 – 8/13/12/12, 11
1994 – 5/7/8/8, 14
1995 – 4/7/9/8, 14
1996 – 2/7/11/10, 10
1997 – 8/10/11/11, 12
1998 – 9/11/13/13, 11

Post-Crowley years, 1999-2001

1999 – 11/12/12/14, 12
2000 – 10/13/13/13, 12
2001 – 4/5/8/7, 9

Orioles hitting coach, 1999-present

Pre-Crowley years, 1997 and 1998

1997 – 9/6/6/6, 6
1998 – 5/4/7/6, 5

The Crowley years, 1999-present

1999 – 6/5/7/6, 4
2000 – 9/10/10/10, 13
2001 – 14/13/14/14, 11
2002 – 14/13/11/12, 13
2003 – 8/11/11/11, 13
2004 – 3/4/8/7, 5
2005 – 7/8/5/5, 9
2006 – 7/8/10/9, 10
2007 – 6/9/10/10, 11
2008 – 8/8/5/7, 9
2009 – 5/8/10/9, 11
2010 – 10/13/13/13, 14

When you take data like these, knowing there are many factors involved in deciphering how good a team’s offense actually is, the reality is that you can twist it into anything that fits your agenda. But there are some things we can conclusively take from the numbers.

To start, Crowley generally has coached poor offensive teams. In terms of OPS, his teams have finished 10th or worse 13 times in 24 seasons. His offenses have finished fifth or better four times in 24 seasons and interestingly enough three of those top-five finishes were in his first two seasons as hitting coach for his respective team.

Another thing to take from these data is the startling lack of walks. This goes to the heart of the criticism many fans have of Crowley. His philosophy is to swing at the first good pitch you get to hit because you probably won’t get a better pitch one later in the at-bat. It’s not go up there and start hacking at whatever it is the pitcher throws at you. It’s wait for your pitch and when you get it, don’t miss it. It’s a philosophy that doesn’t make pitchers work. It’s a philosophy that is not conducive to getting on base consistently unless the team is hitting for average at the time. It’s a philosophy that can be a symptom of a team in a prolonged slump with the bat.

This season has been the nail in the coffin for Crowley. No young Orioles hitter has progressed with the bat and most have actually regressed. Players have been slow to adjust, whether it be in their approach or mechanics, and many are still mired in their slumps. Crowley is not entirely to blame. But sometimes you need a new set of eyes and a different perspective for positive change.

References & Resources
Baseball-Reference

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Comments

  1. starkweather said...

    Whether bit’s his fault or not, Crowley has been a part of some of the worst O’s squads since they moved to Baltimore. ‘85-‘88 was a rough stretch and ‘99-present has been a spectacular series of disasters. Even if the team had great offenses with Crowley (which they really haven’t) it might be worth it to let him go just to get away from the culture of losing that has enveloped the franchise.

  2. starkweather said...

    On the other hand, he is one of the few links to the past left in the organization. The glorious 0 for April, win 3 games in August & September past but, dammit, Cal was there for some of that, too!

  3. D Leaberry said...

    The Orioles problem has been a meddling owner who preferred signing washed-up veterans like Albert Belle and a serious lack of an emphasis on pitching.  As the Amazing Mets proved in 1969, top-notch pitching and defense makes up for mediocre hitting.

  4. Barry1 said...

    What I see are players taking pitches down the middle or in their power zone and then swinging at pitches out of the strike zone.. To me, these guys don’t even know what their pitch is.. They are young and don’t know when to be agressive and when to be patient and that comes with time and a hitting coach cannot teach that. We need experienced hitters on this team showing them the way and that way the learning curve will not be as painful in wins and losses.

  5. Paul E said...

    To paraphrase Dick Fuld of Lehman Brothers, “I for the life of me will never understan why” major league organizations hire mediocre ballplayers to instruct young ballplayers in every facet of the game. Once again, “those that can, do; those that can’t, teach”….

    As for the “experienced hitters showing them the way”, Garrett Atkins is proof they need GOOD, “experienced hitters”

  6. Lisa Gray said...

    alex

    i am not understanding why you think that a hitter should let a good, hittable pitch go by. it is strike 1. if the pitcher throws a FB right down the middle on the first pitch, the hitter is supposed to ignore it WHY?

    at what point DO you think that a hitter should be allowed to swing at a good, hittable pitch?

    what pitch IS he supposed to swing at if the FIRST hittable one is not OK?

    is he supposed to stand there and hope that the pitcher doesn’t throw anything in the strike zone at all? is he supposed to only do his swinging after he is down by 2 strikes?

  7. Alex Eisenberg said...

    Lisa,

    I’d like to see hitters work the count more.  If you go up there looking for something to drive right off the bat, by all means go for it.  But it seems like this team goes up to bat looking just for strikes to hit and strikes don’t necessarily mean good pitches to hit.

    It seems like hitters will go up to bat with a premeditated mindset to swing at the first pitch and you often see hitters swinging over top of a breaking ball or way out in front on something off-speed.

    But I think the most frustrating thing is the situations they often choose to be aggressive.  You get a pitcher who walks a couple of batters in a row and is struggling with his control and I can’t tell you the number of times a batter comes up and swings at the first pitch he sees only to pop out to the infield.

    I remember on Opening Day, six of the first nine Oriole hitters swung at the first pitch they saw.  It was like an omen for this entire season.

    Sometimes you need to force a pitcher to throw strikes.  Sometimes you need to make a pitcher work.  And if your philosophy is to not miss your pitch to hit, maybe they should think about swinging at pitches that are actually good to hit because they haven’t been doing so all season long.

    For whatever reason, his hitters have looked lost at the plate this year.  They have struggled to really find a balance between being aggressive and patient and many of his hitters don’t look like they know how to hit with two strikes and prolong at bats.

    Now, everything I said I don’t think is Terry Crowley’s fault, but I do think it’s partly a symptom of his philosophy.

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