Saturday, August 18, 2007

Ronny Paulino and his struggles

Ronny Paulino has endured a disappointing second season - AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

There have been many frustrating occurrences in the Pirates’ 2007 season. Key players such as Jason Bay, Adam LaRoche and Zach Duke have underperformed. The signing of Tony Armas has been a bust. Drafting Daniel Moskos over Matt Wieters was ludicrous. Hanging on to Shawn Chacon, Damaso Marte and Salomon Torres at the trade deadline was likely a mistake. Committing over eight figures to Matt Morris will probably hurt us in 2008. It has been painful to watch the endless parade of Triple-A players (Don Kelly, John Wasdin, Jonah Bayliss, etc) marching through Pittsburgh. However, the most absurd thing we have seen this season has been Ronny Paulino’s unchanging batting stance. By far.

Last season, the most valuable aspect of Paulino’s hitting was his ability to get base hits to right field on pitches away. It was refreshing to see a smart approach while the majority of the team often attempted to pull everything. His front foot stepped very slightly toward third base during his swing, but it did not affect his ability to hit to the opposite field. However, Paulino altered his stance this season. Maybe he expected opposing pitchers to come inside more often, as a scouting report developed on him. He began using a more open stance. The results were disastrous. Paulino continued to step toward third despite the open stance, making it impossible for him to reach the outer half of the plate. Opposing pitchers quickly realized this, and began feeding him a steady diet of pitches away. Paulino could only flail at these pitches, and had no chance to hit the ball with any authority.

Fast forward to August 18. Paulino’s stance and swing have changed very little throughout the season. He has hit better in the past month or so (.278/.340/.474 since July 7), but he still cannot reach the outside corner. Last night, Paulino homered to right-center field. This should be encouraging. However, replays showed that the pitch was right over the heart of the plate. Paulino was forced to go the other way because that is as far as he can reach. Sure, it has been nice to see him produce more as of late. But unless he fixes his swing, this situation will get worse again before it gets any better.

There has been some discussion this season regarding hitting coach Jeff Manto’s performance. The debate is simple. How can you fairly judge a coach when he has little talent to work with? If you can blame him for the fall of players like Bay and LaRoche this season, then you can give him credit for Freddy’s 2006 season and the improved hitting of Doumit this year. Because of this, I prefer not to judge specialized coaches too harshly for team-wide problems. But Manto’s inability to fix Paulino’s stance over 120 games is a disgrace. This alone is enough evidence for him to be fired.

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