Those who can’t stand the impact Terry Crowley has had as hitting coach can now take solace in the fact that he will no longer be with the major league club, and will no longer be the Orioles’ hitching coach after serving in the role for the past 12 seasons (and from 1985-1988). Those who think Crowley has been good for this team can also take solace in the fact that he will now serve as a roving hitting instructor and offensive talent evaluator for the front office. This move is likely motivated by an organization that sees a lack of quality position prospects and is looking for a knowledgeable voice to help identify talent and help fix problems among the Orioles minor leaguers before they make it to the show. Crowley reportedly had the option to return next season as the hitting coach- what motivated him to take on this new role? Why would the Orioles create it for him?
Despite the Orioles’ offensive woes throughout their 13 seasons of futility, Terry Crowley is still thought of well among baseball circles, even if he isn’t often thought of well among his own fan base. My opinion on Crowley has ranged from disdain to downright admiration, but I have settled on what I consider to be a good estimation of a hitting coach’s success. For one, you cannot judge him on his team’s overall offensive performance. This isn’t football where there is an offensive coordinator calling the plays. The hitting coach is more of the position coach, not responsible for the scheme but for helping young players learn the game. You cannot make Derek Anderson a great quarterback- whether he is in Cleveland or Arizona, it is just not going to happen. Hitters can be the same way. Robert Andino will never hit .300, no matter how much time and energy Crowley spends with him.
The way to judge coaches like that is to take individual examples of either a highly touted player who is failing to live up to his abilities or a veteran who gets into a deep slump. Hitting coaches can’t prevent the slump from happening, but they can help them get out of it. The first example is Felix Pie. Pie was hitting near the Mendoza line despite having all kinds of physical ability and was utterly lost at the plate. Pie credits Crowley with helping him rediscover his swing and make him the more consistent player he is today.
The other example is Garrett Atkins, signed after a dismal season in 2009 to try to find his stroke again. Crowley invested a great deal of time and energy in trying to turn him around, but was unsuccessful. To me, that small sample size is indicative of Crowley’s skill and shortcomings as a hitting coach. He has been a tremendous influence on young players, and they believe in his ability help them reach their potential. However, on a team that over the 2000’s brought in a number of over-the-hill veterans, Crowley has been either unable to get through to them or unable to fix their swing.
The front office seems to have seen the same thing, which is why they are moving the long-time coach to a roving instructor/talent evaluator role. I would love to see Crowley working with the likes of Brandon Snyder and Josh Bell before they get to Baltimore again, or see him helping Billy Rowell or Ryan Adams rediscover what made them such great prospects. On a team with a dearth of ready position prospects, Crowley can take on a role similar to what Mike Bordick did last season from the defensive side. Perhaps a more veteran-savvy hitting coach can take over at the major league level, and the Orioles will have more organizational talent all around. As for Crowley, he appears to enjoy working with young players, and will have more of a role in evaluating talent for the organization. A more diverse role with more flexible hours with more say in the organization? Pretty hard to pass up.
A farm system isn’t only as good as its prospects. Its prospects are only as good as their talent and the coaching they receive. If, like the Orioles, a team is not loaded with top prospects, they need to invest in their development to ensure that the remaining prospects receive the best coaching at every level. So far Baltimore seems to have made that a priority.