Mike Barnett: Undervalued on the 2011 Astros?

I'm tired of being negative about this team. I don't think I'm alone in that sentiment, as Lee Street said something similar yesterday on Twitter. But, it's getting boring being snarky and down on the 2011 Astros. It was fun for a while, but there are too many interesting things to think about that aren't negative, you know?

One of the questions that I mentioned on the podcast was how Mike Barnett has done as hitting coach. It's hard to judge the effectiveness of hitting coaches. Most times, the sabermetric types assume that hitting coaches mean very little, as they're often given credit for progress that should more correctly be attributed to regression.

Still, the number show Barnett has done a pretty solid job replacing fan favorite Jeff Bagwell. He's helped up the Astros batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage overall, going from last place in the NL in both OBP and SLG up to 11th this season. That's not a huge jump, but it's the highest the Astros' OBP has been ranked since 2008.

That's pretty simplistic ways to look at offensive value, though. We have better ones, like walk rate, isolated power average and weighted on-base average. Barnett may not have completely reversed the downward trends in those categories since 2008, but he's certainly helped bounce back from the low point of the 2010 season. The Astros' walk rate is still down from last season, but the ISO is up as is the wOBA.

The reason that stands out to me is Barnett is doing it with less talent than even the 2010 Astros had. Think about it; he's getting these increases with guys like Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson instead of Lance Berkman and pre-2010 Carlos Lee.

But, those numbers weren't really what caught my eye about Barnett's impact. It was that interview with Michael Bourn done around the All-Star Break by Steve Campbell. It talked about the adjustments Bourn has done this season because of Barnett. That's significant, because Bourn is having the best offensive season of his career. For that matter, so is Hunter Pence while Wallace is having a bounce-back season, Jason Bourgeois is having a breakout (SSS) season and Jeff Keppinger didn't regress that much from his out-of-the-ordinary 2010 season.

Does Barnett deserve some credit for that? I think he does. He hasn't been able to turn Clint Barmes or Bill Hall into power hitters (who could?) and J.R. Towles fell off quickly, but Barnett has had some sort of impact on this team. His hiring could have been one like the Doug Brocail promoting, just filling a spot with an organizational soldier. But, Barnett is proving he's got more value than just that. If hitting coaches have value at all.

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