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Getting To Know Mike Barnett, The Newest Astros Hitting Coach

Well, that's one less decision for the Astros to agonize over. On Friday, the team announced they had hired Mike Barnett as the new hitting coach. Per Levine here, Barnett has been the minor league hitting coordinator for the past two seasons for Houston and has previous experience as a hitting coach with Toronto and Kansas City. He spent some time working with Brad Mills in Boston as an instructor for their system and should be a good pick. Some quick hitting points about the hire:

  • Barnett fits neatly into No. 2 in my theory here. Interestingly, I named that part after Sean Berry, who Bagwell replaced halfway through last season. I guess Berry didn't have a connection with this current crop of hitters. I wonder, though, if Barnett is more willing to do the video work the General apparently loves so much.

  • According to this article on Baseball Reference, Barnett never played pro ball, because the former catcher hurt his shoulder playing catcher at Ohio University. He went on to coach in college for a few years before moving into the White Sox minor league organization in 1990. To go from the minors to a major league hitting coach in 12 years without pro experience is impressive.

  • When in Toronto in 2003, his players called him "Barney." Seems like he'll fit in nicely to this club nickname-wise. Isn't that right Millsy and Arnie?

  • Also interesting from this interview, one of Barnett's big breaks in the big leagues came when George Steinbrenner (????) made him Video Director for the Yankees. Barnett became sort of a pioneer in using video to break down hitters. That was back in the late '80s, folks, before his college coaching days at Tennessee.

  • Uh-oh, looks like Barnett has a little bit of the Psychiatrist in him too:

"With the thought process of staying up the middle the other way, it gives you a chance to adjust to anything the pitcher can throw you. Ideally, pitchers would like to pitch you up-and-in, low-and-away. If they execute those pitches, you're going to have a tough time getting hits. So we try to change those tables -- we look up and out over the plate, react down and in. Those are more mistake zones, and our guys have done a fantastic job maintaining that approach and waiting for their pitch."

In fact, go back and read that entire interview I linked to up there. It's well worth it. Sounds like the Astros got another Brad Arnsberg in the waiting. After the jump, Barnett's raw numbers as a hitting coach...

Now, here's a look at how Barnett's major league teams did with him in the dugout:

2002 -.261/.327/.430, 305 doubles, 38 triples, 187 home runs, 522 walks, 1142 strikeouts, 6230 PAs

2003 -.279/.349/.455, 357 doubles, 33 triples, 190 home runs, 546 walks, 1081 strikeouts, 6364 PAs

2004 -.260/.328/.403, 290 doubles, 34 triples, 145 home runs, 513 walks, 1083 strikeouts, 6177 PAs

2005 - .265/.331/.407, 307 doubles, 39 triples, 136 home runs, 486 walks, 955 strikeouts, 6233 PAs

2006 -.271/.332/.411, 335 doubles, 37 triples, 124 home runs, 474 walks, 1040 strikeouts, 6227 PAs

2007 -.261/.322/.388, 300 doubles, 46 triples, 102 home runs, 428 walks, 1069 strikeouts, 6139 PAs

2008 - .269/.320/.397, 303 doubles, 28 triples, 120 home runs, 392 walks, 1005 strikeouts, 6118 PAs

Under Barnett, the Blue Jays walk rate rose by almost a full percent, from 7.4 to 8.3. That's from 2001 to 2002, when he took over as coach. Look at the dip in strikeouts, too, from his first season to his last. The Royals had a similar jump in walks from 2005 to Barnett's first season there, but fell back to below average in those three years.

It's hard to tell what his impact was, since players change and the talent levels are not equal. I should point out that Barnett has never overseen an offense that was as bad as the Astros was last season. In his seven years, his batting average was always above .247, his OBP was above .303 and his slugging percentage was above .362. Only once did one of his teams walk less than the Astros' 415 times. My gut feeling is that he will help this offense improve.