Phil Plantier is a hitting coach? Really?

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In case you missed it, the Padres announced over the weekend that they had hired Phil Plantier as their new hitting coach, replacing Randy Ready. It was a pretty meteoric rise for a guy who was coaching at Point Loma Nazarene University three years ago. Plantier was the Mariners’ minor league hitting coordinator in 2010 and the hitting coach for high-A Lake Elsinore in the Padres’ chain to start the 2011 season.

But while that’s interesting enough, the more notable fact is that the Padres are hiring Phil Plantier as their hitting coach. This is a guy who competed with catchers to see who could squat lower when he was at the plate. It’s like he was sitting on an imaginary chair two feet off the ground.

Plantier was my favorite player in the early-90s. When he burst onto the scene with the Red Sox in 1991, the New Hampshire native created a minor sensation in New England. Living in Maine at the time, I met him and got his autograph at a card show. I had a Plantier t-shirt that I adored.

(Even today, Plantier’s page in the Rotoworld database is my Internet Explorer home page. I wanted a player page that was completely empty, making it quicker to load, and since Plantier has been out of baseball since 1998, it doesn’t get any emptier than that. I have no idea why he wasn’t purged from the database a decade ago.)

Plantier was also really, really good, if only for a brief spell. As a 22-year-old rookie, Plantier hit .331/.420/.615 with 11 homers in 53 games in 1991. That was before the offensive explosion that followed, and Plantier’s slugging percentage and OPS would have led the AL at those rates.

Plantier, though, had a rough go of it in 1992, hitting .246/.332/.361 with seven homers in 349 at-bats. The Red Sox opted to trade him to the Padres for middle reliever Jose Melendez after that season. It was probably the first baseball trade that I absolutely loathed. Melendez proved completely worthless to Boston, getting hurt and throwing just 19 innings in two seasons before his career came to an end.

Meanwhile, Plantier busted out in San Diego, hitting .240/.335/.509 with 34 homers and 100 RBI in 138 games. He finished seventh in the NL in homers and ninth in RBI.

Unfortunately, that was pretty much it for him. Injuries limited Plantier to 96 games the next season, and he hit just .220/.302/.440. He became a journeyman afterwards, playing for Houston, Oakland, San Diego and St. Louis again. Something of a “Moneyball player” before Moneyball, he ended his career with a .243/.332/.439 line and 91 homers in 1,883 at-bats. But Plantier was more a victim of injuries than of managers not appreciating him because of his low average.

Now the guy with the funky stance who struggled to hit better than .250 is going to try to teach others to hit. And I’m finding myself rooting for him again.

The Cubs will try to clinch the NL Central on Tuesday

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The Cubs soundly defeated the Cardinals on Monday night, 10-2, sending their magic number down to one. They will try to clinch the NL Central on Tuesday with another win against the Cardinals. Alternatively, if they lose, they can still clinch if the Brewers also lose on Tuesday.

The Cubs, of course, won the Central last year en route to winning their first World Series since 1908. It wasn’t nearly as easy this year as the club was below .500 entering June and was exactly at .500 entering July. A 16-8 July, 17-12 August, and 15-8 September have helped put the Cubs back in position to return to the postseason.

Not to be forgotten, the Cardinals were eliminated from NL Central contention with Monday’s loss. Now they have their sights set on the second NL Wild Card slot and currently trail the Rockies in that race.

The matchups for Tuesday’s action:

Carter Capps to undergo surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome

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Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune reports that Padres pitcher Carter Capps will undergo surgery this offseason to address thoracic outlet syndrome, which doctors believe caused the right-hander’s blood clots. The Padres hope to have him ready by spring training next year.

Capps, 27, underwent Tommy John surgery last year and didn’t debut this season until August 7. He made 11 relief appearances, yielding nine runs on 12 hits and two walks with seven strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings. He went back on the DL on September 12 due to the blood clot issue.

The Padres acquired Capps from the Marlins last July in the Andrew Cashner trade which ended up having a lot of moving parts. Capps will enter his third and final year of arbitration eligibility this offseason. It’s quite possible the Padres choose to non-tender him.