Brantley doing his best with bats
Blue Jays' hitting coach under fire for club's offensive woes
Mickey Brantley doesn't need to tune in to the radio call-in shows to know he's not the most popular person among Blue Jays fans.
Toronto's hitting coach has witnessed firsthand how the Jays' offense quickly has gone from much hyped to mediocre, slipping to the lower rungs of the American League along the way. It doesn't matter how much time Brantley has spent working with Toronto's injury-riddled roster, he understands his job potentially may be at stake when the season ends.
So, with no assurance yet from general manager J.P. Ricciardi, Brantley is waiting -- much like those fans calling for his removal -- to find out if the Blue Jays plan on moving in a different direction. For now, all the 46-year-old coach can do is shrug his shoulders when it comes to his future with Toronto.
"That's baseball," Brantley said this week. "When things go bad, you don't blame the players. It's usually the coaches or the manager or the GM. That's part of the game. We'll see how the chips fall. I've worked hard. Obviously we didn't reach our expectations this year."
Not only did the Blue Jays not reach their offensive expectations, the club has fallen drastically short of its production from last season. Toronto's showing at the plate in 2006 prompted the club to promote this year's lineup as a prolific run-scoring product.
"You can't predict baseball," Brantley said.
It's hard to fault the Jays for having such optimism, though.
Last year, Toronto's lineup, which is nearly the same this season, ranked second in the league in slugging percentage (.463), third in average (.284) and fourth in home runs (199) and on-base percentage (.348). Toronto's projected lineup for this season included four players who hit .300 or better a year ago.
"We're not the team we were last year," Ricciardi said. "We had a good year last year. We had a really good year, winning 87 games, and we're not the same team right now. Any time you don't live up to what your expectations are, you're open to criticism."
The criticism has been out in force.
Through 133 games this season, the Blue Jays rank eighth in the American League in homers (134), ninth in slugging percentage (.419), 10th in RBIs (578), 12th in average (.257), on-base percentage (.324) and runs (601), and 13th in hits (1,166). Never mind the pile of injuries that have taken a toll on Toronto, Brantley believes some of the problems have stemmed from the high hopes the hitters had for this year.
"There's always a mental aspect to it," Brantley said. "We're coming off a very good year last year offensively. I think that has something to do with it, in terms of guys having high expectations. They know where they were last year, and they wanted to try to make those numbers better."
As much as Brantley tries to downplay the injury woes, Toronto's lineup has had a wide variety of ongoing issues that have contributed to the offensive slide.
|"All I know is the guy works [hard]. It's the same guy from when they were hitting last year, you know?"|
|-- Toronto manager John Gibbons|
"Injuries have played a role," Brantley said. "It's tough to play the game at 100 percent, and when you're not 100 percent, it's very hard to trust what you're doing."
Like Toronto's players, Brantley isn't willing to use the injuries as an excuse.
Instead, the Blue Jays hitting coach cites the lineup's subpar performance in run-scoring opportunities. Through Wednesday, Toronto ranks 10th in the AL with a .270 average with runners in scoring position and 13th in the league with a .223 mark with RISP and two outs.
"There's no question that we've tried to do too much in situational hitting," Brantley said. "When guys are on the bases, we try to go for all of it instead of just taking what the pitcher is giving you. That's a big, big problem with our offense this year."
Then again, Brantley is the one in the batting cage or on the field offering tips and instructions for the Jays' hitters. Considering Brantley filled the same role during last season's success, Toronto manager John Gibbons isn't about to blame the coach for this year's problems.
That doesn't mean Gibbons doesn't understand why Brantley -- Toronto's hitting coach since Mike Barnett was dismissed in April 2005 -- has become a popular target for disgruntled fans.
"All I know is the guy works [hard]," Gibbons said. "It's the same guy from when they were hitting last year, you know? When that happens, people rave about you. I get criticized all the time.
"When the pitching struggles, [pitching coach Brad Arnsberg] is going to get it. If the team struggles, I'm going to get it and J.P. is going to get it. It just goes with the territory."
So does the question of job security.
"Mickey is a very good hitting guy, and we're not hitting," Ricciardi said. "I know no one's more frustrated than he is. It's not because he's not attempting to do things; it's just we're not hitting.
"That doesn't mean he's a bad hitting coach. At some point, you turn the page on the season and say, 'Let's get going for next year.'"
Brantley is waiting to find out if he'll be a part of that.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.