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Is It That Easy, Charlie?

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I've always wondered if coaching has any effect on players at the big league level.  Could someone have taught Doug Glanville to take a pitch every now and then?  Or would that have been the equivalent of asking CNN not to cover Anna Nicole Smith's death as if it were September 11 round 2?

A throw-away comment by Chris Wheeler last year got me thinking about this topic as it relates to Charlie Manuel and Abraham Nunez.  Wheels said that Manuel had taken Nunez aside before the game on August 20 and told him he needed to be more patient at the plate.  We have no idea if it was that simple of a message or if there was more instruction to it.

But, whatever it was that Charlie said, it sure seemed to have worked.

Let's look at Nunez's performance over the course of three different periods last year:

Dates AB BB BB/AB BA OBP SLG OPS
4/3 - 7/27 115 6 0.05 0.157 0.198 0.226 0.424
7/28 - 8/19 82 11 0.13 0.232 0.326 0.256 0.582
8/20 - 10/1 125 24 0.19 0.248 0.373 0.328 0.701

The first line is from the start of the season until David Bell's last day with the Phillies. The second line is from the day Nunez became the everyday third baseman until the day before Manuel took Nunez aside and talked to him about patience. The third line is from that day on.

It doesn't take Bill James to see that there was a marked improvement in Nunez's performance each step along the way. When he took over as the starter, his performance improved drastically. But, that's not saying much given how horrible he was before then.

However, after Charlie talked to Nunez, he began resembling a barely mediocre ballplayer. He still couldn't slug his way into a whiffle-ball home run derby contest, but if you buy the conventional sabermetric wisdom that on-base-percentage is more valuable than slugging percentage, his improvement and contribution down the stretch can't be denied: a .373 on-base percentage is incredibly valuable, especially toward the bottom of the lineup.

Given Nunez's past and the nature of comparisons like this, all sorts of small sample size warnings come into play. But, we have to wonder a couple of things: did Nunez finally "get it" about patience at the plate? More importantly, can Charlie be that good of a hitting coach?