The A's are headed to the playoffs and the Giants to baseball oblivion, and a big reason is their approach to hitting. The A's have a plan, while the Giants just hack away.
A hitting coach can only do so much. It is much easier for a pitching coach to impact the game because each play starts with the pitcher. If his approach is improved, he can make a big jump. The hitter must always adjust to the pitcher, which is much more difficult.
Still, the right hitting coach can make a difference. Chili Davis is doing that for the A's. Before every at-bat, he makes certain that a hitter has a specific plan once he's in the batter's box.
The A's are often free swingers. Brandon Moss has struck out more than any Giants hitters — but he's also hit 16 home runs, as has Josh Donaldson. Yoenis Cespedes, though he's not hitting for average, has 15. Hunter Pence with 14 and Buster Posey with 13 are the Giants' leaders.
The A's also work the pitch count, which is important in this era because managers don't usually let starters go much beyond 100 pitches.
The last game the A's played before the break, against the Boston Red Sox on Sunday at the Coliseum, was typical of their approach. For six innings, they didn't get a hit. In the seventh, Coco Crisp got an infield single and Donaldson absolutely crushed a fastball to tie the game, which they won on a Donaldson single in the 11th.
By contrast, the Giants just keep hacking away. Their only smart hitters are Marco Scutaro, who learned his style long before he came to the Giants, and Posey, who was a polished hitter when he was in college.
Overall, their plate discipline is terrible. For the season, they have almost 100 fewer walks than the A's. Some hitters are good bad-ball hitters, and Pablo Sandoval is a classic example. I certainly wouldn't change his style because it works for him, at least until he eats himself out of a career.
Other Giants need help, though, and I see no evidence that hitting coach Hensley Meulens is supplying it. There are two specific examples: Pence and Brandon Belt.
Pence is simply trying too hard to bring the Giants out of a season-long hitting slump by himself. He is overswinging constantly, without any plate discipline and just driving himself deeper into a slump. I admire his attitude but he needs advice from a coach to cool it.
Belt has struck out more than any other Giant because he has a specific problem. Up to the time he has two strikes, Belt has excellent plate discipline. But when he has two strikes, he will chase the high inside fastball. Knowing that, pitchers give him a steady diet of that pitch when he reaches two strikes, knowing he couldn't do anything with that pitch even if he hits it. With all the video available now, Meulens should be showing that to Belt repeatedly to get him to change his pattern.
Apparently, that's not happening, so Belt, Pence and most of their teammates will keep hacking away into oblivion.