The San Diego Padres have a history of hiring and firing hitting coaches regularly.
Since Merv Rettenmund’s nine-year stint from 1991 to 1999, just two hitting coaches have lasted for even three seasons. From 2003 to 2005, Dave Magadan worked with manager Bruce Bochy, and from 2012-2014 Phil Plantier acted as Bud Black’s hitting coach. But under general manager and president of baseball operations, A.J. Preller, the changing of the guard has accelerated and become a fall ritual.
The Padres recently announced that Mike Brdar will take over as hitting coach, aka the latest sacrificial lamb.
Since Petco Park opened in 2004, the Padres have hired a whopping 12 hitting coaches. During Preller’s reign alone, the team has turned to seven different hitting coaches: Mark Kotsay, Alonzo Powell, Alan Zinter, Luis Ortiz, Matt Stairs, Johnny Washington, and Damion Easley (this season’s doomed hitting coach). The constant turnover has taken place as the team tanked, rebuilt, and finally became competitive.
At 27, Brdar will the youngest hitting coach in the team’s history, but he will serve under the most experienced manager in all of Major League Baseball, Bob Melvin. This will be Brdar’s first job in the major leagues. In fact, he has only two years of experience at the professional level. For the last two years, he’s worked as the short-season hitting coach and assistant minor league hitting coordinator for the San Francisco Giants.
Mike Brdar grew up in Pleasanton, California, and played baseball in high school and at the University of Michigan (Jake Cronenworth’s alma mater). The St. Louis Cardinals drafted him in the 36th round in 2017. As a minor league rookie in 2017, he batted .235/.330/.612. Obviously, his hitting didn’t impress, but his game awareness and clubhouse demeanor did catch the attention of the Giants’ front office.
Under Brdar’s tutelage, center fielder Steven Dugger 107 OPS+ and outfielder/first baseman LaMonte Wade Jr. 117 OPS+ improved dramatically. Both contributed to the Giants’ surprising playoff run.
In San Diego, many Padres’ hitters regressed last year, and the team as a whole struggled at the plate. The team ranked 14th in run differential (+21.0), far behind the top four (all playoff contenders):
Los Angeles Dodgers +278.0
Houston Astros +221.0
San Francisco Giants +202.0
Tampa Bay Rays +200.0
The Padres ranked 14th in batting average 0.243; 21st in slugging 9th. 0.401; 10th on-base percentage 0.321; 16th, in on-base plus slugging 0.723; and 20th in batting average on balls in play 0.287. The season which began with so much promise, ended with a 79-83 record. The slash line of .242/.321/.401/.722 highlights the obvious regression from 2020s 37-23 record and batting stats–.257/.333/466/.798.
Brdar’s first major league job comes with pressure, pressure, and more pressure. Thanks to this year’s swoon, the team hasn’t had a winning full season since 2010. That year the Giants’record of 92-70 won the National League West just ahead of the Padres at 90-72.
With a projected payroll of $180 to $190 million, the Padres have one of the priciest in the team’s history, which dates back to 1969. At 27, Brdar will be one of the youngest men in the dugout as most regular starters are his age or older, including Eric Hosmer and Austin Nola, 31, Wil Myers 30, Manny Machado 28, Jake Cronenworth, and Victor Caratini, both 27. The rookie hitting coach will also have to deal with some outsized egos, as well as the injury-prone superstar Fernando Tatis Jr.
Since being hired by the Padres in August 2014, A.J. Preller has had a bumpy ride. One of the most talented versions of San Diego’s baseball team fell flat on its face this year. However, Padres Chairman Peter Seidler obviously has faith in the 44-year-old Preller, as he extended his contract through the 2026 before the season began this year.
Despite his relative job security, Preller’s choice of hitting coach comes with huge risks, including a total lack of experience at the big-league level. Mike Brdar will have to gain the trust and respect of star players and improve a generally unimpressive team performance at the plate during a time when expectations and payroll for the Padres are sky-high. If Brdar lasts into 2023, he’ll be the first hitting coach to keep his job for more than one year with the San Diego Padres in Preller’s tenure.