WARNING: the following is a complete fabrication. It is the product of pure fantasy, assumption, and projection, and is not based in any way on any actual observations, conversations, or technical evaluations. Please do not call me a liar because this is clearly a work of fiction that is not meant to be taken literally.
Nevertheless, I believe this to be the absolute truth.
Rick Eckstein is a terrible hitting coach. He has no real ability to make poor hitters better, and, worse, his inability in helping good hitters navigate their way out of naturally-occurring slumps can actually extend those slumps and in the end he can actually make good hitters bad.
This is what I fear he has begun to do with Bryce Harper. His nonsense mantra of "swing at 80%" has sapped Harper of the strength in his swing and has slowed his bat. I'm pretty sure that no humans (and likely only very few cyborgs) have some sort of internal calibration mechanism that can allow them to reduce their natural swing by "just a little". The result of his teachings is to change Harper from a guy that NATURALLY swings from his shoes and NATURALLY hits the ball with authority to all fields into someone who does little other than hit weak fly balls and slow chopping grounders. Furthermore, Eck's teachings on identifying zones amounts to reducing player into "guess hitters". It is for this reason that 0-2 counts are the norm from the Nats' offense.
I can see how this happened. It's perfectly clear to me. After a rough weekend against the Yankees, Harper went to RicKKK for hitting advice, and he hasn't hit the ball hard since. His good AB rate had dropped alarmingly, and he's become unable to hit those line drives that he was smacking all around the park just a couple of weeks ago.
Of course, it's not just Harper. Ryan Zimmerman is in a horrible extended slump and Eckstein is not helping. At all. Adam LaRoche may go straight to Eck whenever he has a bad AB, but that's not helping him out of his funk either. And, of course, left-side-Danny-Espinosa's troubles are legendary and approaching historical levels of futility. What's Eckstein done to help? Nothing. The Nats thus have the main hitters in their order flailing around and thinking of trying to cut down their swing when that's precisely what's causing their problems.
Now, I can understand a decent hitting coach attempting to convince his players to not over-swing. Surely, over-swinging can cause exactly the opposite result from desired. But to tell them to slow down from what they attempt to do naturally just weakens them, it does NOT provide them a higher contact rate, and it does NOT give them the "gap-to-gap line drive" results he preaches. For example, Ian Desmond has demonstrated an occasional tendency to over-swing in the past, and it's possible that he had become convinced that this was his natural action, and in this case telling him to dial it down has helped him stay within himself and has produced those line drives. This rare sort of "success story" though is not enough to justify Eckstein's continued employment as a Major League hitting coach.
Here are the facts: The Nationals lead the league in percentage of pitches swung at. They also lead the league in swings which miss. This is purely a product of a team of players who regularly go to the plate devoid of a real coherent plan of attack. This puts them at the mercy of the opposing pitchers, which is pretty much exactly what a hitting coach should be working to prevent.
I don't care how popular he is with the players; he's not performing his job up to standard. He should be released as soon as possible.