Baylor named hitting coach

Dave · November 9, 2004 at 8:46 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

The Mariners have named Don Baylor hitting coach.

Analysis: It doesn’t matter. Hitting coaches are, for the most part, irrelevant.


50 Responses to “Baylor named hitting coach”

  1. Jim Thomsen on November 9th, 2004 8:51 pm

    Yes … notice how nobody even noticed that Paul Molitor was fired. Or that Baylor will be fired a year from now.

  2. Todd on November 9th, 2004 8:55 pm

    Since I am confident that Baylor will never be promoted from hitting coach to manager, this hire does not bother me in the least.

  3. M Kubecka on November 9th, 2004 9:19 pm

    Do hitting coaches even matter? They have been very ineffective for the Mariners the last few years.

  4. Jim Thomsen on November 9th, 2004 9:25 pm

    Recent M’s hitting coaches: Paul Molitor, Lamar Johnson, Gerald Perry, Jesse Barfield. Can anybody point to a single thing they’ve done for any player, or a team? Seems like in a not-so-distant era, there were hitting coaches like Charlie Lau and Walt Hriniak who espoused a discernible hitting philosophy and molded whole teams in their images. I don’t know of any hitting instructor who thinks that way anymore … or has the freedom to do it.

  5. John in NV on November 9th, 2004 9:44 pm

    What was Molitor’s fault this season? Nothing. They recruited him hard to take the job and were lucky to get him. Dumping him showed no class though he probably didn’t want to come back anyway. HE’S PAUL MOLITOR. They should have kept him around for PR and general mature presence; especially if hitting coaches are really not important.

  6. Alex on November 9th, 2004 10:20 pm

    Well, I think it’s just easier for the M’s to fire one guy (hitting instructor) than 13-15 guys (the hitters) personally. 🙂

  7. MER on November 9th, 2004 10:28 pm

    Funny thing about hitting coaches; when a player breaks out of a slump, they often give credit to the things they have been working with the hitting coach, but how come they never get blamed when a player goes into a hitting slump? Well maybe they lose their job at the end of the year….truth is that if a guy can hit, it doesn’t matter which uniform or coach he is playing for.

  8. NBarnes on November 9th, 2004 10:43 pm

    What’s the book on Charlie Lau and Walt Hriniak these days, anyway?

  9. Matt Williams on November 9th, 2004 11:09 pm

    MER I think part of that is that there are going to be anomolous regions in something like batting. Slumps and tears that really have no cause. Unless a hitting coach tells a player to do something bad (which I think is fairly unlikely…unless you’re a very strange hitter like Ichiro or Soriano) slumps are just going to happen.

    I think batting coaches are more likely to actually break a player out of a funk. Some percentage of the time, probably fairly small, the coach notices something he’s doing different or wrong and can correct it. Most of the time I think the batting coach just inspires confidence which helps break the player out.

    I certainly notice in my pool playing that if I have more than a few off days in a row I’ll start looking for anything that’s changed in my stance and stroke and try to correct it. Often I’ll find something minor, such as knee placement, and get spectacular results…much more than the mechanical problem could ever cause. Once you feel like you’re back in the groove you will be.

  10. KC on November 9th, 2004 11:57 pm

    The best “hitting coach” the Mariners have ever had?… Sweet Lou. No question about it.

  11. Scott on November 10th, 2004 12:00 am

    The Red Sox hitting coach has been praised for his work with the team…perhaps there is still some hope left. Let’s wait for the day Edgar gets the nod, and re-evaluate.

  12. Jim Thomsen on November 10th, 2004 12:16 am

    #8 — Charley Lau died about 20 years ago. I don’t think Walt Hriniak held a major-league batting coach job since he was with the White Sox in the late 80s. He seems content to tour the country plugging his books and giving hitting clinics … doubtlessly screwing up the swings of generations of impressionable kids.

  13. Sweettoothbear on November 10th, 2004 6:28 am

    It’s a… Give an old friend a job… type of position. Hitting coaches have nothing to do with how a player is hitting.

    With all of the video they watch… the player knows what he is doing wrong. Did Baylor know how to bunt?

    Hitting coach = Charity

  14. mishdanicko on November 10th, 2004 7:39 am

    Wasn’t Lee Elia credited with some of Dan Wilson’s success earlier in his career? A friend of mine (who’s one of the first to run out and buy the new BP every year) once told me that.

  15. Mark on November 10th, 2004 8:01 am

    And we know hitting coaches have absolutely no impact on the team they work for … how exactly? Can someone quantify that proposition? Otherwise it strikes me as an arrogantly dismissive position. The guy’s out there working every day. How could he not have an impact on the team’s performance, positive or negative?

    Anyone who’s seen a Walt Hriniak team play knows that he had a huge impact on the way his players approached the task of hitting. And it could be that the modern hitting coach lacks the power to have that sort of influence, but if Hriniak did it, it can still be done.

  16. paul mocker on November 10th, 2004 9:05 am

    Are there any studies to show that hitting coaches don’t matter?

  17. Scraps on November 10th, 2004 9:16 am

    What was Molitor’s fault this season? Nothing.

    Except the widely reported tampering with Ichiro’s hitting approach, screwing up the early part of his season, which Molitor publicly acknowledged after Ichiro put his season back together.

    And we know hitting coaches have absolutely no impact on the team they work for … how exactly? Can someone quantify that proposition?

    If they have an effect, it ought to be possible to demonstrate it with analysis. It’s much harder to conclusively prove a negative. Inasmuch as none of us seem to be aware of any evidence that hitting coaches have much effect on a team, I think the burden of proof is on showing that there is some effect.

  18. msb on November 10th, 2004 9:18 am

    #5. The M’s didn’t just ‘dump’ him; he & the pther coaches were “told they are free to pursue other jobs, but the Mariners also told them they’d be welcomed back if Hargrove wanted them.” As you mentioned, Molitor may well not be back because he isn’t interested. In Minnesota it is being reported that Ryan is talking about him rejoining the Twins in some capacity as “Molitor doesn’t want to manage, and he wants to live here year-round.”

    Rudy Jaramillo is one of the few recent hitting coaches to be credited with team-wide success (as opposed to say Elia & his work with Wilson), but how much of that is that he has worked with the same core of players from their minor league days?

  19. Dr. Jeff on November 10th, 2004 9:59 am

    If hitting coaches don’t matter, I’m surprised that it’s not used more as a “keep that fan-favorite veteran that we promised an organizational spot to” kinda thing. I can envision the line, waiting to taxi into hitting-coach position – Buhner, Edgar, Alvin Davis, Joey Cora… maybe they could just name a “hitting committee” and take care of everyone all at once.

  20. msb on November 10th, 2004 10:03 am

    “If hitting coaches don’t matter, I’m surprised that it’s not used more as a “keep that fan-favorite veteran that we promised an organizational spot to” kinda thing. I can envision the line, waiting to taxi into hitting-coach position – Buhner, Edgar, Alvin Davis, Joey Cora… maybe they could just name a “hitting committee” and take care of everyone all at once.”–Comment by Dr. Jeff — 11/10/2004 @ 9:59 am

    of course, you’d have to find that fan-favorite who wants to go back to a 162-game season again…. that wipes out Buhner, Edgar & Alvin right there 🙂

  21. Evan on November 10th, 2004 10:12 am

    The best “hitting coach” the M’s have ever had was the combination of Lou and Edgar just being on the team at the same time.

    To quote Rick Rizzs, “Lou just LOVES to talk about HITTING!”

  22. Jon Wells on November 10th, 2004 10:19 am

    Make no mistake about it — Paul Molitor was FIRED, along with all the other coaches, except for Bryan Price. Just because he’s Hall of Famer Paul Molitor doesn’t mean he gets a free ride – he was a terrible hitting coach.

    He presided over the worst hitting M’s team in over a decade. He was unable to help veterans get their swing back. One of the things he was supposed to be able to do was to help Olerud, who’d been a teammate of his in Toronto, rebound from a bad ’03 campaign. Olerud showed no improvement and was actually worse in ’04 and finally got released.

  23. Scott G. on November 10th, 2004 10:52 am

    As Mark said, the Hitting Coach has to have at least SOME affect on a team. The guy is out there every day watching swings and giving advice. I imagine some veteran players will ignore it but the M’s will have a good deal of young guys out there next year. Baylor could have a significant impact on those youngsters.

    The problem seems to be that there is very little evidence to support whether Baylor is a good hitting coach or not. He’s supposed to be a good communicator but can he analyze a swing and pick out the differences? Or is the trial-and-error type of guy that will suggest “Open your stance”, “Choke up on the bat”, or “Concentrate on going the other way” just to see if it works.

    As for Molitor, even if he was not to blame for the collective M’s hitting slump last year, he certainly didn’t help any. Maybe his inexperience at the position did him in.

  24. PositivePaul on November 10th, 2004 11:00 am

    In the most recent case, I agree that Molitor showed his form by

    A) either directly or indirectly failing to get Olerud turned back around. If there is anyone in baseball who should’ve been able to help him get back on track, it would’ve been Molli.

    B) admittedly tinkering too much with Ichiro. You can’t fault him, though, because there were a lot of voices in the peanut gallery who thought that Ichiro would be an ideal #3 hitter, and thought that Ichiro should change his approach. However, he did admit to working too much to change Ichiro, and that likely contributed to his poor start. Imagine had Ichiro not been toyed with too much, he could’ve hit closer to .400 and had at least 275 hits.

    Molitor is a great guy, but wrong fit for this team. I’m sure he’d make a good hitting coach on a different style of team. In Hargrove and Baylor, we’ve got some more active leadership. If nothing else, it will revive the Lou Piniella days a little more.

  25. paul mocker on November 10th, 2004 11:12 am

    The evaluation of a hitting coach should be similar to evaluating a teacher. Does he communicate? Does he know how to learn and each learning style? Does he know when a batter has learned? Can he make pratice fun? Can he change motivation methods to suit each person? Issues such as these are the proper ones to analyze.

    And the problem with evaluating a hitting coach is that we don’t know the potential for each batter. Therefore, we can’t quantify whether the coach helps the batter to reach that potential.

  26. Lefebvre Believer on November 10th, 2004 11:14 am

    This is just speculative but it would seem like a hitting coach would have impact on the strategy and approach to that days pitcher.

  27. Paul Covert on November 10th, 2004 12:15 pm

    L.B. (#26): It seems to me, though, that pitching is a much more strategic art than hitting. The pitcher acts (and has time to consider what he’s doing); the hitter reacts (in a very small fraction of a second). A pitcher (especially a starter, who faces the same lineup three or four times in a row) needs to have a plan; a hitter needs to be ready for anything. It’s more common for pitchers to be known as great thinkers than for hitters. We often hear about young throwers with great arms finally “learning how to pitch” in mid-career, having been until then “a thrower, not a pitcher”; I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone described as being “a swinger, not a hitter.”

    So it makes sense to me that pitching coaches would be more influential than hitting coaches. Beyond suggesting a general approach– how to set up in the box, what kind of swing to use– I’d tend to expect that anything a hitting coach does would risk doing more harm than good (e.g. Molitor with Ichiro in early 2004; one wonders if we could otherwise have seen a serious run at .400). So I see the hitting coach as more of a psychological job, not trying to teach guys but more trying to keep them from messing themselves up.

    (That said, however: What about Lee Elia? It seems that the best years with the offense under Lou were when we was working with Elia, and that the later hitting coaches Lou had didn’t always work out so well. But I can’t prove any significance to that.)

  28. Evan on November 10th, 2004 12:27 pm

    I’ve often argued that even without tinkering, Ichiro would make a fine #3 hitter.

    I was wrong. If 2004 showed us anything, it’s that Ichiro’s value is heavily tied to his leading off the inning (which he does about twice as often as anyone else on the team), or at least having no one on base.

  29. Troy on November 10th, 2004 12:40 pm

    I don’t understand this premise that “since we can’t measure the effect of hitting coaches (or managers, or whatever else), that must mean the effect is minimal.” The denial that anything can be intangible doesn’t make sense to me. A hitting coach’s value will always be tied to the players he coaches – how much experience do they have, how coachable are they, how hard are they willing to work with the hitting coach, etc. As such, I’d say the value of a hitting coach will fluctuate greatly from team to team, year to year, and will never be able to be objectively measured. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

  30. big chef terry on November 10th, 2004 12:41 pm

    Hitting coaches predominately work with younger players…players that are established either do not want to work with the team’s new coach of the year, because the player has established their own work habits and daily approaches to getting out of slumps…Boone, Edgar, Olerud all work(ed) daily, pretty much year around. Given their contract status they are both afraid they’ll be screwed up or in fact they don’t trust the coaches. Many guys young and old hire guys to work with them on their own during the offseason. Earlier this week there was a piece on Michael Morse in Baseball America where he talks about working out with a group of major league players every day, Dmitri Young and some other guys. The mindset is that they can’t rely on a coach to fix them or make them better, they have to do it themselves.

  31. Dave on November 10th, 2004 12:55 pm

    As it was in my comments about a managers impact being overstated by the general consensus, the point here is getting misconstrued as well. Perhaps I need to find a better word than “irrelevant”, or explain my position better.

    My stance is that the ability to know ahead of time the impact one hitting coach will have over another is basically nonexistant. I’m certain that hitting coaches perform tasks that, if they were removed and not replaced, would cause an adverse effect on their team. I’m also certain that the baseball community as a whole has no idea how to separate coaching influence from hitting performance, and we’re stuck essentially correlating good hitting teams with good hitting coaches and vice versa. However, as I’m sure everyone here knows, correlation is not causation, and we really have no idea how to evaluate the performance of coaches in general.

    Don Baylor might be a great hitting coach for this team, making a connection with Olivo, Reed, and Jacobsen, leading to rapid development and an improved offense. However, even if that occurs, we’ll have no idea to what degree Baylor’s influence brought about those performances, and we’ll have to settle for speculative guessing.

    The M’s didn’t hire Don Baylor as hitting coach with the expectation of his presence having a great influence on the hitters. They hired him because he’s a “good baseball man”, he’ll get along with Mike Hargrove, and he’ll command respect. The fact that he’s African American didn’t hurt either, I’m sure.

    Essentially, my point is that all decisions where the result is going to be decided by circumstances that cannot be anticipated in advance are basically irrelevant. Hiring a hitting coach is like throwing a dart blindfolded after spinning in a circle for an hour. Even if everything works together and you hit a bullseye, it wasn’t due to your tremendous aim. And, in the grand scheme of life, all you did was win a game of darts.

    The effects of coaches in general are fairly minimal when compared to what can be expected by hiring any randomly qualified individual. A hitting coach as even less responsibility than a manager or a pitching coach, making the position even less impactful.

  32. Brent Overman on November 10th, 2004 1:29 pm

    I recall some time ago reading that often, the best hitters often make the worst hitting coaches, using Molitor as an example. He was a good hitter with few holes in his swing, which can be traced back to his stance. Edgar may fall into that same category, just as Rod Carew did with the Angels and other teams that he served as hitting coach for.

    A batter’s stance is like throwing mechanics. They stand up there in a comfortable position, making it hard for a coach to overhaul one’s approach without hindering them significantly. Once it’s bound by muscle memory, especially at the major league level, you just can’t make any major changes without detrimental effects. In essence, the hitting coach can’t do a whole lot, other than look for minor changes in stance, bad habits developed, etc, everything video can pick up as well.

  33. random guy on November 10th, 2004 1:39 pm

    I honestly don’t know how much the hitting coach does. Anyone remember how bucky would go check out video of his at bat like EVERY time? Its cool to see hitters keeping track of that themselves too.

  34. Jim Thomsen on November 10th, 2004 1:44 pm

    Off-topic: A.J. Zapp, a man who desperately needs some help becoming a major league hitter, was just signed to a minor-league contract with the Cincinnati Reds and extended a NRI to spring training. He’ll be a literal Louisville slugger in 2005.

  35. PositivePaul on November 10th, 2004 2:13 pm

    And, to show the significance of a hitting coach — how much do you think Mattingly’s influence had on Yankee hitters? Man could Matty hit, but do you think he’s really teaching A-Rod anything???

  36. Jerry on November 10th, 2004 2:25 pm

    I know that hitting coaches do not make that big of a difference. But this is a good signing. Baylor is known as a very good hitting coach. Most other hitting coaches are just known for being good hitters. At least Baylor has experience and a good rep in that role. As long as he doesn´t end up being promoted to manager, this is a good move.

    Maybe he can just teach Spiezio to lean over the plate to help his OBP.

  37. PositivePaul on November 10th, 2004 2:32 pm

    Off topic, but Jim Street is at it again:

    Or, I should be more fair — the front office is spewing more sewage. Yet another article explaining “what the M’s will do”. I guess this is sort of on-topic since the subject of this thread is relevancy. I’d say the relevancy of this article is pretty low, and the redundancy of the info is very high.

    Here’s an interesting quote, though, from the article:

    [snip whole article]

    I agree, though, that the Baylor hiring, however significant his role will be as hitting coach, is a nice hiring. It’s always good to have lots of good baseball guys in the clubhouse — and especially good if they’re respectable butt-kickers.

  38. PositivePaul on November 10th, 2004 2:34 pm

    Uh, why did it paste that much. Here’s what I REALLY meant to quote:

    The Mariners’ second-year GM isn’t specific about exactly how much money he has to spend on free agents, but published reports have indicated there could be as much as $30 million, or as little as $13 million, available.

    “I would say it’s higher than the low figure, and lower than the high figure,” he said.

    Why isn’t there a preview button on this blog 😉

  39. Evan on November 10th, 2004 2:46 pm

    I think Edgar would have more value as a hitting coach if only because he would preach patience. Molitor was never a big walker (he drew his share, but never more than that).

  40. Evan on November 10th, 2004 2:47 pm

    Speaking of walk rates, who wants to convince Rickey Henderson to sign up as a hitting coach somewhere?

  41. Swing & A Miss on November 10th, 2004 2:55 pm

    Actually, some of you are wrong concerning Lau or Hriniak’s contributions to hitting. In fact, the Kansas City Royals of the late 70’s and early 80’s were heavily influenced by Lau. George Brett won batting titles, as did Willie Wilson for the Royals utilizing Lau’s style of hitting. Hal McRay also was on those teams and hit over .300 several seasons. Wade Boggs won many batting titles utilizing the same approach to hitting as Wilson and Brett. I believe Hriniak was in the Boston organization for a few years during those periods.

  42. DMZ on November 10th, 2004 3:11 pm

    Why isn’t there a preview button on this blog

    Find me a way to do this in WordPress and I’ll build it in.

  43. Lefebvre Believer on November 10th, 2004 3:18 pm

    #40 – Rickey Henderson as hitting coach. That would be a great situation comedy, part of Fox’s new fall lineup.

    Re: Jim Street article. I could see that coming a mile away. After Bostons lineup of self proclaimed “Idiots” Gritty tough hairy guys are going to be en vogue again. Paging Matt Stairs. Joe Rudi?

  44. stan on November 10th, 2004 3:31 pm

    Last year I thought to myself that the the Mariners should have deployed their coaches differently. My idea would have been to have Molitor take over Myers’ duties as infield coach and have him work with the right handed hitters, let Aldrete work with the outfielders and left handed hitters, and reassign Myers to other duties in the minor leagues. Given the number of times I saw Melvin talk to his right hand man/bench coach Rene Latchman (which I do believe was never), Latch could have coached third base. The Mariners would still have probably lost 99 games, though with Myers out of action as a third base coach a few more wins may have been possible. By following my idea they could have added to their Sasaki savings account by not paying Myers a major league salary.

    One other thought about hitting coaches: Lee Elia and Rudy Jarmillo have been mentioned as fine hitting coaches. Maybe they are, but I for one would want to be a hitting coach with my home field being the Kingdome or the ballpark in Arlington.

  45. PositivePaul on November 10th, 2004 3:41 pm

    Sheesh. You’d think someone in the WordPress community would’ve already written a plugin. That’s a pretty common blog element, really.

  46. DMZ on November 10th, 2004 4:46 pm

    Yes, yes, I’m aware that it’s a pretty common blog element. What I need, though, is not analysis of the feature’s prevalence in the at-large world of blogs but a specific means by which I can build it into USSM 2.2.1.

    Of course, I could force registration for comments (which, side note, the ongoing comment spam attacks have me seriously considering anyway) and then you’d be able to edit your own comments.

  47. DMZ on November 10th, 2004 4:47 pm

    w/r/t Baylor: expect much lip service to be paid to a new emphasis on the importance and focus on situational hitting/moving runners along/et cetera. If this kind of talk makes you (rightfully) nauseous, you might want to prepare the sickness bags now.

  48. Bela Txadux on November 10th, 2004 10:29 pm

    Yo Dave,

    On ‘hitting coaches are irrelevant,’ I’m glad you at least put in a clarification to make that ‘no one can tell how relevant a hitting coach can be before he comes, and usually not when he’s there either.’ —But I still disagree. I think hitting coaches in principal are very relevant, which clearly you accept as a possibility, but that the way MLB approaches at present what it is that ‘hitting’ is makes it very hard both to teach players to hit, and so hard to evaluate when a hitting coach does this well. But in principal I think that this is changeable, and it will be very interesting to see how this develops over the next dozen years. Basically, the evaluation of hitting coaches now is where the evaluation of managers was, say, fifteen years ago, and the evaluation of pitching coaches was close to thirty years ago: “Nobody knows what works, so everybody is just guessing.” As information has built up, I believe that the one can and should now be able to identify if a pitching coach is superior, and basically why. Pitching coaches are very important, and can have a major impac upon players. I believe that, now, one can and should be able to identify whether a manager is superior, and why. Managers are moderately important, or at least I’ve argued this on this blog over the past two months, so in principal it is worth knowing who can help you and who can’t. MLB will still tell you that nobody knows who’s superior as a hitting coach, but I think that this ‘common wisdom’ will be equally invalid.

    The problem with coaching hitting (and so with evaluating who does it well) is that the range of stances, mechanics and styles which individual players can use AND STILL BE SUCCESSFUL is enormous, and so there is no one ‘stance-and-swing’ that everyone should be oriented to in the way that there is a fundamentally basic golf swing, for example. Two guys, one in a Pete Rose crouch and the other in Edgar hold-’em-high-and-straight stance can both be spray hitters, or power hitters depending upon how they shift their weight and bring the head of the bat through the ball, for example. Then, so much of hitting is about vision and above all pitch recognition. A coach can tell a hitter exactly what a particular pitcher is going to throw, and have the player’s swing in a perfect groove, and the hitter still may not be able to pick up the ball in time to do anything useful when he takes a hack: the coach can’t _see_ for the hitter. Again, it’s not like a golf ball, just lying there where you can get set and swing. Then there’s the issue of personalities. A hitting coach may be a genius with perfect eidetic memory for the grooved swing of every player he’s ever seen, but if his personality doesn’t mesh with a specific player their coaching interaction is almost certainly going to be ineffective. Baseball players make a living by hitting the ball, and a player must either trust his hitting coach profoundly to let the coach tinker with his means of making a living or be going so bad and desperate that he’ll do anything. Then there is the further point, made above in this thread, that veteran hitters are not only set in their ways by and large, but also are used to ‘coaching their own preparation and mechanics’ including hiring their _preferred hitting coach_ to work with in the offseason. This would obviously be the case, as any baseball player worth his contract is and should be obsessed with hitting to the point that he works on his swing all the time: it’s how he makes a living after all. All this suggests, and often proves out, that a given hitting coach can help this player or that player with a useful observation or even a career changing mechanical refinement, but that for the bulk of the players he coaches he’s no more than a cheerleader. MLB certainly approaches the funciton of hitting coach from this general perspective so that the position is most often filled by a crony of the manager, or to bring a specific _type_ of cheerleader onto the coaching staff.

    —Which in my view is the wrong way to go. Think about it. The fundamentals of good mechanics at the plate ARE known: swing length as a function of how and where to drive the ball; weight shift; other way-up the middle-pull; stay back/choke up on pitch A, get the bat head out in front on pitch B, make contact howsoever on pitch C, drive pitch D in the air, etc. Players are variable, sure, but sound mechanics are always sound. Much more than this, the issue of pitch recognition and basically ‘how to hit,’ that is what to do with a pitch, are very well known, and in recent decades very well publicized by statistically motivated types. The value of strike zone judgment and fundamentally the kind of behaviors meant by that phrase are far better understood now than they have ever been to the point where the degree to which a player possess such a capacity is closely monitored and widely discussed. We don’t spend nearly as much time talking about ‘how far Edgar hit that one’ as opposed to ‘how well he worked the pitcher to get his pitch,’ and this represents an absolute advance in evaluating hitters CONSISTENTLY AS A GROUP in what they do. I think, personally, that one could ‘write the book on how to hit’ as far as outlining the optimal fundamentals of mechanics and approach at the plate, and that this is, in fact, what superior hitting coaches do: they have a consistent, informed, accurate approach to the optimal way to hit, then they try to influence whatever group of players they are working with to shift as much in that direction as they are physically able and willing to do. This is what Hriniak and Jamarillo did, and similar guys do as well. Average or inferior hitting coaches simply don’t have a comprehensive grasp of the science of hitting in the same way, and so can only offer fragmentary hints and observations in the traditional way, some useful some not.

    So why don’t ML organizations cultivate, hire, and promote hitting coaches who have comprehensive approaches since in principal this is doable? First, most organizations do not have a ‘team hitting philosophy.’ Or don’t yet. Teams are simply trying to get ‘good players’ given how hard that is to do to begin with, and then to do what they can to help _those_ guys execute their individual approaches to hitting. Think back to the Ms their second year in Safeco, though, when the entire team bought into the principal of getting on base. I think McLemore and Gerald Perry had a great deal to do with this; Pinella probably had a great deal to do with it; having Edgar and Ole Olerud on the team, two of the great walk machines of their time, had a tremendous amount to do with it; but Pat Gillick, who many on this blog love to diss (often for perfectly valid reasons, it’s true) had the most to do with it because he signed Olerud and McLemore, and hire Perry, and has always had a ‘team hitting philosopy’ where ever he has been GM: GET ON BASE. Which is a big part of why his teams have always won.

    The second reason why most organizations don’t have a ‘team hitting philosophy’ is that most players learn ‘how to hit’ when they are in T-ball, certainly by the time they are in high school. That doesn’t mean that they know how to hit at all at that age, actually, especially with regard to strike zone judgment and pitch recognition. What it means is they know how to consitently generate a comfortable swing where they get the fat part of the bat on the ball: they know how to make contact. And once a player has spend a dozen years with a neuromuscular set on how to SWING it is much, much harder for them to change all that while they actually learn _how to HIT_. Accordingly, most organizations concentrate on refining how a player works at the plate rather than teaching a single consistent approach, figuring that it’s already too late to attempt the latter by the time that they get a player, forget about a veteran major leaguer.

    In principal, though, a team could have a ‘team hitting philosophy,’ could hire coaches who could consistently communicate that philosophy, and could recruit players at all levels who fit and bought into that philsophy as much as possible. I think that shrewd organizations will begin to do this in the next few years, and that their hitting coaches.

    Myself, I have absolutely no doubt that the best hitting coaches have a major impact, even under present circumstances. I play squash, and study that game too, and it is manifestly obvious that some coaches radically improve players’ games. There are a handful of truly world class coaches; we’re talking literally a half-dozen. There are perhaps four of five dozen coaches who can take a clumsy junior and turn out a disciplined hitting maching who can execute at a professional level to the the level of their personal talent, whatever that might be. Then there are the rest, who can give a few good tips if they are coaching the players for whom those tips are releveant, and are otherwise cheerleaders for anyone else with whom they work. I could go on, but I think my point is clear.

    Regarding recent Ms hitting coaches, I definitely think that the best one never held the position: Lous _is_ a good hitting coach. I’ve never cared beans for Pinella as a manager, but it’s clear he has a very sound understanding of hitting, and was able to communicate that to most players with whom he came in contact. Perry and he had a somewhat tense relationship, but as I recall it being described they managed to find a way not to get the players caught in a crossfire of advice, and as I said above the team under them had a hitting philosophy and executed it superbly. Lamar Johnson was an out and out bad hire; many players complained that they couldn’t communicate with him, and clearly none of the Ms veterans trusted him for advice. Molitor . . . the man _doesn’t want to be a hitting coach_, and I always found it strange that he was hired for the position. What he has said in the past that he wants to do is to get into a front office and work up to being a GM, which is exactly right, that’s where the power is in baseball today. That said, I have a supicion that Molitor would be an outstanding _manager_, but I don’t think that’s what he wants to do. Blaming Molitor for ‘screwing up Ichiro’ is laughable. A) It was the front office which decided to tinker with Ichi’s swing, this was said at the time, and Molitor simply tried to execute the plan, and B) everything that they wanted Ichiro to do was EXACTLY RIGHT and would have made him a better and more valuable hitter if he had been able and willing to do it—but he wasn’t. Ichiro is perhaps the most disciplined player in baseball, and he has spent nearly twenty years perfecting exactly what he does. He can’t/won’t change that, and when this was evident to Molitor and the FO they dropped the idea. Besides which, Ichiro coasts in April so he has something left in his legs in September, he has said as much in the past. His ‘slump’ in April has everything to do with that, and almost nothing to do with Molitor. And the idea that Molitor ‘failed’ with Olerud seems to me bizarre. Johnny O just stood there at the plate for four months without taking the bat off his shoulder but once a game, that’s why he was slumping, he wasn’t reading and reacting to the ball at all. How responsible is Molitor for THAT? This speaks to the folly of bringing in a hitting coach to work with an individual player, however; Lamar Johnson was brought in to ‘fix’ Cirillo, and Molitor was hire, at least in some part, to get Johhny’s groove back. Both players were, essentially through (I believe Olerud is done, yes), and there is nothing either coach, good or bad however they might be, could do to salvage either player.

    That said (at estimable length : ) ), I think Dave has Baylor’s hire dead on: he’s begin brought in to ‘add some grit’ to the coaching staff and supposedly the team, and the fact that he’s a prominent African-American in baseball is a decided asset, too. I haven’t liked Baylor as a _manager_ at all, but I don’t have much of an opinion on him as a hitting coach. —But I still don’t like his hire much. He wants to be a manager, obviously, so how much of his attention is really going to be focused on his present position? Baylor has a strong personality; how smoothly is he going to work with Hargrove? Hargrove surely thinks this will work out, since it’s basically his hire, but let’s hope he’s right. Personally, I’d rather have a relative unknown who’s a real hitting guru than a ‘big personality,’ and I suspect that the Ms may get little out of Baylor as a hitting instructor. But I’d like for this to work out, sure.

  49. Bob on November 11th, 2004 3:40 am

    I read plenty of things why Baylor would have been a horrible hire as a manager. Knowing all the negatives, I don’t know if I would want a guy like that to be on my team, even as a hitting coach. Is my thinking flawed?

  50. big chef terry on November 11th, 2004 11:45 am

    Irrlelavance aside, Baylor’s first words on the subject were about hitting behind the runner and having professional at bats…the earlier point that I was pushing is that the only players that are directly impacted NOW, are very young players. Established players, nod their heads and ignore them because they can’t afford to trust them.

    For the individual player who survives and makes more and more money he is presented from year to year an enormous variation in batting coaches. Despite the apologia in #48 the emphasis presented from one coach to another ranges from mechanical to mental approach such as which part of the plate to protect, how to adjust through a game etc. To say that they all present the same thing is to ignore the very public debate over weight shift and rotation in the last ten years, not to mention the idiocy conveyed by Tom Imanski…