Hitting coaches

Starting a new thread and commenting on the last one, which has drifted into a conversation on Terry Pendleton as hitting coach… Chipper, you all probably know, hasn’t paid much attention to hitting coaches over the years, and when he gets messed up he turns to his dad for help. I think most hitters would do better with personalized instruction, though there’s clearly a bias against this. Probably for perfectly good reasons of team unity.

But hitting a baseball resembles (closer than anything else) hitting a golf ball or a tennis ball. Elite golfers and tennis players have their own personal coaches. I don’t know about golf that much, but in tennis it’s not unusual for a coach to have only one client if that client’s a top player. Baseball players already will go outside the team for help if what they’re getting isn’t working, but few have it on any sort of professional level and most defer to the hitting coach whether it’s working or not. (Or at least pretend to; Andruw’s never listened to his hitting coaches very much, for example.)

What makes anyone think that four players as different as the Braves’ big four of Chipper, Andruw, Marcus, and Furcal would be best served by being coached the same way? Any of them could afford to pay a coach a six-figure salary, and if the coach was any good they’d probably make up for it in no time. I think inevitably players will start hiring personal hitting coaches, just as they’re starting to hire personal trainers. Furcal might hire, say, Rickey Henderson, should Rickey ever retire. Wouldn’t that be fun? Or someone like Willie McGee. It probably won’t be full-time at first, but you could have 50 or 60 “consultants” who a player or their agent will call in to fix things, while hitting coaches are resigned to working with fringe players.

I’m not necessarily advocating this. I think it could be hazardous to team unity and be yet another headache for managers who have enough of one with all these prima donnas. But baseball survived agents, it can survive this.

57 thoughts on “Hitting coaches”

  1. The most interesting and agreeable point you make Mac is that different types of hitters would respond better to different types of hitting coaches like Furcal with a Ricky Henderson.

    I made the comment earlier about potential Furcal trade destinations, one being the Chicago White Sox where I know that Ozzie Guillen had a personal stake during his time with the Braves in Furcal and took Rafy under his wing. I think Furcal would almost do better with a guy he can relate to (a little, fiery, speedy Latin SS) rather then a Terry Pendleton?

    Which is why if we could do a Furcal for Jermaine Dye trade, I would be a happy camper.

  2. This never ocurred to me, but it might catch on. As you point out with Chipper and his pops, it already happens.

  3. Dye sucks: .229/.278/.463. Mondesi wasn’t a whole lot worse than that, and he got fired. You want to bench Langerhans, and he’s hitting pretty much the same, .205/.264/.458. You want to pay Dye $5 million next year for that?

  4. (I posted this under last nights game, but I’ll put it here too)

    I say keep Furcal. He can help us win now better than WB. Furcal is going up there look at strikes and swinging at balls. I think a day or two off should help him some what.
    It is not Terry Pendleton’s fault we are not hitting. He can’t go out there and make Furcal swing at a pitch.

    If we are going to pin players results on him lets look at the last few season’s success: Nick Green, Charles Thomas, Estrada, Giles,…

    A hitting coach’s job is to help hitter find their holes and help them through. We just have to be patient. I am more worried about our bullpen than our hitters. Our pen has been slugish over the last few weeks, but we aren’t going to fire Leo.

    Furcal just isn’t seeing the ball well at this point. He needs to bunt more or something. Eventually he will figure out that his speed can get him on base and he will use that.

  5. Yeah, but he can’t bunt. I swear, he’s tried fifty times this year and succeeded about three. I made those numbers up, but that’s what it seems like.

    Hey, how about a word for Estrada, who’s up to .276/.322/.410 now. That’s not great, but it’s serviceable, especially for a catcher, and a lot better than he was a few weeks ago.

  6. I could definitely see teams hiring multiple coaches for different approaches. For instance, a “contact” coach and a “slugger” coach – those two types of hitters need very different types of advice. And like Mac said in the other thread, the current batting coach generally falls into two categories, one who does no harm and one who does harm. There are only a handful of hitting coaches that really help the hitters on their team to any noticeable degree.

  7. “What makes anyone think that four players as different as the Braves’ big four of Chipper, Andruw, Marcus, and Furcal would be best served by being coached the same way?”

    Mac, Nice post as usual and good insight, but I have to ask… what is to prevent a single coach from coaching players differently? I coach another sport and while I find it much easier to coach players who are similar to the way I played I still manage to coach players who have a vastly different approach to the game than me. I think any worthwhile hitting coach would be able to help a player maximize his performance using the style most comfortable to that player. I don’t think a hitting coach is necessarily going to coach all players the same.

  8. Specialization. No coach — no person — can keep the needs of a dozen or more players in mind full-time. Someone who has to coach Chipper, and has to coach Andruw, and has to coach LaRoche, etc., can’ be doing the best job on all three. The only way this would be true is if being a hitting coach were a rare gift. I don’t believe this is so. One who can concentrate on LaRoche — or on LaRoche-type players — will have a better chance than one who has to keep ten different styles in the air.

    Moreover, the members of a team don’t actually have a lot in common, usually. All they have in common is that they’re members of the same team. So why should one guy be the best for these people with disparate characteristics?

    Pendleton does, I think, a good-enough job on players basically similar to him. Actually, he did a good job on Furcal in the last couple of years. Estrada is a similar player to Pendleton, minus the speed of course. Charles Thomas and Pete Orr, though they’re lefties instead of switch hitters. Contact guys who don’t draw a lot of walks and have doubles power.

  9. Alex – I know you’re going to think I’m picking on you, but Ozzie Guillen helping Furcal? I don’t know if he could bunt or not (but I’ll trust Mac’s memory), but talk about a hacker. Although there was that year he managed a .325 OBP ;-)

  10. Oops.. misread your bunting reference, Mac. But still, Guillen was an absolutely miserable offensive player with no strikezone judgement at all.

  11. Didn’t Chipper give credit to Don Baylor when he won the MVP? I know he talks to his dad about his hitting, which is fine with me, but i thought Don Baylor really helped Chipper

  12. And I think that a lot of guys already do this sort of thing in the offseason. It’s probably a bit more informal, but it happens. Guys get together at batting cages (I remember stalking Dave Henderson’s place in Seattle once or twice when I lived there) and work with people they know. It’s not a big stretch to think that this sort of thing could become more formal and then maybe creep into Spring training. It’s a bigger stretch, I think, to see it happening during the regular season and being officially accepted by the teams, but time will tell. Somewhere along the way someone will want to do this, there will be a big cry about it, and then it will either go away or slowly be accepted.

  13. I do remember him giving Baylor credit for helping him get more power from the right side. But even by Baylor’s own admission, that was little more than convincing him to take the same mental approach as he did from the left side. I don’t think it was mechanical in any way. I’m reasonably certain he’s always sought out Larry Sr.’s help for that sort of thing. That’s not to take away from the importance of helping a guy make mental adjustments.

  14. I think this is a great idea for all sorts of skills, including pitching. There are very few Mazzones and he doesn’t fix everyone.

    I too remember Chipper giving credit to Baylor for his MVP year, though that might have been due to Skip & Don Sutton talking about Baylor all the time.

  15. I’ve had a gut feeling for quite a while that TP is being groomed to replace Cox when he either wins another World Series or retires (whichever comes first). I’m not crazy about TP as a hitting coach, but who knows, he may be a good manager.

    The one thing I’ll say about hitting coaches is that I believe the team unity thing is a little underappreciated. Look at the Red Sox and Yankees of the past few years – they have been successful when the batters have been able to work the pitchers. There seems to be an overriding team philosophy there that I haven’t seen with Pendleton. Obviously it helps that both teams have a basically unlimited payroll, but if they don’t follow a strategy that is developed by the hitting coach, I think they will have problems.

  16. Alex is mistaken, though I didn’t catch that at first. Guillen was only a teammate of Furcal’s in spring training of 2000. It was in fact Furcal’s emergence to make the team unexpectedly that year that led to Guillen getting cut, which ended his major league career. (He signed with the Devil Rays.) Alex may be thinking of Quilvio Veras.

  17. Players already have personal trainers (Barry Bonds, etc.). John Smoltz had a personal shrink who traveled with the team in 91-92. Why not have individualized instruction.

    And creynolds — most great coaches weren’t very good players. Look at Bobby Cox, a bad player, but a great manager. Leo Mazzone wasn’t exactly Warren Spahn. The most famous batting coaches of the last two or three decades are Walt Hriniak and Charlie Lau, neither of whom could clear the Mendoza line.

  18. Personalized pitching coaches might work, too. However, there’s a difference between pitching and hitting coaches, because the former are not simply involved in instruction. Hitting coaches don’t help make game decisions, and certainly don’t go out in the middle of an at-bat to tell a player what to do. Also, hitting coaches are far less likely to tell a player to do something that winds up causing an injury. A team might not like having a player go ask a third party for help with his swing, but they’d have a financial interest in not having a pitcher go to a guy who might get his rotator cuff frayed.

  19. You’re absolutely right about that. And good players generally make bad coaches. I guess the think about Guillen was that he apparently had a complete and utter disregard for the strike zone. Couple that with the fact that he apparently thinks that the way he played ball makes for a beneficial team philosphy, and I would say that he would be a poor person to instruct someone on the fundamentals of being a good offensive player. But you have to give him credit for having such a great season so far with the White Sox… although I think that’s largely attributable to their pitching success and the fact that they are still hitting a lot of home runs.

  20. Playing ability has nothing to do with someone’s potential to be a successful coach, but philosophy does.

    Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. My mom’s a teacher, so think it’s ok for me to say that. The more natural ability you have at something, the less aware you are of what it takes to learn it… because you had to actually learn less of it yourself. That’s both an oversimplification and a gross generalization, but there’s still a lot of truth to it.

  21. Why do you make the assumption that a single hitting coach cannot coach different styles and methods to different guys? I don’t see why you make this logical jump, because they can and often do. They may teach the same approach overall, but they don’t try and turn hitters in cookie cutters.

  22. I am almost 100% sure that Guillen and Furcal spent more then a spring training together.

    Beyond that, I think overall there is an agreement that certain types of hitting coaches can help hitters similar to them. I believe that.

    Big shocker…Andruw the GREAT had 2 runners on in the 4th and fouled out to the catcher..he’s just sooooooooooo clutch.

  23. 6th inning.

    2 runners on, 1 out, Braves down 3-2.

    Andruw struck out.

    c’mon, MAC, defend him. Please defend this a–hole.

  24. Great Batting Order, Bobby.

    Jordan followed Andruw’s strikeout, with his own.

    At least Mac won’t defend this schmuck.

  25. Braves up by three . . .

    Is there a more confidence-shattering sight than Dan Kolb warming up in the bullpen?

  26. I love how Wilkerson didn’t even bother swinging at any of Kolb’s pitches. It’s like it was inevitable that he, being the first hitter of the inning, would be walked.

    I can’t believe how bad he is.

  27. At least it’s Baerga and not Johnson here. Of course it’s Kolb, so that might make Baerga look like Bonds…

  28. Alex, it’s true. Look at the team rosters on Baseball-Reference. Guillen was cut to make room for Furcal. I remember writing about it.

  29. This is a nightmare. Was anybody not screaming at the TV when they showed Kolb warming up? I know Reitsma was used for two innings yesterday, and they’re skittish about wearing him out. What about Foster? Heck, even Bernero?

    How can Bobby be so wrong? How could he not see this coming? Why would he possibly make this call?

  30. If I had the chance, I’d punch Dan Kolb in the face. Does that make me a bad person?

  31. I apologize for making nice comments about Gryboski the other day.

    I still don’t believe he’s 100%.

  32. Do any of you guys from way back remember Danny Frisella? I remember as a kid in the 70’s when the Braves stunk it up and they kept on pitching him- it seems like he pitched about as many innings as Reitsma did last year with about 2 more points on his ERA. He blew just about every game he pitched in. Kolb is the closest thing to Danny Frisella I’ve seen in a long time.

  33. Nonsense, Kolb’s the gift that keeps on giving all year long.

    Gryboski’s inadequacy has been masked by Kolb’s penchant for free passes, among other things.

    The Braves should package the two up and send them to the Chisox for Takatsu.

  34. Oh and the Yankees are two outs away from getting swept by the Royals. Mahahahahahaha!!

  35. You know what? Although Gryboski did stink it up in his own right, Bobby should have let the Klobber do the intentional walk prior to taking him out. That way ALL of the runs belong to him since he caused the mess. Gryboski got a bum deal having to come in and try to clean up that fat bastard’s mess and ended up getting a run charged to him that way. Anyone can throw 4 balls. Why take out Klob for that? After all, throwing intentional balls like that gets a pitcher out of his rhythm to throw strikes. The announcers always harp on that and I believe it is correct. If they are trying to give Klob and his agent more and more reasons why they are about to can him, then they are doing a great job at that. But Bobby and John S. can’t afford to keep doing crap like this. Send Klob packing!

  36. The Braves should package the two up and send them to the Chisox for Takatsu.

    The way I feel right now, I don’t care if they package ’em up and send ’em to the Chisox for Chris Widger.

  37. I am proposing Furcal and Kolb for Juan Rincon and Law Ford, and we pay the difference in salaries.

  38. Someone should assassinate Damn kolb. I refuse to capitalize kolb now, he isn’t worth it.

    I will give the Braves an old bat, an old Braves cap, $6, and a Bad Finger CD in trade for kolb. kolb could walk my dog, pitch around some laundry, and pour gas on a fire in my back yard. This way the team could get something in return.

    I change my mind, kolb isn’t worth a Bad Finger CD.

  39. I am proposing Furcal and Kolb for Juan Rincon and Law Ford, and we pay the difference in salaries.

    While I like the sentiment, if the Twins take that deal, they’d be the suckers of the universe.

  40. I WILL CAPITALIZE MY FEELINGS.

    DAN KOLB IS ROTTEN, FAT PIECE OF SH*T WHO SHOULD BE TAKEN OUT AND SAVAGELY BEATEN UNTIL HIS HEAD EXPLODES.

    AND WILL SOMEONE FINALLY CRITICIZE BOBBY COX? WE SHOULD HAVE SWEPT THIS SERIES.

    IF HE DOESNT USE COLON IN GAMES 1 & 2, WE HEAD TO EXTRA INNINGS IN GAME 1 AND WIN GAME 2. IN GAME 4, HE BRINGS OUT THE FAT PIECE OF CRAP KOLB AND WE LOSE 3 OF 4.

    I HATE KOLB
    I HATE COLON
    I HATE COX
    I HATE BEING A BRAVES FAN RIGHT NOW.

    THANK GOD FOR MY SAN ANTONIO SPURS.

  41. Alex, I never thought Cox is a good manager until last year. Last year, Cox was the best. This year, Cox is finding his old “magic” again. He is great in handling rotation and trusting his players, and his blind trust in players often costs the Braves wins.

  42. I’ll make you a copy of my Badfinger Greatest Hits CD.

    I’ve got that. Four great songs. The rest, not so great. But four great songs. Even if you took out the great songs, it’d be better than Kolb, and fewer walks.

  43. Do you think Chipper and Johnny Estrada are beating the crap out of kolb right now?

  44. After the fact, after the balls have been stopped this was an enjoyable and fun read. I think it is too early to react to Kolb yet. after All Star Break is when I become serious about 4 or 5 blown saves. And rember folks, as long as the marlins keep losing…..

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