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11 May 2011

Let's Talk Nice About the Hitting Coach

There are many thankless jobs in professional baseball.  Every decision of a manager is easily scrutinized and criticized if things don't go as hoped.   A general manager who is praised when he signs a player the fan base is clamoring for can be lambasted by the same fan base when that player gets hurt or doesn't perform up to expectations.   But the singular most thankless job in baseball is that of hitting coach.

Often, the hitting coach is unknown by a majority of fans.  Most people outside of the clubhouse don't have any idea exactly what the hitting coach does, or has any idea of how much impact he has on the performance of the team.

Yes, being a hitting coach is truly a thankless job.  Normally, the hitting coach is invisible until a team-wide slump strikes his team.  Outsiders cannot judge him any other way.  And the truth is, is he really going to change the swing and approach of great hitters like Albert Pujols, Holliday, and Berkman?  No.

Mark McGwire
The St. Louis Cardinals have a high profile hitting coach in Mark McGwire.   And perhaps it is time to note that by all appearances, he is doing a fine job.

After a horrible first week of the season, the Cardinal batters have been the class of the NL Central division.  In fact, the Redbirds lead the Major Leagues with a 286 batting average - 15 points better than second place Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Their prowess with two outs and runners in scoring position has been exceptional so far. 

Matt Holliday has been training with McGwire for years, and is off to an unbelievably hot start to 2011. Holliday is still hitting nearly . 400 - his .393 average leads all MLB players.  Lance Berkman has been the steal of the off-season free agent pool with 10 HR's and leading MLB in RBI's after showing fading skills the last couple of seasons.  And of late, Daniel Descalso has proved to be clutch in late game high-leverage situations.

Hitting a baseball is a tricky thing.  If you've played any ball at any level, you know that thinking about what you're doing courts disaster.  If you're confident, you see-ball, hit-ball.  If you're not confident you miss the meat and swing at cheese.

From all I've read, McGwire's approach has been to look for a pitch the batter can handle, and put a good, solid swing on it.  Drive the ball.  In the long haul of the baseball season, that is the essence of the equation.  The recipe for success.

Another big mark in McGwire's favor is the lessening of reliance of video scouting of pitchers.  It may be the main culprit for the disturbing trend in recent years of the Cardinals turning rookie starters into Bob Gibson.  If you rely on video to prep for a pitcher, how do you prep for someone with no video?  You don't.  You need to go out and see-ball, hit-ball.

The sample size is small, and he can't swing the bat for his charges.  But what I've seen thus far, Mark McGwire is a success as hitting coach.


Anonymous said...


azraider37 said...

Wow! With a post like that Anonymous better STAY anonymous....Anyway, good blog sir. Can't argue with see ball, hit ball. Haa! Now if we could just see ball, catch ball.....

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