Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Let's Do Away With Hitting Coaches

Wally Joyner is resigning as the Padres' hitting coach.

Query: why do we have hitting coaches in the first place, and wouldn't we be better off if we didn't?

I tackle that question in my latest FanHouse post.


Daniel said...

I am experiencing limited sadness. Sadness because Wally Joyner was my favorite player growing up (I still remember the Wally World poster I had in my bedroom and chanting "Wally! Wally!" at Angels games). Limited because I honestly had no idea he was the Padres' hitting coach. I hope he finds a good gig somewhere else.

Alex said...

I think you can separate the job of modern MLB hitting coaches into two roles: teaching a global approach and monitoring the day-to-day approach. By global approach I mean the organizational philosophy of hitting -- like good patience for the Yankees or high contact for the Angels. This should be taught early on at low and mid minor league levels, and it seems like this is where a team can employ a big-name coach. Like, "We want hitters like Frank Thomas, so let's hire Frank Thomas as our AA hitting coach." Once those players reach the majors they're already polished Big Hurt clones and don't really need any more hitting instruction. So that's where a team can employ a "hitting technician", like you say, just to work out any kinks and make sure hitters are still hitting like Frank Thomas. Makes sense, right? Is this how teams already do it?

tHeMARksMiTh said...

So, my question becomes: is a pitching coach important?

Craig Calcaterra said...

I figured someone would ask that. And I'm not really sure, to be honest. My sense is that a pitching coach is more necessary than a hitting coach simply because (1) pitching mechanics seem to be more variable and sensitive than hitting mechanics are; and (2) pitchers just seem to be more sensitive and in need of an armchair psychiatrist than do hitters.

Obviously those are both wildly subjective statements for which I have absolutely zero evidence, but it's what my gut tells me at the moment. I'm certainly open for argument on the subject.

mooseinohio said...

While the hitting coach may be the first sacrificial lamb - getting rid of them only moves someone else to that position - it doesn't eliminate the position. Players cannot be fired, managers and coaches have to fall/be tossed on that sword to send a message (e.g. Ned Yost) or change the culture (e.g. Willie Randolph) and when a manager is viewed as an asset the coaches get canned (i.e. Mike Easler or Leo Mazzone). So while I like the idea of saving the reputation of guys like Wally Joyner the need for sacrificial lambs would only displace the pain to someone else (e.g., Yankee trainer last year).

Secondly, the hitting coach may also serve purposes beyond just giving hitting instruction - services that cannot be found in a video. For example, Dave Madagan of the Red Sox is fluent in spanish and can provide a level of communication with players that Francona may not be able to offer. Along those lines, an African American or Latino hitting coach may connect with players in ways that a White manager or coach cannot. Mentoring is a field of study of mine (yes I'm an academic) and cross-race mentoring relationships do not offer the same amount of support as same-race mentoring so again the function/influence of the batting or pitching coach may go well beyond their craft.

Lastly, I know you have a bent toward Sabermetrics and while I highly value quantitative research there are some things that a qualitative approach is more appropriate and offer better insight. So while a video may provide one level if great analysis - their is something to be said for the psychological approach to hitting and getting out of slumps (e.g., Mark Grace's slump busters, Giambi's mustache) and sometime the advice/thoughts/insight of a former player may be invaluable and offer an insight that a video cannot offer.

tHeMARksMiTh said...

I think a lot of the arguments (good ones by the way) you made for hitting coaches work for pitchers. They really don't do much more than work on mechanics, but pitchers do have a bit more going on in their delivery. However, I think an "analyst" could be just as useful to pitchers.

Regardless, I think the main thing is to not get on hitting and pitching coaches all that much. I think managers and players can tell when their coaches know what they're talking about. They shouldn't teach a "philosophy". How can they when each team has different styles of hitters? I think it's best to have different styles. Otherwise, a pitcher would groove first pitches against patient teams and throw out of the zone all the time on aggressive teams. Granted, that sounds a bit simplistic, but the main focus of these coaches should be mechanics. I'm not sure you can "teach" a philosophy to a guy who's succeeded the other way for his entire life (see: Jeff Francoeur).