Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Why so many bad hitters become hitting coaches

The thought about hitting coaches has been rolling around inside the noggin for quite a while and was crystallized last night at the news the Cardinals were seeking to make Bengie Molina their assistant hitting coach. Molina played thirteen years and was not a terrible hitter. Molina, one of the slowest players ever to play baseball even hit for the cycle once while visiting Fenway Park. But Molina had several flaws. First, he was allergic to walks. Second, he hit into a lot of double plays. These batting flaws made him a valued catcher who could hit a little bit. Now he is going to coach hitting.

Think about some of the more famous hitting coaches. There is Rudy Jaramillo, most recently of the Cubs and the longtime guru of hitting for the Rangers. Jaramillo played three seasons in the minors and finished with a career there of .679. Kevin Long, the respected hitting coach of the Yankees, played eight years in the minors and finished his career there with a .710 OPS. He hit a wall in Triple-A where he compiled an OPS of .595 in 471 plate appearances.

In fact, other than Mark McGwire, few hitting coaches could hit their own way out of a paper bag. So why then do they get where they are?

The most obvious reason is that great hitters get rich while they are playing and have no need to coach once they are done. This is a relatively modern phenomenon. No players got really rich before the Marvin Miller days and even the good ones would hang around the game. But say you make $100 million in your career? There is no need to coach then, is there?. Wade Boggs tried it for a year with the Rays. That was it.

And so the bulk of your coaches come from the rank and file baseball lifers. Kevin Long has been around forever as has Jaramillo. But can you be a good hitting coach if you couldn't hit yourself? Yes, well probably. It is often easier to see flaws in someone else than it is to feel your own body screwing up. Baseball lifers have been around coaches for years and pick up things along the way. So it makes sense from that perspective.

But it seems to be unique with baseball. For example, in real life, you wouldn't go to learn piano from someone who couldn't play the piano. Apprentices have long studied under masters. Sure, the apprentice can someday far outshine the master when gifted. But that has been the way it has worked for ions.

But in baseball, the coaching of millions of dollars of batting talent is left to guys who had no talent of their own. It's just weird. Of course, there are many experts that wonder if coaches have any positive or negative effect on their teams anyway. Kevin Long's prize pupil, Curtis Granderson, made Long look like a genius in 2011 but a dunce in 2012. That's baseball and players go in funks and on streaks no matter what a coach may do. At least that is what some people say.

Once the dust settles and teams fully hire their coaching staffs, we'll rate the teams according to the career of their hitting coach. Suffice it to say McGwire will probably top that list. But until then, let's leave you with some Twitter musings on where this post started. Say Bengie Molina coached his hitters on the way he played. What would that sound like? Maybe something like this:

Bengie Molina as a hitting coach: "You think hitting Kershaw is tough? Try doing it with fingers bent like pretzels."

Bengie Molina as a hitting coach: "Don't hit a line drive to an outfielder, cuz then they can throw you out at first base."

Bengie Molina as a hitting coach: "Shoot, I framed more strikes for my pitcher than I ever took in my life."

Bengie Molina as hitting coach: "Don't worry about that plate discipline crap. As long as you swing and miss less than 10%, you're fine."

Bengie Molina as hitting coach: "Being in tip top shape is overrated. Look at me! I played thirteen years."

Bengie Molina as a hitting coach: "Hit the ball on the ground. You can make two outs for the price of one and keep your pitcher in rhythm."

Bengie Molina as a hitting coach: "Swing at everything. Be aggressive."

1 comment:

dmick89 said...

The reason so many hitting coaches were poor hitters is because those are the guys who typically need jobs. The good hitters made lots of money and don't need it. I imagine many of them would feel taking a million bucks or less to coach in a game they made much more would be beneath them. If they paid these guys millions of dollars, you can be sure that most of the hitting coaches would be former stars.

These stars don't go back down to the minors and take buses when they can book a private jet. What's left for teams to pick from are the guys who need jobs and those are the poor hitters who didn't make much money.

There are exceptions, but generally speaking this is why the good hitters don't become hitting coaches.