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Digging into American league hitting coaches

How can hitting coaches impact fantasy baseball?

Getty Images/Pete Rogers Illustrations

There are a ton of things that play into a baseball player’s success in a given year, and part of digging into the fantasy stats is trying to collect as much information as you can. Did the player change their swing? Change teams? Were they battling through injury? What’s their recent track record? And yada, yada, yada.

One piece of this is the coaches, just look at what Joe Maddon, Bruce Bochy, Terry Francona and Dusty Baker have done over the years (both good and bad). If you go further down the rabbit’s hole you have hitting coaches which assuredly play a role in how well a team and its players will perform. This article is digging into what each team is looking at on that front, along with my very amateur attempt at a divisional ranking for each hitting coach (No. 1 being the best in the division and No. 5 being the worst).

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

East Division

Boston Red Sox — East Rank: 1

Tim Hyers, a 2nd round draftee in the 1990 MLB draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, would go on to play five MLB seasons for the San Diego Padres, Detroit Tigers and Florida Marlins. He began his coaching tenure with the Detroit Tigers farm system before spending time as a Red Sox scout, assistant hitting coach with the Dodgers (2016 and 2017) and finally a hitting coach with the Red Sox for the 2018 season. While he was an assistant in LA, the team regressed during his first season in 2016 but bounced back strongly in 2017 as the team made their way to their first NL Pennant in 29 years. His time with the Red Sox has been nothing short of a wild success, granted he has one of the most talented rosters in the league but he moved Boston to the top 5 in hits, batting average, OBP and SLG in 2018 and 2019 (Boston was outside the top 7 in each of those categories in 2017 prior to his arrival). Final say: Tim is the real deal and is likely a top 3 hitting coach in all of MLB.

New York Yankees — East Rank: 2

Marcus Thames had a nice nine year MLB career with the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers. He holds the Tigers record average at bats per home run (14.8). He entered his coaching career in 2013 as a hitting coach for the AAA Tampa Yankees, he was promoted to assistant hitting coach for the Yankees in 2016 and then up to Hitting Coach in 2017. The team immediately saw a bump being a top 10 team in their hitting metrics the year he stepped into role as the hitting coach. He’s worked with the players on consistent swing path and mechanics in their preparations. He encourages the players not to panic during the hand full of slumps that their stars have seen telling them to refine their focus on hittable balls. Final say: he is exactly what the Yankees need in a big market like New York.

Tampa Bay Rays — East Rank: 3

Chad Mottola, a ten year veteran of MLB with Cincinnati Reds, Toronto Blue Jays, Florida Marlins, Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, might look more fondly on his coaching career than his pro career where he batted .200 with 4 HR and 12 RBIs. He stated coaching at the Rookie-Level Gulf Coast League before spending time with Toronto as a minor league hitting instructor and eventually the Blue Jays hitting coach in 2013 where the team was almost perfectly average in hitting. The Rays picked him up as a minor league hitting coordinator before making him the full time hitting coach for the 2017 season. After the 2017 season, the team saw a marked improvement in 2018 in hits more than power before regressing to more of an average place across the board. He has seen a revolving door of players come and go and worked to get the most out of Tommy Pham, Yandy Diaz and Travis D’Arnaud and now he will have to work with fresh faces Hunter Renfroe and Jose Martinez. Final say: imagine what he could do if his roster stayed consistent.

Baltimore Orioles — East Rank: 4

Don Long, has a long (pardon the pun) history as a coach in baseball dating back to 1987 (when he was 25) when he helped coach the Quad Cities River Bandits. He would go on to spend time with the Anaheim Angels minor league system, Philadelphia Phillies, and ultimately the Baltimore Orioles which he joined in January of last year. Despite having a team that boasted “stars” such as Jonathan Villar, Trey Mancini, and umm, Renato Nunez, Don improved the team’s hitting (2018 rank 24th, 2019 15th), batting average (2018 rank 24th, 2019 rank 20th), OBP (2018 rank 29th, 2019 rank 24tH) and slugging percentage (2018 rank 25th, 2019 23rd). He spent time with Jonathan Villar working through consistency and fixing one mechanic at a time, as we saw Villar bump his batting average from .260 to .274, his homers go from 14 to 24, his run total go from 54 to 111 (all the while going from Milwaukee to Baltimore!) and his RBIs go from 46 to 73. Final say: Don is showing a strong pedigree as a hitting coach in his short tenure.

Toronto Blue Jays — East Rank: 5

Guillermo Martinez, the 17th overall draftee in 2003 by the Chicago White Sox, made it to AA but never to MLB. He started as a hitting coach for the Blue Jays minor league system in 2012 before moving to the Chicago Cubs minor league system for 4 years. He certainly has his work cut out for him with one of the most talented young teams in MLB working through Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Rowdy Tellez and Danny Jansen, all under 25 and all in need of building, formulating and maintaining a strong consistent MLB swing. Over his first season, while the Blue Jays were a top 10 team in Home Runs, they were essentially the worst team in hits. Final say: there is a LOT of work to be done here.

Chicago White Sox Workout Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images

Central Division

Chicago White Sox — Central Rank: 1

Frank Menechino, who was hired to be hitting coach for the Triple-A Charlotte Knights team last year, was promoted to the White Sox gig after Todd Steverson (and most of the White Sox staff) was let go at the end of the 2019 season. Frank was drafted by the White Sox way back in 1993 and played seven seasons in MLB with Oakland and Toronto before retiring in 2005. His time in AAA means he spent time with current stars, Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jiminez, and Luis Robert (all of whom hit above .295 last season). Final say: Good hire and I’m excited.

Detroit Tigers — Central Rank: 2

Joe Vavra, he previously spent the last two seasons as the quality control coach for the tigers and this year he steps into the hitting coach role for Lloyd McClendon (moving to bench coach). Detroit’s 1,333 hits ranked 24th in MLB last season and their team batting average of .240 was 26th better than San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle and Toronto. Joe has experience as a hitting coach, over the Twins from 2006-2012. During that tenure, Minnesota was in the top 5 in batting average in MLB FOUR of those seven seasons and they were in the bottom ten just once. If Joe can rehash that magic, even in spite of Detroit’s lack of talent, I think there should be some optimism here.

Cleveland Indians — Central Rank: 3

Ty Van Burkleo, despite having one of the cooler names among the coaches, Ty came into this role in 2013 season putting him among the more seasoned coaches. He came from the Seattle Mariners where he was bench coach and the Houston Astro where he was a minor league hitting coordinator. His first year in the league the Indians were 15th in hits, they would work their way steadily down to 3rd in 2018 before regressing heavily in 2019 after their fire sale saw the departure of Michael Brantley, Yandy Diaz, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson. Final say: Proven track record of performance on a team that is clearly rebuilding.

Minnesota Twins — Central Rank: 4

Edgar Varela, he is freshly stepping into a vacated spot by James Rowson who took over the Bench Coach and Offensive Coordinator duties for the Miami Marlins. Edgar was previously the minor league field coordinator over the last two years. Varela was drafted by the White Sox in 2002 playing 5 years in the minors before he stopped in 2006. This will be tricky given the addition of Josh Donaldson, how you manage 3B and DH with Josh, Miguel Sano and Nelson Cruz and finally whether or not this team can repeat it’s record breaking HR performances last season. Final say: I’m cautious about this situation.

Kansas City Royals — Central Rank: 5

Terry Bradshaw, WHAT Terry is a hitting coach in the MLB now (I’m sure he has never heard that joke before). Terry was drafted in the ninth round of the 1990 draft and he went on to play two seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals. He has been with the Royals organization since 2000 serving as Minor League Hitting Coordinator and won the Texas League championship in 2010 with the Northwest Arkansas staff. Despite his lengthy career with the team, Kansas City dropped from the 12th worst hitting team in his first year to the 5th worst last year. Final say: not much to be excited about here.

New York Mets v Houston Astros Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

West Division

Houston Astros — West Rank: 1

Alex Cintron and Troy Snitker, both took over as co-hitting coaches at the start of 2019. Alex was previously the first base coach in 2018 and Troy was previously a college and minor league hitting coach. The two were wildly successful bringing Houston to the best hitting team in 2019. Alex’s nine seasons in MLB across four teams gives him a storied and vast set of knowledge that he brought to Houston. Meanwhile Troy, at the ripe age of 29, with a father Brian thriving in the Atlanta Braves system, has taken on more of a player development role successfully cultivating and improving the teams mechanics. Final say: this duo is working wonders and I wouldn’t be surprised to see other teams emulate this model.

Oakland Athletics — West Rank: 2

Darren Bush, a six year player in the minor leagues, has been coaching since 2002. He joined the Athletics in 2013 working as a hitting coach in the minor leagues eventually becoming manager of the Class A Stockton Ports and leading them to a league championship in 2008. He did the same in 2019 and 2010 for the Class AA Midland Rockhounds. He then did it with the Sacramento River Cats in Class AAA winning divisional title sin 2011 and 2012. He has served as the hitting coach since 2015. The first three seasons were slow but the emergence of Matt Olsen, Matt Chapman, Mark Canha and Khris Davis as the team has been above average in hits and power over the last two years. His mantra is to be prepared but he’s cognizant of the notion that younger players can struggle with the mental game and he is eager to help them work through small wins to get confidence back. Final say: Darren is capable to help pull players out of ruts.

Texas Rangers — West Rank: 3

Luis Ortiz, drafted in 1991 had a minor stint in the majors batting .228 with 2 home runs and 26 RBIs. Before he began his coaching career in 2008 he held hitting clinics and wrote books on hitting. He worked his was through the Rangers minor leagues and became assistant hitting coach for the Rangers in 2012. He was let go and worked with the Indians, Padres and Dodgers before being hired as the hitting coach beginning the 2019 season. His time with the Dodgers in 2018 was successful, they had one of the biggest power surges of the year behind Max Muncy, Joc Pederson, Cody Bellinger and Yasmani Grandal. Interesting enough the opposite happened when he joined Texas, the team found less power and more consistency in their batting. Luis made a concentrated effort with players like Joey Gallo to make clean contact and actually not work on crushing the ball, he had more than enough power to generate solid hits. Final say: I feel it’s still early with Luis, he’s proven he can excel with stars, his process could be slow but it moves the team in the right way.

Los Angeles Angels — West Rank: 4

Jeremy Reed, the 59th overall draft pick from the Chicago White Sox in 2002, went on to play eight seasons at MLB for Seattle Mariners, New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays and the Milwaukee Brewers. He started with Milwaukee’s minor league as a hitting coordinator in 2014, he moved over to Los Angeles’s minor league in 2017 and 2018 before stepping up to the Angels in 2019. He improved their hitting and averages from 2018 during his first year but the power saw a decrease (likely because Justin Upton saw a precipitous fall off in games played due to injury in 2019). Joe Maddon joins as Manager of the team this year and seems to desire a blend of analytics and old school mentality for hitting. A fairly consistent roster has helped as should the addition of Joc Pederson and a full season of Shohei Ohtani. Final say: some growing pains will probably exist to start the season but ultimately he’s proven he can lead them the right direction.

Seattle Mariners — West Rank: 5

Tim Laker, was drafted by Kansas City in the 49th Round (!) of the 1987 draft. He played 11 seasons at MLB level over 14 years coming and going with injuries. He played for the Montreal Expos, Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians. He was involved in the Mitchell Report admitting to taking testosterone and he would go on to be a manager of Cleveland Indians minor league system in 2007. 2009 brought him to the Mariners minor league system and after a stint with the Chicago White Sox minor league he became assistant hitting coach for the Arizona Diamond backs in 2017. Last year was his first with the Mariners major league and Seattle took a SERIOUS step back. After a team that was top ten in hits and average in power in 2018, they slipped to being among the worst three in hits and below average in power in 2019. Losing players like Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, Mike Zunino and Nelson Cruz surely hurt as did injuries to mainstay Mitch Haniger. Final say: current players are effusive in praise for him but the short set of data doesn’t fall in his favor thus far.