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Digging into National 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. 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? Did they battle through injury? What’s their recent track record? 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 will dig into what each team is looking at on that front, along with my very amateur attempt at a divisional ranking for each hitting coach (1 being the best in the division and 5 being the worst).

MLB: World Series-Houston Astros at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

East Division

Washington Nationals — East Rank: 1

Kevin Long had a fascinating start to coaching. As he retired from the Triple-A Omaha Royals, he asked for a coaching job. He got a job managing the Class-A Wilmington Blue Rocks and would proceed to work his way up to becoming the hitting coach for the Yankees in 2007. After working with Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada he went on to work with the Mets for two years as a hitting coach before taking the Nationals job in 2018. Kevin is not a power junkie, instead he preaches patience and good contact. The Nationals have been among the top five in batting average with the highest walks and lowest strikeout rates. Final say: Kevin has a ton of experience with promoting good contact with the bat and a patient approach.

Atlanta Braves — East Rank: 2

Kevin Seitzer, a MLB third baseman who played from 1986 – 1997 for four different teams, would begin his tenure as a coach in 2007 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He would go on to be a hitting coach with the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays before taking over for Atlanta in 2015. Over the last four years Atlanta went from being a below average hitting team to a top 10 hitting team over the last two years. He has kept their batting average strong but this past year their power finally entered the top 10. I’m not sure how much of the power is him vs. a lot of young talent coming up. Either way, he has their bats working strong. Final say: Kevin’s team has not always had the most patient approaches at the plate but this young team makes hard contact under him.

New York Mets — East Rank: 3

Chili Davis, a nearly 20-year vet across five teams playing as an outfielder and designated hitter, began his coaching career with the Oakland Athletics in 2012. He went on to work as a hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox before joining the Cubs and finally the Mets in 2018. His first year with the Mets was atrocious, as they were among the basement in many metrics including average and power. They made considerable improvement last year. The tricky part with this team is how much of this (both good and bad) is the heavy fluctuations in the roster vs. his work as the hitting coach. Final and large, it looks like he has a decent track record but ultimately his teams hit for average more than anything else.

Miami Marlins — East Rank: 4

Eric Duncan, a second basemen and 27th overall pick in the 2003 draft stopped in his progression at the Triple-A level. He went on to volunteer as a coach for the Seton Hall Pirates before taking over the Staten Island Yankees hitting coach position. He was promoted to the Tampa Yankees and at the start of 2019, took over as hitting coach for the Miami Marlins. One year with the worst roster in MLB is tough to pull a lot from, but the team was the worst in the league in power and towards the bottom in average. Final say: They did have decent walk rates so perhaps they can make improvement in year 2.

Philadelphia Phillies — East Rank: 5

Joe Dillon, player from 1997-2009, took over as hitting coach for the Washington Nationals Triple-A affiliate Syracuse Chiefs. He worked under the Miami Marlins minor league before taking the Phillies hitting coach job in 2018. Quite simply, it’s not been great. The Phillies rank below average in hits, home runs, batting average and strikeouts. The only thing they have going for them is a “slightly” above average patience at the plate in walk rate. Final say: I’m not optimistic on the trend these bats are taking.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Central Division

Pittsburgh Pirates — Central Rank: 1

Rick Eckstein started as a hitting coach in 2008 for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers. He went on to work with Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins before joining the Pirates in 2018. This isn’t a power team, they are among the low end with home runs and slugging but they make good contact for good average—where they are a top five team. Rick doesn’t have a lot to work with in the current roster but he did wonders with Josh Bell, Kevin Newman, Gregory Polanco and Bryan Reynolds. This team had two players with over 130 games played and a batting average above .300 who are outside the top 100 in ADP (Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman), he quite simply does not get enough respect.

Cincinnati Reds — Central Rank: 2

Alan Zinter. A two-year vet with the Reds would come full circle to be their hitting coach. Before he came to Cincy as a coach he spent time with the Houston Astros, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants in variations of hitting and player development. Last year did not go well for the Reds, who dropped from a top 10 hitting team to a bottom 10 hitting team. Power continues to plague this team as well. With MUCH added talent, this team’s hitting will surely improve. Alan is having the team put pressure on their planting foot as they work to get more power from their lower frame. Final say: a few things in flux but power should bump this year.

Chicago Cubs — Central Rank: 3

Anthony Iapoce was drafted in the 33rd round of the 1994 MLB draft and played with Milwaukee until 200. He spent time with the Rangers as their hitting coach and began with Chicago in 2018. His first season with the club was unbelievable, as they were a top three team in hits, average and OBP (while their power was below average). Last year saw a complete 180, as they became a top 10 power team with poor average and total hits. The turning of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant not to mention where Ian Happ stands is peculiar as well. Final say: This year will help determine how much of the fluctuations are from Anthony vs. a diverse team of hitters.

Milwaukee Brewers — Central Rank: 4

Andy Haines. He has experience managing a the collegiate Waterloo Bucks and he’s spent time as a hitting coach in the independent league, gulf coast league, Class-A short and advanced. Around 2014 he moved up to Triple-A and in 2017 the Cubs brought him on as an assistant hitting coach. He has been with the Milwaukee Brewers since 2019. The Brewers took a step back last year from 2018, most notably in hits where they dropped from a top 12 team to a bottom 10 team. He’s working to simplify movements among hitters and create consistent motions in effort to curtail the drop. Final say: Year 1 was not good, he needs to cement consistency to get the team on board for Year 2.

St. Louis Cardinals — Central Rank: 5

Jeff Albert, hitting coach for the Cardinals minor league system for five years, Astros for five years, has now been with the Cardinals pro team since 2018. This team was average in hitting in 2018 and took a sizable step back last year, being in the bottom seven in hits, average, slugging and home runs. On base percentage was average and that’s about all he had going in his favor. Final say: not much to brag about here.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Toronto Blue Jays Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

West Division

Los Angeles Dodgers — West Rank: 1

Brant Brown started as a minor league hitting coach with the Rangers in 2007. He went on to work with the Seattle Mariners minor leagues in 2012 and ultimately joined the Dodgers in 2017. The team has seen steady improvement each year, first in hits and average and then this past season in home runs. Final say: This is a top seven team in the league in hitting and he had a part in this.

Arizona Diamondbacks — West Rank: 2

Darnell Coles, first round draft pick in 1980, played for 14 seasons across six different teams. He has been coaching since 2014, when he spent time with Milwaukee before joining Arizona in 2018. The Diamondbacks were below average across the board in 2018 and made strides forward in hits, average, OBP, slugging and home runs—all going from bottom 10 to average between 2018 and 2019. He is using logs on each batter and monitoring them regularly and it is working. Final say: his heavy metric system showed progress over one year.

San Francisco Giants — West Rank: 3

Donnie Ecker & Justin Viele, Donnie worked from 2012 to current from a high school baseball coach up to hitting coach for the Giants. Along the way he worked at the college level, with the Cardinals and the Reds. Justin began coaching in 2015 with Baltimore before going to the Dodgers and ultimately starting with Donnie this year with the Giants. These two did plenty of coaching in the minors but relatively little in the majors. Spring training has seen them heavily relying on analytics, biomechanics, and the vets like Buster Posey to set an open dialogue. Final say: This one is a ‘Giant’ tossup without much to go off of.

Colorado Rockies — West Rank: 4

Dave Magadan, a 15-year vet in the league as he played for seven teams. He coached with the Padres, Red Sox, Rangers and Diamondbacks before joining the Rockies in 2019. While the home run total dipped a bit, all other metrics held as top seven from 2018 to 2019 so he held the status quo. His tenure with Arizona that started in 2015 saw the team get progressively worse each year. Final say: A similar notion happened in Texas, his work shows immediate results but over time the teams get worse.

San Diego Padres — West Rank: 5

Damion Easley, a 12-year career across five teams wasn’t quite enough. He started coaching in 2019 with the Padres and will be entering his second season. The Padres went from a bottom three hitting team to a bottom five hitting team. I guess that’s a move in the wrong direction, but with the bevy of talented players they got last year (Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr, Francisco Mejia) things should improve. Final say: I expected better out of this team last year.

And that’s it for hitting coaches! Be sure to check out Relief Pitcher Week!