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First 30 Games With New Hitting Coaches

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Did the Diamondbacks’ offense improve?

Co-Hitting coach Drew Hedman tosses balls in batting practice.
Co-Hitting coach Drew Hedman tosses balls in batting practice.
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

On 10 June, Rick Short and Drew Hedman became Co-Hitting Coaches for the Diamondbacks. During their first 30 games, did batters improve? A preliminary look may provide insights. Nevertheless, it’s way too soon to evaluate the new hitting coaches because the nature of the roles of a hitting coach.

Let’s look at the roles of a hitting coach.

First, I tip my hat to Jack Sommers whose article provided audio of a media conference with the new Diamondbacks’ hitting coaches. They know their roles.

Communicate and build trust with players.

“So much of what we do with hitting is based on relationships. It will take some time to develop that…” — Rick Short June 2021

Filter Information and make information simpler for the players.

“Honestly, the most important thing is the individual conversations I have with guys. … I try to take all the noise with hitting on my shoulders and once I get with hitters I try to make it simple. There is a lot of information and I try to filter it.” — Rick Short June 2021

“Sometimes a hitter can have a lot of voices in his head. I just wanted to be the filter between all those voices and have him do his thing.” — Rick Short June 2021

“There are a lot of different rocks to turn over to make sure we’re scoring as many runs as possible.” — Drew Hedman, April 2020

Merge hitting philosophies of organization and individuals.

“Our organizational philosophy is to drive up pitches, do damage, grind out at-bats.” — Rick Short June 2021

“We could talk for hours about hitting philosophy, but it’s gonna be individualized. We’ve done a great job in this organization blending strength and conditioning staff with movements and the game planning department and developing approaches. It is a collaborative effort.” — Rick Short June 2021

“…I think hitting is so unique that what works for me might not work for somebody else… So I think my biggest advice to a hitter coming up is, like, learn who you are. And if you like who you are as a hitter, get the most out of it. And if you don’t, don’t be scared to make some major adjustments.” — Buster Posey July 2021

Move beyond preparation to execution.

“At times, just our level of execution [accounts for poor offense in May/June]…. I think our preparation has been strong. We have a lot of good information that we’re funneling to the hitters, but I think we need to make sure that we’re putting them in a position to succeed every night and execute come game time.” — Drew Hedman June 2021

Successful execution includes the following:

  • The batter balances pregame preparation for a specific pitcher/ballpark and awareness that day including the other team’s approach to pitch-calling, what’s working/not-working for their pitcher that inning, and the game situation.
  • The batter knows whether he is better off adjusting to cover the entire plate (especially if the count gets to two strikes), or whether he is better off focusing on one spot as a ‘grooved’ hitter.
  • The batter watches the opposing pitcher and listens to teammates who notice something that provides an advantage.
  • The batter controls his mental state. He initiates his state, and he quickly drops distracting emotions that can happen during his at-bats.

Historically, know each player’s success mechanics and tell them when something is different.

“The better we can identify those [each player’s strengths and weaknesses] and improve upon those, the more quickly we will be a really dynamic and successful team offense.” — Drew Hedman June 2021

“As hitting coaches, no matter whether it’s a superstar or a first-year player, we have to understand what makes them a really good hitter.” — Dave Magadan July 2018

“The first thing we do is we go to the video and compare it to periods of time when the particular player was hitting well and see if there are any discrepancies. As a hitting coach, you already have an idea in your head of what the player does well, and, hopefully, you can recognize the problem as soon as you see it with your own eyes…” — Dave Magadan July 2018

Shorten hitting slumps.

“Sometimes, guys get away mechanically from what they do well at the plate….[other times] He will start pushing himself to get hits, rather than staying with the process and continuing to try to hit balls hard. In a case like that, the player can unknowingly start to change his swing a little bit, and then he’s doing something mechanically different. By that point, you’ve got a combination of the mental and the physical aspects of a slump.” — Dave Magadan July 2018

Encourage players to be open-minded about adjustments and changes.

“I think moving forward we have some opportunities to continue to develop our players. ...We have the opportunity to make sure every one of our major league players reaches their potential. I don’t think that stops just because it’s the major leagues.” — Drew Hedman June 2021

“As a hitter, you always have to remain open. It doesn’t mean that you have to change with the different directions of the wind, but you still need to remain open and willing to make changes that can make you a better player. If you become closed off and stubborn and limited as to what you’re willing to try, then you’re going be very limited as a hitter.” — Dave Magadan July 2018

Let’s look at batting performance during the first 30 days of the new batting coaches.

Because this is a preliminary view, the focus will be on three observations by Mike Hazen.

  • Plate discipline/on-base results are better.
  • The team is not slugging to the degree he would like.
  • Offense does not click consistently enough.

Let’s look at team averages for plate discipline and slugging.

“I think some of the things that we’ve stressed from a plate discipline/on-base standpoint have been better.” — Mike Hazen

Better plate discipline was confirmed. The Diamondbacks’ team swinging strike rate improved from 11.4% to 10.1%. The Diamondbacks’ team averages improved for K% (24.0% before and 23.4% after) and BB% (8.5% before and 9.1% after). Players who improved the most for both measures were David Peralta, Ketel Marte, Kole Calhoun, Josh Reddick, Josh Rojas, and Daulton Varsho. The best plate discipline was demonstrated by two players:

  • David Peralta (K% was 11.6% and BB% was 11.6%)
  • Ketel Marte (K% was 13.6% and BB% was 11.4%).

wOBA improved. The Diamondbacks team average of wOBA improved from .300 to .307. The number of players above league average stayed at 9.

“We’re still not slugging to the degree I’d like. I don’t really know why we’re not slugging at all with certain aspects of it.” — Mike Hazen

SLG and homers per PA fell slightly. The Diamondbacks team averages fell for SLG (.380 before and .377 after) and fell for homers per PA (.025 before and .020 after). The number of players above league average dropped (from 10 to 6 for SLG and from 7 to 4 for homers per PA).

Reduced slugging is acceptable if it comes with an improved wOBA which reflects greater overall run expectancy. Bucking the overall trend of lower slugging were four players who improved their SLG and homers per PA:

  • Eduardo Escobar (.570 SLG and .066 homers per PA).
  • Josh VanMeter (.482 SLG and .032 homers per PA).
  • Daulton Varsho (.304 SLG and .029 homers per PA).
  • Nick Ahmed (.337 SLG and .009 homers per PA).

Plate discipline and slugging data through 22 July from Baseball Savant (10 PA minimum). Team swinging strike data through 22 July from FanGraphs.

Let’s look at team consistency in scoring runs.

“They’ve gone OK. I still don’t feel like our offense clicks consistently enough within the nine guys. I think that’s something that we need to continue to push forward on.” — Mike Hazen

The following graph shows the frequency of runs scored through 25 July. The takeaway is that with the new coaches the team had 9% less certain losses (2 runs or less) and 4% less near certain wins (9+ runs). Overall, the team is more consistently scoring from 3 to 8 runs.

2021 Diamondbacks through 25 July. Data from Baseball Reference.

Another measure of consistency is batting streaks defined in this article as at least 5 consecutive games with at least 3 runs scored in each game. One indication that consistency improved was that after the All-Star break the Diamondbacks had a 6-game positive hitting streak!

Dates of positive hitting streaks follow:

  • April 8-15 (7 games)
  • April 18 - May 4 (14 games).
  • May 26-30 (5 games).
  • July 18-24 (6 games).

Based on the graph’s takeaway and based on the latest hitting streak, the team’s consistency improved. Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue with the statement that their consistency could be better.