Some thoughts on hitting coaches as we wait for the Astros to hire one.
Now that the Astros have had a hitting coach — albeit a temporary one — who was once one of the best hitters in the game and is considered by many to be Hall of Fame worthy, it’s easy to assume that the next one needs to bring the same type of resume of greatness as a player.
That is simply not the case.
Jeff Bagwell’s .297 average and 449 home runs had absolutely nothing to do with his ability to be a good coach. He succeeded in the role for the exact reasons we thought he would — he’s smart, he understands both the mental and mechanical side of hitting, and he relates well with today’s players, possibly better than anyone who’s ever coached in the Astros’ organization.
Bagwell came here and immediately worked on getting the hitters to relax, to have good at-bats, to clear their heads and stop analyzing every motion of every at-bat during hours spent in the video room. Many of the hitters did enjoy quite a turnaround after he took over as coach, which is a credit, on some levels, to Bagwell. On other levels — and Bags will be the first one to acknowledge this — the hitting came around because inevitably, the good hitters who spent much of the season being bad hitters eventually became good hitters again. That’s what happens over a six-month season. Things even out. (It’s that whole “law of averages” thing we talk about so much in this game.)
So as disappointing as it was to hear that Bagwell isn’t coming back, it’s important not to get caught up in thinking the Astros have to find another Hall of Fame worthy player to take over. The Astros are in the process of searching for a new hitting coach, and I would expect the list to consist of a blend of candidates, from those with impressive resumes as players to those who have experience in the coaching ranks. I’d also expect their statistics as players to have no bearing on their chances to land the hitting coach job, because, quite frankly, how they hit as players just doesn’t matter.
Take for example, hypothetically, Brad Ausmus (who, for the record, is most definitely NOT a candidate for the Astros’ hitting coach job). Over an 18-year Major League career, he proved to be a really, really…mediocre hitter. Not terrible and not terrific. Over 1,971 games, he posted a .251 average (average being the operative word).
Does this mean he had less of an understanding of hitting than Bagwell? Of course not. Ausmus knew what he needed to do at the plate. He just didn’t have the same physical gifts as some of his contemporaries to parlay the knowledge into results we saw from the Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman. I would feel entirely comfortable with him as a hitting coach (although, as a former catcher, I think he’d make a better pitching coach).
There are instances, in fact, where the really great players don’t make very good coaches because often, things just came naturally to them and they can’t relate, or understand, players who cannot simply roll out of bed and hit .300.
Often, it’s the guy who spent 10 years in the Minor Leagues and had the proverbial “cup of coffee” in the big leagues who makes a great coach, because he was never able to let his guard down, even for a minute, as he fought for playing time.
A hitting coach needs to be able to detect flaws and, more importantly, understand what each hitter, as an individual, has to do to get the absolute most out of his ability. I do like that Bagwell steered away from the video room and didn’t try to overload his guys with too much information. So much of being a good hitter is being able to deal with failure. I have seen many players over-think themselves right out of the game, leaving their raw ability largely untapped because they were too busy worrying.
Hopefully, the next coach will bring with him a to-do list consisting of one item: “Keep it simple, stupid.”
With the help of our #astrostweeps, we threw together a last-minute party Thursday night at Lucky’s Pub to watch Game 2 of the World Series. The group was united in rooting for the Rangers, even through the late-game bullpen meltdown. Disappointing result to the game, but losing is a lot easier to take when surrounded by lively conversation, piping hot pizza and cold beverages. Thanks to @xtinedp, @itsallaboutde @lnzy04 @EdBashinski and Jesse Gonzalez for the good times…
And in closing, it’s time to dip back into the photo vault, where we found some fun shots of our Astros of yesteryear going airborne.
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