Friday, October 17, 2014
IN SEARCH OF THE PERFECT HITTING COACH
The stakes are high when it comes to hiring the right hitting coach given the fact that this is the first time in twenty years that the Yankees have not made it to the postseason for two consecutive years. According to the New York Times back in late September, "The main reason for their poor season was a lack of offense, which at times was compounded by substandard defense. The Yankees, who spent lavishly on free agents like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury, entered Wednesday’s game having scored 606 runs, which ranked 13th in the 15-team A.L. Players including Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Beltran and McCann did not play up to their standards." And soon after the Yankee season was over, Kevin Long's career as hitting coach for the Bronx Bombers was over.
So, now, we have applications coming in and conversations buzzing in the front office surrounding potential candidates for the open position in the Yankee clubhouse. First up is Dave Magadan, former Met player, cousin of Lou Piniella and current Texas Ranger hitting coach. "On Tuesday, Magadan said he had been contacted by the Yankees and that “it was in the preliminary stages," according to the New York Post. Magadan has also been hitting coach for the San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox. Next up is Chili Davis. According to NBC Hardball Talk, "Davis, who spent the final two seasons of his playing career with the Yankees in 1998 and 1999, has been the A’s hitting coach since 2012. During that time Oakland ranked eighth, third, and third among AL teams in scoring."
From this short list of candidates, I am hearing some good credentials and connections to teams and former players who have made their mark on the game, but is there such a thing as the perfect hitting coach? And honestly, what do hitting coaches do to help major league baseball players hit harder, further and more effectively? According to the New York Daily News, "Fan bases like to focus their collective ire on the hitting coach when their team’s offense stalls, failing to realize that the big leagues are not for teaching, and that grown men are who they are by the time they arrive." This may be true, but can't anyone improve? I say yes. And a good hitting coach brings more than approach and mechanics to the field, they also need to bring a positive attitude, a fresh outlook and coaching techniques that mentally support hitters throughout the continuum of their careers.
According to the book Instructional Coaching- A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction by Jim Knight, "Modeling, observation, and feedback, then, are important, sometimes essential for learning. We wouldn't teach someone to drive by giving them a lecture, tossing them a book, and then turning them loose on the freeway." Hitting coaches have the opportunity to teach and empower hitters to improve their form and swing as they mature from rookies to veterans. But, unfortunately, not everyone is coachable or wants this style of coaching. As one current player, a very smart hitter, puts it, “I don’t want to hear a lot about approach from a hitting coach. I just want him to act like a mirror -- look at my swing and tell me if anything is different from what it usually is," according to the New York Daily News.
What about asking the right questions to find this ideal candidate? Yes, absolutely! Questions that prompt candidates to dig deep into their experiences and prior knowledge to answer profoundly and transparently are essential. What is your ideal coach? What qualities are needed for an effective coach-player relationship? How would you provide coaching to a veteran player who does not want your help but needs it? What are your key skills which will add value to our team? Explain how you will design individual goals for rookie players? for veteran players? What is your approach to coaching?
So let's break this all down. The Yankees need a hitting coach. Two candidates are in close talks with Yankee management, Dave Magadan and Chili Davis. Coaches need to bring more than approach and mechanics to their players, they need to be mirrors, mentors, models and change agents in the career cycle of hitters. We find this out by asking candidates higher order questions, providing scenarios for coaches to talk through to reveal good outcomes and screening candidates for the right disposition to handle players with differing personality traits, points in their career and instructional needs. It won't be long now before we replace Long. Let's hope Yankee management focuses on their mission when they hire a new coach and pray for a good outcome. I don't want to feel this empty feeling come next October.
--Suzie Pinstripe, BYB Senior Staff Writer
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