Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dodgers tab Mark McGwire as their next hitting coach, and it's a good thing

Well, that certainly came out of nowhere.

When Dave Hansen was dismissed as the Dodgers' hitting coach on Oct. 12, I don't think one person thought Mark McGwire would be the man to replace him. But here we are, nearly a month later and that's exactly what's happening.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
"Mark McGwire will leave the Cardinals as hitting coach to accept the same post with the Los Angeles Dodgers, three years after the former single-season home run king returned to the game from relative exile.

Though the Cardinals withheld comment Friday, McGwire notified numerous players and members of the club’s baseball operations of a pending announcement as well as his appreciation for the time spent as hitting coach in St. Louis.

The club extended McGwire the opportunity to return, but the geography and family ties led him to pursue an opportunity on Dodgers manager Don Mattingly’s staff."
Bill Plashcke and T.J. Simers can't wait to sink their teeth into this one. But all steroid/performance-enhancing drug use aside, what does this mean for the Dodgers? To find out, we should look at what McGwire did for the Cardinals' hitters in his tenure.

McGwire was surprisingly offered the Cardinals' hitting coach position in October 2009. And despite having players such as Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran in his stint with the Cardinals, McGwire earned praise for working with the younger, less-established hitters.

Quotes from McGwire in a USA Today article prior to last year's World Series:
"'I truly believe power hitters are born. I don't think you can make power hitters. But the thing is hitting is hitting. I've always enjoyed talking hitting; I've always enjoyed teaching hitting.'"
"'You get to this level, this is where it's all mental. There's always fine-tuning with your mechanics, but there's a reason why you're here: You have good mechanics; you know how to hit. And then in order to stay here for a long period of time you have to understand you can only cover 8 1/2 inches of that plate, you can't cover 17. So you have to be really good at one side or the other. And you have to know what this guy has on the mound. He has a plan; you have a plan. Let's take it on.

"I played pretty much five years, six years of my career on physical ability itself and not understanding this game is mental. If you're going to swing at pitches you shouldn't swing at, it's going to change your mechanics. So what happens with the young kid, they're going to look at that and say, 'I need to change my mechanics,' when they don't need to.'"
Guys like Allen Craig, David Freese and Yadier Molina have all seemingly benefited from McGwire's teachings. A number of times during the 2012 postseason, I saw tweets to the effect of, "Allen Craig can really hit."

Craig was never a blue-chip prospect coming up through the Cardinals' system. His bat was always going to be the thing that made or broke his career. McGwire's guidance, coupled with opportunity, allowed Craig to post a .307/.354/.522 triple slash this season.

Freese was an afterthought at third base for the Cardinals. He was a light-hitting third baseman who got a late start in baseball. Since McGwire took over in 2010, his home runs per at-bat number has improved every season:
  • 2010: 60 AB/HR
  • 2011: 33.3 AB/HR
  • 2012: 25.1 AB/HR
Oh, and he has a shiny World Series MVP trophy and a career .345/.407/.645 triple slash in postseason play.

McGwire's best job might have been what he did with Molina. Molina has never been questioned defensively. He is the best in the game. However, some wondered if his bat would ever catch up.

Through the 2010 season, Molina managed just a .268/.327/.361 triple slash. His next two seasons, he had a .310/.362/.484 triple slash. He's gone from glove-only catcher to MVP candidate in two years. It's an amazing transformation.

With this hiring, I hope McGwire is able to coax more power out of the Dodger hitters. Matt Kemp, provided his shoulder is OK, should be no issue. Adrian Gonzalez, whose isolated power has dropped from an elite .210 in 2011 to a just-better-than-average .167 in 2012, could benefit from McGwire's tutelage. Andre Ethier's ISO had decreased three years in a row prior to bouncing back last season. The same can be said about Hanley Ramirez.

There's nothing not to like about this move. McGwire, in his three years, has proven to be a competent hitting instructor. For a team with a lot of big names, he might just be the perfect fit.

I wonder if Carl Crawford is going to have to change his number now?

Photo credit: Keith Allison, Flickr

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