Wisch: Do Major League Hitting Coaches Really Matter?

By Dave Wischnowsky–

(CBS) The White Sox are caught up in an offensive tailspin and their fans are fed up with Greg Walker. The Cubs are hopelessly tangled in a second straight lost season and their fans are unimpressed with Rudy Jaramillo.

And those two facts have me sitting here this morning again wondering – just like I have many times before – what exactly is the point of Major League hitting coaches anyway?

Do they really make a difference?

Any difference at all?

Now in his eighth season as hitting coach at U.S. Cellular Field, Walker doesn’t seem to be doing much good for the White Sox. Stocked with big-ticket hitters, the team’s punchless lineup has mustered a mere six runs in the past three games (all losses) while its No. 3 through 6 hitters have gone a staggering 0-for-28 during the last 18 innings.

Meanwhile, Jaramillo – in his second year with Cubs and reportedly the highest paid hitting coach in baseball – has a lineup that’s ranked eighth in baseball in batting average, but just 20th in on-base percentage, dead-last in walks and, before Thursday’s 10-run eruption in Washington, had scored only two more total runs than the pop-gun White Sox in the same number of games.

As hit men go, I wouldn’t say Walker and Jaramillo are exactly looking like the Sopranos.

But should anyone really expect them to be?

I’ve always felt that baseball is the sport where coaches have the least impact on the field. They don’t draw up plays – certainly not in the sense that football and basketball coaches do – and the game is unique in that it’s the defense that has constant control of the ball.

A successful baseball team is wholly reliant on its players executing individually while in the field. Managers, of course, can manipulate games to a certain extent with a variety of calls and lineup switches. And pitching coaches often work to develop players who are still quite raw, even once they reach the big league level.

But while I consider hitting a round ball with a round bat, squarely, the most difficult thing to do in sports, the fact is that by the time a position player makes a Major League roster, he already knows how to hit.

After all, that’s most likely how he got there in the first place.

So, really, what do MLB hitting coaches do?

A few years ago, John Levesque, sports columnist for the now defunct Seattle Post-Intelligencer, tried to answer that question when he wrote, “When it comes to imparting knowledge and teaching the principles of hitting, big-league hitting coaches really don’t do much of either…

“Even if they tried to teach hitting, they’d run into a solid wall of resistance from self-centered, supremely focused athletes who’ve made it this far on talent and ability and aren’t about to change their swings for anyone, even if he’s got street cred in Cooperstown.”

Former Minnesota Twins hitting coach Rob Ellis, who wrote a book with Hall of Fame slugger Mike Schmidt about hitting, took things a step further.

Ellis told Levesque, “There’s very little solid instruction going on [at the major league level]. The hitting coach tends to be a PR guy, a hitter’s best friend, a security blanket, a go-to guy for salve on his wounds, a friendly guy who’s a little bit psychologist and a little bit con man…

“I never met one truly effective hitting coach. The system is not set up to teach hitting.”

And that’s coming from a former MLB hitting coach.

Some hitting coaches have developed legends by having supposedly turned great hitters into, well, even greater ones. One high-profile example is longtime MLB coach Charley Lau, whose pupils during the 1970s and early ’80s included the likes of Hal McRae, George Brett, Carlton Fisk, Harold Baines and Ron Kittle.

Now, while I don’t doubt that Lau knew hitting inside and out, I also am not about to think that those star players didn’t already know how to hit a baseball by the time Lau even shook hands with them.

Lau disciple Walt Hriniak, in another instance, became best known for getting White Sox great Frank Thomas to buy into his hitting philosophy. But again, I tend to think that the Big Hurt would have still bashed most of his 521 career home runs no matter the name of his hitting instructor.

Maybe I’m wrong. But best I can figure, the main purpose of a big league hitting coach is to serving as a fall guy when an underachieving team isn’t quite yet ready to fire its manager. Otherwise, I’m not sure what they truly bring to the table.

And so, while White Sox and Cubs fans twist in the wind generated by whiffing sluggers, I’ll continue to wonder what justifies paying a big-time salary to a MLB hitting coach when he’s only able to coach.

And not actually hit.

If you have an answer of your own, please hit me with it.

Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.

wisch small Wisch: Do Major League Hitting Coaches Really Matter?

Dave Wischnowsky

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Very thoughtful Dave.
    Makes sense.
    I thought that Lau/Hriniak contributed because they had a theory about hitting, a specific approach. I have often assumed that many other HCs are essentially looking at discerning the difference between when a hitter was going good vs. now when he is doing badly…and trying to see what changed (and change back!)
    The analogy that comes to mind are golf coaches….you don’t teach a PGA Tour Pro anything new, but perhaps you correct a current error and also impart a little wisdom as to shot selection, short-game etc.

  • Dave Wischnowsky

    The golf swing coach is a good analogy, Arse.

    I don’t doubt that MLB hitting coaches serve some of purpose — I just question the impact of that purpose and if it justifies their salary. When the Cubs signed Jaramillo for big bucks, I was very skeptical that he — or any hitting coach — was worth that. And I don’t think he is. After all, the Rangers went to the World Series the year after he left and the Cubs haven’t exactly hit the cover off the ball the past two seasons. If that isn’t an indictment of the “legend” of hitting coaches, I don’t rwally know what is.

    Hitters have to hit. I’m just not sure they also want (or even necessarily need) to listen.

  • Ed Kelly

    Thats NOT Greg Walker..Thats Kevin Hickey!

  • Dave Wischnowsky

    Good eye, Ed. I’ll Give the CBS guys a head’s up.

    • ljfflynd

      Myec3Y muougysplfkr

    • Ed Kelly

      That IS Alfonso Soriano !!..lol Have a great weekend Dave!

      • Dave Wischnowsky

        Now that the updated photo has your stamp of approval, I certainly will, Ed. Haha. Have a great weekend yourself!

    • Tamber

      Yeah that’s what I’m takilng about baby–nice work!

    • opusvosm

      HOn8TE qgvvjzhnuxxz

  • Kekajalochen

    Hitting instructors have a major roll in baseball from tee ball through AAA. At the major league level it is more identifing the tick or hitch and getting the player to readjust. Basically getting him to do what got him there in the first place again. Maybe hitting reminder guy would be a better title. Gotta good ring to it, don’t it?

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      I like it.


    Good Article Dave,

    Seems to me, that if your team’s offense is tagged as “impatient,” “picky,” or
    “dicey”(with mechanics), the offense is an easy mark for a change up.
    You get a pitcher who can change his fast ball AND recover quickly for the next pitch, you’re in trouble.
    Put a guy with limited range and a slow recovery time on the mound, and he’ll mask any hitting problems.


    you’re so far wrong it leads me to believe you have no knowledge of baseball..
    1. “he already knows how to hit.” is so typical of a baseball player’s mind. he doesn’t know anything about hitting !! hello?!? take an over view.. he’s simply at the beginning of a long journey that takes 25+ YEARS before aplayer knows enough to say he knows how to hit. it is so difficult.. you ca’t possibly learn i t all while you’re physically able. ask any former MLB player.. they will ALL say “if i knew when i was 24 what i know now.. i wudda been 3 times better.!” which means observing AFTER you can no longer play helps you increase your knowledge more than anything. the one thing you don’t mention that ROB ELLIS said.. is THE HITTING COACH GETS HIS JOB AS THE CULMINATION OF MANY YEARS OF POLITICKING… KNOWLEDGE OF HITTING? ABILITY TO HELP A PLAYER? IRRELEVANT, IMMATERIAL, * INCONSEQUENTIAL

  • tom

    Great article Dave, you should let that bum who does Sox post game read it so when callers complain about hitting coach’s, he might actually be able to respond with an intelligent answer instead of telling the callers they don’t know what they’re talking about.

    • Larry Horse's Arse

      tom, your comment points out why I enjoy Dave’s blog so much….even when I disagree. Dave’s approach is to focus on the facts and draw reasoned conclusions from them….no ad hominum attacks.

  • Sunshine

    All of these articles have saved me a lot of haeahdces.

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