I was watching a Rays game over weekend and was fascinated by Brian Anderson’s explanation of Wil Myers‘ hitting problems. He was “leaking” his front hip and pulling off the ball. Anderson, the Rays analyst and former big league pitcher, went int0 some detail about the mechanical problems Myers was having at the plate. My first thought was that if he could see these problems, why didn’t Derek Shelton see them? Fast forward to an article in the Tampa Bay Times the other day and we find out from Shelton that Myers doesn’t have any mechanical problems and his issue are mental. If fact, Shelton goes on to expound that 95% of all hitting problems are mental.
Ok, I don’t believe it, but if he’s right, the Rays ought to hire a full time sports psychologist and eliminate the hitting coach! I’m only half-joking, but it’s hard to believe that veteran David DeJesus’s 0 for 24 slump that he just broke yesterday is totally a result of his mental outlook when he steps up to the plate.
Batting coaches have long been whipping boys for the fans and sometimes the front office. How many times have you seen a team that is going bad fire the batting coach as a message to the manager? How many hitting coaches beyond Don Baylor and Charlie Lau can anyone name? But in today’s multi-media world, a batting coach should be able to work with a hitter and straighten him out, mentally or mechanically, before he goes 0 for two weeks.
I have long thought that part of the problem was the lack of big league experience by many batting coaches. Does an established ballplayer look at Derek Shelton and say “this guy never got past A-ball and he’s going to correct my hitting problems?” Would the Rays be better off giving George Hendrick the batting coach responsibility? He’s not over worked patting base runners on the fanny and collecting their equipment at first base and he knows a bit about hitting. He spent 18 years in the show with 7,000 at bats, 278 homers and a .278 batting average.
Another issue with batting coaches is communication. When a pitcher is going bad, Jim Hickey goes to the mound and discusses the situation. Maybe he only says throw strikes but at least he is getting the pitcher to think. When a batter has two horrible at bats in a game, he comes back to the bench and sulks. Rarely does the batter approach Shelton or Shelton approach the batter to discuss what went wrong.
And finally, there is the evaluation of talent. Sean Rodriguez is in his fifth year with the team and only once has he hit above .250. He can’t hit right-handers and he’s a boom-or-bust guy as he has shown with all four of his hits in 2014 going for extra bases–to accompany a .167 average. Isn’t it the batting coach’s job to either make him a more complete hitter or to say to Joe Maddon, he hasn’t got it and we need to move on?
I have to disagree with my fellow Rays Colored Glasses writer Thomas Swan about what the Rays should do with Derek Shelton. I think it’s time for Shelton to move and bring in an ex-major league hitter who can relate to the players, move them along in the batter’s box, and make the Rays a better overall offensive team. At the very least, it’s time a fresh start. If not, take the money and spend it on visits from Dr. Phil!