It's hard to say how much a batting coach impacts a given team. Some are better teachers than others. Some have better students. Sometimes, all a player needs is a sounding board. Other times, he needs someone to reconstruct the physical mechanics of his swing. Often, a batter probably needs to be left alone. It used to be there was no such thing as a "batting coach." Today, many teams employ two of them.
After recent failures, the Chicago Cubs feel like their next hitting coach has to be the right guy. And that guy is former major league Bill Mueller, reports Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago:
They know they can’t get this hire wrong after a 96-loss season filled with “mixed messages.”
Mueller became a signature acquisition for Theo Epstein’s Boston Red Sox, winning an American League batting title in 2003 and helping the Band of Idiots win the 2004 World Series.
Mueller has worked in the Los Angeles Dodgers front office after an 11-year career in which he hit .291 and posted a .373 on-base percentage, grinding out at-bats with the kind of approach the Cubs hope to see their big-time prospects develop.
“That position in general will be incredibly important for us,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes. “Some of our young hitters are going to have to learn over time how to control the strike zone, how to get on base.
“We have to have the right message. We don’t want to overly force that message. We want to make sure guys are themselves. But as an organization, it’s pretty obvious we have to get on base more.”
"Band of idiots" means something altogether different for the Cubs, who are trying to change that perception about themselves. Now, just because Mueller could get on base as a player, it doesn't mean his personal ability can transcend via lessons to, for example, Starlin Castro. No matter how good Mueller is at communicating. In fact, if there's any evidence at all, it's that players with patience are born, not made. But if Mueller could at least plant the idea in Castro's head that he could be a better hitter if he used the strike zone more effectively, "and here's how you might try," there's a chance he might get on base a little more often. And that would help the Cubs win.
And if the Cubs at least set the expectation at the major league level that getting on base is important, word will trickle down to young players such as Albert Amora, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant. Maybe they'll adjust accordingly, maybe they won't have to, maybe they'll swing for the fences every time. But at least they'll know.
A problem with Mueller: He has zero traditional coaching experience. He's been a scout, he had a notable playing career, he knows the guys in the Cubs front office. But he's never done it — been a hitting coach — before.
Mariano Duncan (another candidate for the big league job) has been one of Cubs hitting instructors in the minors. He wasn't much for walks as a player. But that doesn't make him a bad coach. There's always the fishy sounding axiom: Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.
One can see why finding a good hitting coach might be difficult.
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