As previously discussed, people with no knowledge of the game blame Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher for everything from global warming to the heartbreak of psoriasis.
Orange County Register beat writer Bill Plunkett tempts the wrath of the ignorant with an article today about some recent success stories.
Hatcher can point at two recent success stories in Mike Napoli and Shea Hillenbrand.
Napoli had been mired in a slump that stretched all the way back to midseason of last year. Three weeks ago, he was hitting .185 for the season — .142 over 66 games dating to last July.
After Hatcher finally sold him on making an adjustment with his hands, Napoli has taken off. He was not in the lineup for Thursday’s day game, but Napoli has a career-high 11-game hitting streak during which he has batted .359 with home runs in each of the past three games he has played.
"At that time, he was slumping so badly he was ready to listen," Hatcher said. "There was something in his mechanics I thought we needed to do, basically just simplifying his hands. He had that big loop in his swing, trying to hit the ball out. Where his hands were (high, with the bat wrapped behind his head), he thought he was Vlad Guerrero.
"I just talked to him about flattening his bat out and getting his hands in a better hitting position. I’d talked to him about it before. But it’s pretty tough to get guys to change when they’re going good. Sometimes you have to let a guy get to the point where they’re thinking, ‘Hey, I need to change something.’"
Hillenbrand had certainly reached those depths when he was benched for three games two weeks ago. At the time, he was hitting .225 with one extra-base hit (a double) and seven RBIs. He and Hatcher spent the three days studying videotape of Hillenbrand’s 2003 and 2004 seasons, when he averaged around .300 and 80-plus RBIs per season.
"A lot of that was just trying to get information. I hadn’t seen him much before this season," Hatcher said. "What we worked on had a lot to do with his setup, getting into a strong, balanced hitting position."
Elsewhere … Under the subject of people who think they know more about hitting than the professionals because they can work a four-function calculator, Los Angeles Times writer Bill Shaikin has this quote from Gary Matthews Jr. about how pitch counts work. Some of the more extreme in the sabermetric community claim the evidence proves a batter should never ever swing at the first pitch. Matthews, who works in the real world, counters that theory.
… Matthews says he focuses on a portion of the strike zone and swings if the pitch is there. It is too simple, he says, to automatically take a pitch from a pitcher struggling with his control. A pitcher searching for the strike zone might throw a fat strike, he says, and the first pitch might be the most hittable pitch he’ll see.
"There can be no rhyme or reason for a pitch sequence," Matthews said. "You can’t take a pitch and think he’ll give you a 1-0 fastball down the middle."