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Interview: Dave Magadan

I recently had a conversation with Boston Red Sox hitting instructor Dave Magadan, who also played in the Major Leagues from 1986 to 2001, and had one of the most interesting careers of any corner infielder in history. His ratio of career WAR (27.1) to home runs (42) is pretty stunning, and Magadan showed that you didn’t have to hit the ball over the fence to be a productive player. What are his philosophies as a hitting coach? Read on for the answers.

1) Referring to younger players, many of us who follow baseball have heard the term from scouts and coaches that the power in a player will eventually come? What do scouts and coaches see that the casual fan might be overlooking or failing to recognize?

DM: They might be seeing a frame on a young player that is showing that he will fill out and get a lot stronger. That he’s showing bat speed, but is lacking in overall strength to drive the ball out of the park.

2) Can a hitter, from all the batting practice, on-deck swings, and hitting off a tee, among other similar range of motions, tire themselves out and find themselves fatigued and a split-second late trying to hit in the later innings? Is the volume of repetitions something that you or the team monitor?

DM: No question that a hitter can swing too much. There are times when we will throttle back a player and tell him to take a day off of batting practice and just chill out. There are guys that will go in and out of slumps in one batting practice session because they hit beyond the point of feeling good and work their way back into not feeling good.

3) You have gone from player to now coach. Since teaching is a skill, how do you translate your philosophies to your players so that they can understand clearly what you are trying to get them to execute?

DM:Certainly I have my philosophy on my ideal Red Sox player, but my job is to get the most out of each players God given talents and make them the best they can be. And in doing that, we hope to guide them along the path of being what we need them to be in order for them to be a productive Red Sox player.

4) Pitches seen per plate appearance (PPA) validates patience shown by a hitter, and a hitter always wants to square off against the next pitch in a desirable count. How do you teach your hitters to arrive at a desirable count without relinquishing their aggressiveness? Is some of your approach derived by how well you and the hitter know the tendencies of the pitcher and how the pitcher sequences his pitches?

DM: We teach our players to be aggressive from pitch one. We want them ready to hit. Our hitters go into each at bat with knowledge of the pitcher and a solid approach. When you have that in hand, you tend to be patient for a pitch you can drive. Also, when you have no fear of hitting behind in the count or hitting with two strikes, you are going to have a high pitch count per at bat.

5) How often do you and your hitting coach brethren compare notes and discuss techniques to possibly apply to one’s own team?

DM: Never with other teams, but I speak with our minor league hitting coaches and coordinator on a regular basis.

6) Without giving away your secrets and knowledge, are there still any corners of the teaching of hitting yet to be explored as far as technique does?

DM: You never stop learning and I don’t claim to know everything. i listen to my hitters, and fellow coaches within the organization. You never know when you might hear something put in a way that can make the light go on for a hitter.

7) I want to discuss plate discipline regarding young players. Can a young player’s approach boil down to a sociological discrepancy? Which is: can a young, astute minor league hitter be fooled into believing that the only way to stick with the big league club upon promotion is to abandon the approach that led him to the majors and simply try to hit every pitch he sees, to try and impress his friends, his family, his teammates and coaches, and quicken the road to fame and fortune?

DM: We do a good job of being consistent in our organization letting players know the type of player that will move quickly through the system. The players that have success in the minors would be foolish to make drastic changes when they arrive in majors. It’s hard to make it to the big leagues, but it’s even harder to stay. Be yourself, and do the things that got you there.

8) Conversely, in conjunction with your answer to the previous question, can a young hitter succumb to anxiety and the dramatic change in his life now that he finds himself in a major league lineup and become overly patient to the point he is too fearful to swing the bat and make outs?

DM: Rarely does that happen. Usually it’s the other way around. They become over-aggressive because many times they’re in a more limited role than they were in the minors, and they try to do too much in their few chances.

9) Can you describe your philosophy regarding the most optimal way of constructing a lineup? Is there room for change in what we know to be the normal layout that structures most lineups?

DM: I’m pretty traditional. High on base at the top with speed, second a hitter that doesn’t mind hitting behind in the count, best hitter hitting third, best power fourth, run producer fifth, etc… It’s also nice to have a high on base ninth to help turn the lineup over.

10) Tim McCarver proposed on a telecast from last season the idea of teams employing two hitting coaches, one for left-handed hitters and one for right-handed hitters. How do you feel about this idea?

DM Ridiculous. I’m capable of breaking down a righthanders swing as well as a lefthanders swing. That’s like saying you need two pitching coaches for lefties and righties, or two infield coaches for lefty throwers and righty throwers.

11) There have been a slew of new statistics since you’ve played to better measure the performance of a player. How closely, or if at all, do you look at statistics like, say, wOBA or WAR?

DM: I look at all the new hitting statistics, but in the end you have to have a good eye for what makes your hitters tick.

12) Staying on statistics, Fans realize that most, if not all, ballplayers analyze videotape of their at-bats frequently. But are players aware of their progress, or regressions, related to the batted ball data that Fangraphs publishes, such as how often they swing at, or refrain from, pitches in and out of the zone?

DM: Very few players are aware of those statistics. They become aware when someone asks them about it. In some cases I might bring it up to a player to prove a point. Maybe they’re chasing out of the zone with two strikes, with RISP, etc…

13) Player X walks up to you and, after scorching another line drive for an out to drop his average to a mythical .250, says ‘I’ll be Ok, coach. My batting average is only .250, and my line drive rate is higher than it has ever been, but my BABIP is .202.” What do you say?

DM: “You need to spend less time on MLB.com and more time in the cage”.

14) There have been studies suggesting clutch-hitting does not exist. But the studies arrive from those who, presumably, have never stood in a batters box with runners on base in the eighth inning of a tie game. As someone who has stood in the batters box numerous times in pressure-packed situations, can you sense in the body language of certain players approaching the late innings either a sense of eagerness or filled with anxiety?

DM: You have no control over the outcome. But I think over the course of many at bats, the guys that have the ability to slow the game down, think on their feet, and stay within themselves, they are the ones that consistently put the ball in play with authority, The more you hit the ball with authority the bigger the chance you’ll have success in pressure situations.

15)You have played with several different organizations- is the Red Sox way of doing things different in any way from other organizations?

DM: The Red Sox are second to none. They give players and staff alike unlimited resources to allow us to do the best job possible. From ownership all the way down, the organization exudes class.