Q&A: Jeff Manto, White Sox Hitting Coach

Jeff Manto stresses approach over mechanics and believes in letting a hitter be himself. The philosophy is paying dividends for the first-year Chicago White Sox hitting coach, as his team currently ranks sixth in MLB in runs scored and fifth in home runs. A big part of that success has been the reemergence of Adam Dunn and Alex Rios, who have flourished under his watch.

Manto shared his thoughts on hitting, and four key members of the White Sox lineup, last month at Fenway Park.

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Manto on Adam Dunn and confidence: “Adam has great athleticism. He really has a good bottom half in his swing, and as big as he is, he has great eye-hand coordination — despite his strikeouts. He has the ability to put a lot of balls in play, although it’s not necessarily happening right now. And he has a great swing path.

“I would define athleticism, for a hitter, as being able get to all parts of the plate. There are some guys who become too mechanical and strictly have the ability to hit middle-in. Athleticism is showing the ability to take a left-handed curveball, or a left-handed slider, that’s down and away and hit it to left-center. Adam can do that.

“Adam’s swing path is… I don’t know if ‘traditional’ is the right word, but it’s a bat path that comes down through the zone. He has some length in his swing behind him and he has great length out in front of him.

“I don’t think [the length] contributes to his strikeout totals. I think pitch selection does that for him. It’s a timing thing. His swing path is fine.

“Why [is he having a good year]? Number one, he’s healthy. And despite the whole mechanical part of it, I think he just believes that he can hit again. He believes that he is a superstar and believes that he a good hitter. When you have confidence on top of ability, you’re dangerous.

“When a guy is struggling, it’s usually more mental than anything. I firmly believe — and I’m probably in the minority on this — that once you get to the big leagues, your mechanics are just about fine. I don’t think you ever have the perfect mechanics on every swing, but if you have a good approach every night, you can succeed. Everybody at this level has the mechanics to play here.”

On Alex Rios and adjustments: “Rios, right now, is such a great hitter. With him and me, it was an evolution of discussions on what he wanted to do with the ball. When he was spread out… in talking to him, his batting stance didn’t match what he wanted to do with the ball. He wanted to drive the ball to all fields, get on top of some breaking balls, and on top of some fastballs. Being spread out didn’t allow him to do that. As we talked, he moved himself and stood up taller. Now he sees a lot differently and isn’t missing a whole lot of pitches.

“We talked. I wasn’t going to go in there and be a hitting coach who demanded that anything got done. We had conversations and he believed, and trusted, what we had to say. That’s when he took off.

“I’m not a big video guy. I know that video is very important and I know it plays a major role, but it’s just a part of the hitting department. It’s not solely the hitting department. We didn’t look at video, we looked at results. One thing we try to do here is worry about the ball. We believe that if we worry about the ball, the ball becomes the most important thing and mechanics will take care of themselves.

“As a hitting coach, I’m looking for balls hit hard. If you’re squaring the ball up — if you’re hitting it hard — I firmly believe that your mechanics are sound, and your approach is sound.”

On Paul Konerko and preparation: “Our guys will tell me what their plan is, and if I disagree with that, then we’ll have a discussion about it. There are a few guys on our team who like to look middle-in, and hit away. That’s not the traditional way of way of doing things, but there are a lot of successful hitters who do that. The zone you look in varies hitter to hitter.”

“Paul Konerko, probably [wants the most information on the team]. He likes to see where balls are being hit. He likes to know what he’s doing, because he’s such a conscientious guy. He pays attention to a lot of different things. He cares.

“What we look for is where their pitches are, whether he’s an arm-side guy or a glove-side guy. If we know that a guy can’t throw his fastball to his arm side, well, we’re looking glove side, and vice versa. We’re not going to sit here and try to cover the whole plate. We’re looking tendencies. We’re looking to see where they throw most of the time.

“[Konerko] wants a few people involved, but all we do is validate what his plan his. He’s one of the superstars that truly accepts and appreciates coaching.”

On Gordon Beckham and mechanics: “Gordon is finally getting his mechanics to where he can sustain 600 plate appearances. Last year was quite a bit uphill. His hips were moving quite a bit, but now he’s trying to stay in place more often. His lower half was coming up and sliding a little bit, and it was dragging his bat through the zone. He’s cleaned that up quite a bit.

“When you’re running your hips all over the place… there are a thousand drills to help you feel that. You want them to concentrate most on the drills that will help them feel what they need to adjust. And it’s a commitment. You have to mentally and physically commit to making an adjustment.

“In a more general sense, one of the downfalls of hitting is that it has become so darn mechanical. I think there is a time and place for mechanics. When you’re dealing with so much stress and so much pressure at these high levels, you have to depend on your approach. Some might argue, but in my opinion, your approach is more important than your mechanics. When you have 40,000 people screaming down your throat, you have to be able to stick to your approach.

“If a hitter’s approach is correct, and he can’t get it done, then it’s mechanics. That isn’t very common, because like I said earlier, if you’re playing at this level, you have mechanics. There might be a tweak here or there, but nothing that needs an overhaul. If you need an overhaul, you’re not ready to play here.”

On letting hitters be themselves: “We have 13 hitters and I try to teach 13 different ways. I’ll tell 13 different hitters 13 different spots, and 13 different plans. I don’t believe there is one way of hitting. In my opinion, a good hitting coach has to teach 13 different ways. That’s what I try to do.

“When I played, I had Charlie Manuel and Joe Maddon as hitting coaches, and they both made sure that I took care of my strengths. I want my guys to experience what I experienced. I had great hitting coaches who let me be me. When I needed to be instructed, they weren’t afraid to come in and say, ‘Hey, do this,’ but mostly they let me be me.”



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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josh m
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josh m
3 years 10 months ago

I remember Jeff Manto -said nobody outside of Baltimore ever.

MikeS
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MikeS
3 years 10 months ago

I haven’t been terribly impressed with him since he got to the White Sox and this doesn’t change my opinion all that much. Adam Dunn’s strikeouts are because of pitch selection? Does Manto know that Dunn leads MLB in walks? Problem is, Manto doesn’t believe in taking pitches, working pitchers or that a walk is a really good thing for an offense. He wants his hitters to be “aggressive.” The team ranks 24th in MLB in walks and while they were never the most patient team in the league under Walker (Especially with Pierzynski, Ramirez and now Viciedo), they were usually better than that.

I know they are a much better offense this year than last year and especially Rios and Dunn are better but I wonder just how much he has to do with that. Rios has always been enigmatic and Dunn looks to have lost a lot of weight since last year. I’ve always wondered just how much effect hitting coaches have in general.

diegosanchez
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diegosanchez
3 years 10 months ago

I’ll take my chances taking Manto over Derek Shelton any day.

Chomp
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Chomp
3 years 10 months ago

I understand his comment about Dunn and his pitch selection. If you reread that part his comments seem to mean that Dunn has issues with timing on his pitch selection. That could mean that he is sitting fastball in a breaking ball count. So it doesn’t mean so much that he has a bad eye, but that he is swinging through change-ups when he is sitting fastball.

As for hitting coaches I think they are more of a support system once a player reaches the big leagues. A motivator and someone for a player to bounce ideas off of. I don’t believe that they have a very dramatic effect on a player’s approach after he reaches a certain age. I.e. Jimmy Rollins refusal to see pitches from the leadoff spot. It has been reported year in and year out that JRoll will not alter his approach no matter how much the coaches urge him to do it.

therood
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3 years 10 months ago

Nothing about A.J. Pierzynski’s newfound power?

He’s already eclipsed his previous single-season best in HRs while his doubles total is down. His OPS+ with the Sox from 2005-2011 (under Greg Walker) was 90. This year, it’s 128. I don’t know if it’s coincidental or resulting from a coaching change, but it seems like something that Manto would have been able to shed some light on.

Eminor3rd
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Eminor3rd
3 years 10 months ago

It doesn’t look like he’s doing anything differently to me — he’s just running into more of them.

Chris G
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3 years 10 months ago

Id say AJ’s power has a lot to do with where he is hitting in the lineup, and whos around him. Hes had Konerko, Dunn, and Rios around him pretty much all season. He’s seeing better pitches. Also helps he isnt hitting second in the lineup, where he was forced to move runners along more times than not.

therood
Member
3 years 10 months ago

That’s hard for me to buy. In 2006, he regularly hit around or between any of the team’s four 30-HR hitters (Thome, Konerko, Dye, Crede).

AJ’s numbers that year: 16 HRs, OPS+ of 94.

And that’s pretty typical of his time in Chicago, though his HR totals were even lower the last two seasons. I think there may be something to him being asked to be a #2 hitter and to “move hitters” along. That’s a very Ozzie Guillen idea.

I would guess the change has a lot more to do with the manager’s style than the hitting coach’s, but I would have loved to hear what Manto had to say about it.

By the numbers, AJ’s K% is way up from the last three seasons and his BB% is a bit higher. His BABIP is similar to the last couple years, as are his FB% and GB%.

So maybe he’s being more selective and trying to pull the ball more. Anybody know where I can find spray charts?

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