“Listen, I’ve found something else.”
The above quote is from Keith Hernandez’s book If At First about the 1985 season with the Mets. Hernandez’s dad was his main hitting coach from childhood and during a horrific slump, was trying to help his son regain the swing that made him one of the premier hitters in baseball.
Studying old tapes while Hernandez was with the Cardinals, his dad saw that Hernandez had gradually opened his stance until it was too open; also, he wasn’t seeing the full uniform number on his back from the centerfield camera as his son prepared to swing.
Hernandez didn’t buy it. It was “automatic”. He simply knew where to place his foot when he stepped into the box. He knew how far to turn and other small details of his swing.
But his dad was right.
Shortly after making the adjustments with his stance, hands and hip turn in July of 1985, Hernandez went on a tear batting .392 in July with a 1.122 OPS and won Player of the Month.
Veteran players who’ve had success, in general, have a series of checkpoints that they adhere to. There’s not much for a hitting coach to tell them because they’ve usually figured it out for themselves.
But sometimes the hitter needs a coach to tell him what he sees and intervene if it’s not working. If imperceptible alterations have been made without the hitter realizing it, they have to be nipped before becoming ingrained.
In this Sports Illustrated article about Jason Bay, Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens looked at Bay’s swing, stance and approach while he was with the Red Sox in 2008-2009 and noticed the differences between then and what Bay’s done in his two years with the Mets.
It’s amazing how quickly a great hitter like Hernandez or one that’s been a top power producer like Bay loses confidence and listens to everyone and tries everything.
Bay made the changes Hudgens suggested in September of 2011 and started hitting.
It was only one month, but he had a .313/.392/.563 slash line with 3 homers and 7 doubles. That’s the hitter the Mets thought they were getting.
Those who were savaging Bay as a disaster because of his injuries and poor performance with the Mets used silly arguments to “prove” their assertions.
“It’s because of Citi Field.”
The Pirates’ home of PNC Park is about as tough a hitter’s park as Citi Field and Bay was fine while playing there. As a Met, he’s hit much better at home in Citi Field than he has on the road.
“It’s because he’s a Met.”
What one thing has to do with another is beyond me and it might be because there’s no evidence—other than lame jokes—that signing with the Mets has anything to do with an established All-Star player’s decline. Are the Mets worse than the Pirates were while Bay was there? No.
Sometimes the reason for a fall is obvious. When a player is doing something differently from what worked and is failing, obviously he needs to go back to what he did before. But he has to have someone point it out and he has to listen.
Will Bay again become the player he was with the Pirates? With the Red Sox? Will he stay healthy?
Or will we have a repeat of his first two seasons with the Mets?
There’s no answer until the games start, but a good indicator of a player’s future performance is his past performance and for Bay—someone who was never accused of using any PEDs—to have suddenly “lost” it at age 31 is ludicrous.
Hernandez went back to what he did before and it worked. Bay’s doing the same thing.
Will it work?
Look at the back of the card at his numbers before he joined the Mets. For those seven seasons, he was a top power hitter; for two, he’s been a disaster.
I’ll take the seven over the two and believe that he’s going to hit because that’s what he did before.
It’s not all that hard to figure out.