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New Phillies hitting coach Matt Stairs shares his hitting philosophies

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Former major league slugger Matt Stairs was named as the Phillies’ new hitting coach back in November. For the last three seasons, Stairs had worked with Tom McCarthy, Ben Davis, and Gregg Murphy (and Jamie Moyer) on the commentary for Phillies television broadcasts. Now, he gets to work hands-on with a team that last year ranked last in the majors in runs per game (3.77), second-to-last in batting average (.240), second-to-last in on-base percentage (.301), and last in slugging percentage (.384).

What hitting philosophies will Stairs impart to his pupils? MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki provides the answers:

“It’s more about certain guys hitting too many ground balls, or why isn’t the ball coming off their bat more solidly when they’re so strong?” Stairs said of those conversations with the front office. “We haven’t gotten too deep into the details, but you have to take baby steps. The biggest thing I’m teaching them right now is [hitting from] left-center to right-center and how to use the top hand when you hit. I think when they start realizing less body, more hands, that’s when the exit velocity jumps.”

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“You want to drive the ball through a shortstop or second baseman,” Stairs said. “If I tell Roman Quinn, ‘We don’t want you hitting the ball in the air, we want you hitting ground balls.’ … We don’t want you hitting ground balls. What happens is you start guiding the ball through the zone and you top it and kill the ants and worms in front [of the plate], or you carve it and hit fly balls.

“The approach we have this spring is the first two rounds [of batting practice], I want you killing the second baseman and shortstop, up the middle and hard. Don’t think about hitting the ball on the ground. Think about having that good top hand, driving the ball through the infielders on a good line drive. And if you clip it a little bit, now you have gap power.”

Stairs also spoke of the importance of being positive. He said, “My job, at the end of every day, after BP, is give high-fives, give knuckles and walk out of that cage with something positive.”

As the stats show, the Phillies haven’t had much to be proud about in recent years as the club continued its rebuilding effort. And Stairs appears to be onto something about not hitting the ball on the ground. The Phillies tied with the Pirates for the fifth-highest ground ball percentage last season at 46.9 percent. Of the five teams ahead of them, three had bottom-10 offenses (Braves, Marlins, Royals) and two eked above the league average in runs per game (Pirates, Diamondbacks). The Phillies make it four out of six teams with the highest ground ball percentages ranking at or near the bottom offensively.

The Phillies were slow to embrace analytics, having only recently installed a full-fledged analytics department. But Zolecki notes in his article that the team is implementing statistics from Statcast and other sources into their analyses. It’s not apparent from his quotes that Stairs is a stats devotee, but his hitting principles are in line with what stats people have been telling us for years.

Video: Andrew Toles hammers grand slam in Cactus League win

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Dodgers’ left fielder Andrew Toles crushed his first spring training home run on Saturday afternoon. With the bases loaded and a two-run deficit hanging over their heads in the fourth inning, Toles stepped up to the plate against Oakland right-hander Jesse Hahn and unloaded a grand slam on the second pitch he saw.

Third baseman Justin Turner was quick to follow up with a solo jack of his own, bringing the score to a comfortable 7-4 lead by the end of the fourth. Another three-run outburst in the fifth and an eighth-inning RBI single by Austin Barnes raised the final score to 11-6… which, coincidentally, was the same score the Reds used to defeat the Athletics’ second split-squad lineup on Saturday (albeit with a few more RBI walks than grand slams).

Toles, 24, is approaching his sophomore season with the Dodgers in 2017. He slashed .314/.365/.505 with three home runs and an .870 OPS in his first major league season in 2016 and is expected to platoon with the right-handed Franklin Gutierrez in left field this year.

David Price’s season debut could be pushed back to May

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David Price showed “strength improvements” in his elbow on Saturday, but Red Sox’ manager John Farrell still doesn’t think the left-hander will be ready to throw by the start of the season — or for a few weeks afterward. According to ESPN’s Scott Lauber, the 31-year-old might not be ready to debut until May at the earliest.

Price hasn’t thrown off of a mound this spring after experiencing soreness in his left elbow on March 1. Surgery doesn’t appear to be necessary, but the Red Sox are playing it extra safe with their No. 3 starter in hopes that rest and rehabilitation will return him to full health sometime during the 2017 season. For now, Price has been restricted to short games of catch until he’s cleared to resume a more rigorous throwing program. Via MLB.com’s Ian Browne:

[There were] strength improvements to the point of putting the ball back in his hand a little more consistently,” said manager John Farrell. “Today’s the first step for that. A short game of catch. That’s what he’s going through. Not off a mound but just to get the arm moving with a ball in flight, and he will continue in this phase for a period of time. There’s no set distance and volume yet to the throws.

The lefty is coming off of a lackluster 2016 season, during which he delivered a 3.99 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 230 innings for the Red Sox.