Bill Baer

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 29:  Matt Stairs #12 of of the Philadelphia Phillies bats against the New York Yankees in Game Two of the 2009 MLB World Series at Yankee Stadium on October 29, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees won 3-1. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

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.”

[…]

“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.

Nick Franklin was an Uber driver during the offseason

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 7:  Nick Franklin #2 of the Tampa Bay Rays hits a two-run home run off of pitcher Dylan Bundy of the Baltimore Orioles during the second inning of a game on September 7, 2016 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
Brian Blanco/Getty Images
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Rays utilityman Nick Franklin worked as an Uber driver during the offseason, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. He apparently made 9-10 trips and got a 4.8 rating out of 5.0.

Topkin wrote about Franklin’s side job last October for the Times. Franklin said, “I wanted something to do on the weekends because I never really do anything.”

Many people in the U.S. deleted the Uber app from their phones recently because the ride-sharing company undermined taxi drivers while people demonstrated in New York in late January against President Trump’s executive order concerning immigration. People felt that lifting surge pricing at JFK International Airport, the site of the protests, was taking advantage of those protesting from the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. The #DeleteUber hashtag even trended on Twitter. Travis Kalanick, the CEO of Uber, had been a corporate advisor in Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum, but resigned on February 2 in response to criticism.

Joey Votto: “I probably would’ve been far more embraced 50 or 75 years ago.”

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 31: Joey Votto #19 of the Cincinnati Reds walks in the dugout during the third inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 31, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
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In an interview with FOX19’s Joe Danneman, Reds first baseman Joey Votto discussed how he would have been viewed in the past as opposed to the current era. Votto, of course, has been criticized by fans and media types alike in Cincinnati because he draws so many walks. Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman has been one frequent critic of Votto’s for that reason, and many fans have followed in suit.

Votto said to Danneman, “I probably would’ve been far more embraced 50 or 75 years ago to be honest with you because I had a steady batting average. That would’ve been a major marker and people would’ve pointed to that and said, ‘Look how well he’s playing.'”

Votto certainly has been elite in the batting average department. He’s a career .313 hitter and finished with an average above .300 in seven of eight seasons in which he’s logged at least 100 games, and hit .297 in the other season. It’s the on-base percentage, though, that sends Votto from great to elite. His .425 career OBP is tops among active players and he’s led the league in OBP five times. Excepting intentional walks, Votto is Barry Bonds-esque in this department.

However, Votto has only 730 RBI in his career and has topped the 100 RBI threshold only twice in his career, which has angered his critics. But, as many (including myself) have pointed out over the years, that’s had more to do with the likes of Billy Hamilton and Brandon Phillips hitting ahead of him than anything else.