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Hitting Coach Candidates

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An early look at the field of potential Cardinal hitting coaches

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Former professional baseball player Stubby Clapp being honored at AutoZone Park in 2016
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With the departure of José Oquendo, the Cardinals announced some changes to their major-league coaching staff. Most importantly headed into the offseason are the vacancies at the first base coach and hitting coach spots. George Greer is headed back to a minor-league role, leaving Mark Budaska as one of the two coaches leading the offense.

In recent years, the Cards have moved quickly in filling vacancies, even when doing so externally. Given that trend, let’s take a look at some early candidates for the hitting coach position. With the Cardinals prioritizing an analytics approach, some may be a much more obvious fit than others. Other candidates could easily emerge, but these seem to be the most obvious headed into November.

Stubby Clapp

2018 Role: Manager - Memphis Redbirds

Clapp is the most obvious option of all potential candidates. He’s familiar with the organization and has done a tremendous job managing the Memphis Redbirds, winning championships and taking home Manager of the Year honors amid a ton of roster turnover.

Though he’s been lauded as an up-and-coming manager, Clapp’s coaching career began as a hitting coach. He served in that role in the systems of both the Houston Astros and the Toronto Blue Jays, going as high as Double-A before moving into managerial roles.

Per Derrick Goold’s reporting, John Mozeliak and the Cardinals’ front office are pretty set on having Clapp on the major-league staff next season.

The question will be if Clapp is available for the position.

There’s been heavy speculation that Clapp would be considered for the managerial vacancies in both Toronto and Texas. Though he downplayed those rumors earlier this offseason, saying he’d yet to receive a call about the job, Bob Elliott of Canadian Baseball Network reported that Clapp interviewed for the role with the Blue Jays earlier this week.

It makes a ton of sense, given that Clapp is a Canadian and would probably prefer to take the helm of a team instead of serving in a support role. He’s definitely a lock for this spot or the first base coach position, if he’s still available.

Chili Davis

2018 Role: Hitting Coach - Chicago Cubs

Davis is an interesting option, being a recently-fired Cub with a strained relationship with his former employer. It’s easy to see the possibility that Davis was a scapegoat for the Cubs failing to meet expectations. In an interview with Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun Times, Davis was professional, but said he thinks the issue was his relationship with players—or lack thereof.

“I learned that the next situation I get in, before I say yes to a job, I need to make sure I know the personnel I’ll be dealing with in the clubhouse. I hope that the next guy connects better with the players, because I felt that there were multiple players there I didn’t connect with. It wasn’t that I didn’t try. It just wasn’t there.”

Davis has a pretty rich history before the Cubs. An above-average hitter in his playing days, Davis was a hitting coach for both the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox before joining the Cubs for the 2018 season.

Davis had top-10 offenses in four of those six seasons prior to joining the Cubs, including a 2013 Athletics team ranking fourth in the majors by wRC+ and a 2016 Red Sox squad that led all teams in that category.

John Mozeliak and the front office seem to be looking for Mike Maddux’s counterpart. From the Goold article referenced earlier, Mozeliak had this to say about the vacancy:

“I think what our goal of this is more of a preparation and strategy (role),” Mozeliak said. “Understanding how someone is going to pitch to you and how you can adjust to it. When you think about style or approach, really you want to be able to maximize what you’re good at.”

Mark Budaska knows swings. He’s clearly the mechanical guy of the two hitting coaches who will be on the staff. Looking at quotes from Davis and his former players, he seems to have a focus on that preparation area. A quote from Jason Heyward in The Athletic sums that up pretty well:

“Sometimes, you may not always need to talk about a mechanical thing. Sometimes, you just may need [to talk about a feel] and this gets you in the right mindset. And then things fall into place that way.”

Dave Magadan

2018 Role: Hitting Coach - Arizona Diamondbacks

Another former Red Sox hitting coach, Magadan and the Diamondbacks “came to the mutual decision to part ways” after a season where the Dbacks offense failed to meet expectations.

Look at the numbers and Magadan may not be entirely to blame for the Dbacks’ struggles.

Look at the total offense numbers at Chase Field compared to last year, with the humidor being installed. It was obvious even at the end of April, when Mike Petriello noted that home runs per game at the park had dropped from 2.6 in April 2017 to 1.9 this April. At the end of the year, Chase’s park factors had also dropped since last year, with runs falling from 1.202 to 2018’s 1.057, dropping out of the top 10.

Magadan served as the Red Sox hitting coach from 2007 to 2012, where every offense he headed finished inside the top 4 in the majors. After moving to the Rangers and Diamondbacks for 2013 and beyond, he didn’t have a group of bats finish inside the top 10.

On the side of advanced metrics, Magadan said in an interview with Yahoo! Sport that he isn’t afraid of analytics, he just views them as a way of interpreting what we already know:

“I don’t think analytics changes much of what I do as a hitting coach. They are just another way to quantify what the hitters are doing and, more or less, to solidify what we’re thinking as hitting coaches by pointing out ways in which players have to improve. Numbers like exit velocity and launch angle are just ways for us to grade out how the hitters are doing. It doesn’t really change anything that we do. We are trying to keep hitters sound mechanically and fundamentally, and if a player is doing that, he is going to hit a lot of balls hard.”

Hensley Meulens

2018 Role: Bench Coach - San Francisco Giants

Meulens began his coaching career as a hitting coach and was pretty widely respected in that role, serving for teams from the low minor leagues up to the major-league level.

He took over for the Giants in that position in 2010 and began a torrid stretch of world series appearances and victors (that we all remember too well). Three of his offenses finished inside the top 10 in wRC+.

Meulens moved to the role of bench coach this season and has interviewed for manager positions; with that in mind, he may view a hitting coach role as a downgrade.

Additionally, he may not fit the analytics, strategy mindset. Two excerpts of an SBNation interview with Meulens in 2013:

“I keep it simple,” he says. “I believe in seeing the ball and hitting it. There’s all kinds of statistics nowadays. What’s the WAR? (Wins Above Replacement.) What’s the BABIP? (Batting Average on Balls In Play.) What are these things, you know?”

“What’s the numbers going to do for you? They can’t help you hit. We have to realize the game has gone that route and we have to be aware of what it is. We are aware of what it is, but I can’t coach based on that. I’ve got to coach based on feel and trusting what your eyes see. There are so many ways to do it in baseball.”

Jim Edmonds

2018 Role: None

There’s no need to explain the ability Edmonds had at the plate, as we saw it firsthand. Now, he’s pretty close to the team being in the broadcast booth so often. Derrick Goold reports that players already seek Edmonds out for advice, given their respect for his ability and intuition.

The problem may lie in the analytics side. While Edmonds hasn’t been John Smoltzian in his response to advanced metrics, he hasn’t been an outright supporter. His expertise could lean too far toward the mechanical side and not have enough on the strategic to satisfy the front office’s desires.

Then again, Edmonds may not want the job to begin with. He hasn’t expressed interest in being back in the dugout.