Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Giants Hitting Manual

Credit Andy Baggarly's quick pen for quickly scribbling down the 16 (!) chapter titles for the Giants hitting manual and posting on his blog (some of his blog readers actually thought he could get a copy of it for them...). Here are the chapters:
  1. Accelerated development

  2. Development of the patiently aggressive hitting approach

  3. The mental game

  4. Vison plan

  5. Situational hitting

  6. Two-strike approach

  7. Batting practice routines

  8. Mechanics

  9. Bunting

  10. Maintenance program

  11. Pitchers as hitters

  12. Use of video systems

  13. Terminology

  14. Drills

  15. Responsibilities of the hitting coach

  16. Count knowledge

Andy asked Carney Lansford, the Giants hitting coach, what "Accelerated Development" meant:

He defined it as teaching kids to be major league hitters from the time they’re in rookie ball, not just teaching them what they need to be successful against pitchers at their current level.

“When they get here, they need to know what to expect,” Lansford said. “As a player, it was my pet peeve when a coach would tell me to do something without showing me how. `Hey, we need you to hit behind the runner.’ OK, great. Any coach can say that. Why don’t you show me how to do it?

There was also a prior article on the manual that led to this blog post. Here are some interesting bits from that, which I'm quoting because the Mercury cuts off articles after a while:

This book won't be a best seller. It's not available from Amazon.com. It won't turn baseball on its ear.

But the Giants believe it will help them break an embarrassing drought.

The book begins thusly: "The San Francisco Giants hitting program is designed to provide the means for each hitter within the organization to realize his potential and to develop into a productive, knowledgeable, professional hitter as quickly as possible."

"Professional" is underlined.

The Giants crafted a hitting manual over the winter — a document to spell out their expectations for coaches, detail their core theories and make sure knowledge is spread consistently and evenly like black earth on a farm field.

It has 16 chapters, with titles such as "The Mental Game" and "Batting Practice Routines" and "Count Knowledge" and "Development of the Patiently Aggressive Hitting Approach."

...

"Before you can develop hitters, you've got to have them," Sabean said. "It's tough to polish up somebody with skills who has a marginal bat."

...

"This is part of the 'Giants Way' you're hearing about," Manager Bruce Bochy said. "Most organizations have a manual, but with the changes on the staff the last couple years, it was time to do another one. It's not so much a specific way to hit as much as making sure we're all doing things the same way from top to bottom; that we're teaching the same things, using the same terminology and using the same drills on every level.

"It's OK for a coach to have different ideas. We just want to make sure we aren't confusing the player."

Hitting coach Carney Lansford, who returns for his second season, led the effort to craft the manual, in concert with organizational hitting coordinator Bob Mariano. The Giants hired two former big leaguers to coach at their top two minor league affiliates: Hensley Meulens at Triple-A Fresno, and Garey Ingram at Double-A Connecticut.

"Some of the biggest things we can do are the simplest," Lansford said. "When one of your hitters gets moved, make a phone call." Lansford pointed to the Los Angeles Angels and Colorado Rockies as clubs with especially strong coordination in their
player-development systems.

"If you wait till they get to the big leagues, it's too late," Lansford said. "We've got guys in the major leagues who don't know how to hit the ball to right field."

...

You won't find any "Moneyball" excerpts in Lansford's manual, though. He believes strongly in a patiently aggressive approach. And so does his general manager.

"We like pitches per plate appearance and on-base percentage and all that, but you've got to learn how to hit first," Sabean said. "We don't want to teach kids how to walk. If you don't have the basic aggressiveness to swing the bat or be able to hit a fastball, you're not going to be prepared when you get something to hit. And that's really true at any level."


Giants Thoughts


That is a pretty comprehensive manual on hitting. Baggarly noted that there wasn't a chapter on walking, but I think that would be covered in Chapter 2. To me, being patient is the essence of a hitter who tries to draw walks.

Teddy Ball

Furthermore, being patiently aggressive is how I would describe Ted Williams approach to hitting, as described in his book "Science of Hitting". Hits are what a team needs more, as you can drive in runs as well as score runs, and Williams taught that the batting average you can derive will vary with each zone you swing at pitches. In a certain part of the strike zone, if you get a pitch there, you can hope to hit .400 or better there; in other parts, you drop to the low 200's. By being picky about which pitches you swing at, you improve the location of the pitches/strikes thrown at you. And you be aggressive is in swinging for the fences, as the home run is obviously the best hit to get.

Other Chapters

I am also glad that they have a chapter on pitchers as hitters. As I demonstrated in a post a while back (and which was confirmed to a degree by a later study by Baseball Prospectus, which I covered here), if a pitcher can improve his hitting to be as good as a poor major league position player (in my example I used Vizquel's projection of .671 OPS), he can get himself 1-2 extra wins per season just by that act. A 12-12 .500 pitcher is suddenly a 13-11 or 14-10 pitcher. And over roughly 10 seasons, he goes from having a 120-120 record to having a 130-110 or 140-100 record.

As I noted then, it is probably not possible to improve all pitchers to be as good as one of the worse position hitters, but if they can at least close up some of the gap between pitchers in general and the worse hitters, that can add 5-10 wins to a team's record annually, with no improvement in the overall lineup, no improvement in pitching, no improvement in defense. Just improving the pitcher's hitting could do that for a team.

Just that alone could bring the Giants to .500 over the 2008 team.

The Giants by also adding Randy Johnson (improvement on #5 starter from 6+ ERA to low 4 ERA), Renteria (2008 SS only hit .228/.295/.281/.576; he could hit 200 OPS above that), and improving a bullpen that gave up many wins in 2008, plus any improvement in the pitchers' hitting should easily reach .500 in 2009. And that does not include any improvement by Sanchez, Zito, Rowand, Sandoval (over Castillo mainly), Ishikawa (over Bowker mainly), Frandsen/Burriss (over 2B in 2008), and having Schierholtz on the bench when he probably could be a starter.

I also like that Lansford made the point that it irks him that a coach might tell him to do something without showing the prospect how to do that, exactly. That gets at Chapter 15, the responsibilities of the hitting coach, as it is easy to say what you want but to get the prospect to understand what you are trying to teach them, you have to be able to show that to the prospect as well.

Most of all, I like that they have a hitting manual that will guide instruction and learning across the whole organization. I think that will pay off dividends in the future. I've read about how teams, that had Ted Williams as their manager, improved greatly in their hitting from one year to the next, with mostly the same crew of talent they had the year before. It was all Teddyball teaching them the art and science of hitting. This manual could do the same for our organization eventually.

2 comments:

  1. It's true, I've got an inside source with the Giants. After reading about the Giants Hitting Manual, my source sent me over a couple of top-secret strike zone diagrams from Chapter 17., called "The Strike Zone and You: Diagramming the Mythical Strike Zone."

    http://www.baycityball.com/2009/02/26/ishikawas-10-indians-7/

    Interesting stuff!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Finally, we don't have to have the distraction of Manny floating up above our heads. We really never had a shot at getting him anyways.

    ReplyDelete

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