Despite not being something any of us can touch or feel, stress is a real thing. We’ve all felt it and watched it affect someone we know or love. Which is weird – it isn’t tangible but it most certainly exists. Often, when feeling the effects of stress, we are encouraged to focus on that which we can control. All sorts of treacly horseshit gets written on coffee mugs and nana sweaters in search of the serenity to accept only that which we can control.
When Dwayne Murphy, hitting coach for the Toronto Blue Jays, states his lack of interest in advanced stats, it is a matter of control. Murph and his charges can control a precious few things in their pursuit of better baseball outcomes. The changes a hitting coach and a professional baseball player can make are very limited compared to the vast number of possible outcomes when they step into the batters box during a real, live game.
Stats — advanced or otherwise — do not belong on the radar of Dwayne Murphy. Not in the least.
It is at this point that we all need to recognize that, yes, Runs Batted In and Runs Scored are technically stats, too. Counting RBI and runs scored is just a less effective way of evaluating a hitter on his ability to hit than other fancy rates (like wOBA or weighted runs created plus) – they remain stats all the same.
The creation of advanced stats comes from a need to better evaluate baseball players across eras and ballparks, with enough context to understand what the player contributed versus what comes courtesy of his environment. They are evaluative tools, predictive in a mathematical sense. Big picture stuff, thus the unquenchable thirst for sample size.
Dwayne Murphy is not in the position to evaluate players. Let the baseball operations people to worry about that tall task. Unless there is some sort of insurrection planned, Dwayne Murphy doesn’t decide who stays and who goes. He is given some hitters and his job is to ensure they hit.
The ability and frequency of hits is all Murphy can hope for, and hits are the product of good swings and hard hit balls. He isn’t out to teach the tenets of BABIP or coach his players into blooping singles or hitting’em where they aint’; he wants his players to drive the ball with power. Line drives are yard to field, home runs are impossible. Not many baseball players hit home runs without hitting the ball hard, do they?
When Dwayne Murphy and Colby Rasmus worked to correct some problems in Rasmus’ swing and approach, they surely looked at film and, possibly, some visualizations of trends pitchers followed to retire the Blue Jays centerfielder. Dwayne Murphy didn’t look at Rasmus’ wOBA and say “hmm, this is bad. You should hit more doubles, it will really help your numbers increase.” They recognized a pattern (exposed on pitches away, leaving Rasmus vulnerable to backfoot sliders and the like) and addressed it via a taller posture and a move closer to the plate. Viola! Outside corner reclaimed, inside half retaken by force.
Murphy’s job is get his hitters in the best position to succeed at the plate. If they are of sound mind and physically fit, with a feel/expectation of how pitchers might attack them, Dwayne Murphy can feel like he sent his hitters into the world sufficiently armed.
There is an increasing tendancy of some fans and commenters to lump anything outside of the standard Ex-Player-Turned-TV-Analyst Boilerplate Nonsense under some “advanced nerd stats” umbrella. To worry that the game has gone to the geeks, the spreadsheets and esoteric formulas replacing good, old-fashioned knowledge and experience. If only it were so simple…
Charting pitches is as old as the game itself. Today, with the advent of pitch f/x and its innumerable applications, hitters have pitch charts at their finger tips. More accurate and as granular as any hitter could ever want. This type of dynamic analysis can aid a guy like Murphy in seeking the patterns & habits the naked eye might overlook.
Think back to the money quote from the Bluebird Banter interview with the Jays hitting instructor, it all about the choice of words. Stating he cares only about “driving in runners” is banal but not the end of the world. Allow me to make a slight change to Murphy’s quote and see if it goes down a little easier.
I just try to get these guys to hit the ball hard. If you want to score runs, no matter what kind of stat you have, in order to win this game, you gotta hit the ball hard. You can make up whatever stats you want, but if I get these guys to drive the ball, we have opportunities to win ball games.
Swing mechanics and mental approach: what else can a hitting coach do?
As long as a hitter is striking the ball well with regularity, what else can a hitting coach hope for? If the results don’t line up in a results-driven business…that is a decision for the tall foreheads. If Murphy’s guys feel good at the plate and aren’t rolling over/getting embarrassed more often than not, what else can we expect of him?
Don’t kill Murph for not caring about advanced stats. Don’t kill Murph if his feeling on walks seems archaic or lacks nuance. Walks are good, line drives are better. If the approach he preaches demands hacking at pitches no matter their placement or changing a hitter’s approach when RBIs loom, then we can kill Murph.
No need to overcomplicate what is already an incredibly complex process: just get them to hit the damn ball hard, Murph. It’s all anyone could ever ask of you.