Ask BA: How Many MLB Hitting Coaches Never Played For An Organization?
Q: How many MLB hitting coaches are there who never played for an MLB organization?
-- Jason Ochart, @JasonOchart
A: Jason is asking because the Cardinals named Jeff Albert as their hitting coach. The entirety of Albert’s pro playing career is 11 games in independent leagues (nine Frontier League games in 2003 and two American Association games in 2007).
That’s actually not as uncommon as you might expect. Albert is one of three current head hitting coaches who lacks any affiliated pro experience. The two others (the Mets’ Pat Roessler and Pirates’ Rick Eckstein) did not have any games of pro playing experience, either in affiliated or indy ball. Both did play college ball.
Two other MLB hitting coaches never reached Double-A as a player. The Twins’ James Rowson, played 128 games of affiliated baseball in short-season, rookie and Class A leagues and John Mallee had 115 games in rookie ball and Class A.
At the time this was written, there were five open hitting coach jobs. Of the 25 current head hitting coaches, 15 played in the major leagues, but most of those hitting coaches who made the majors did so for short periods of time. Darnell Coles, Kevin Seitzer and Marcus Thames all had lengthy MLB careers. But those are the exceptions rather than the rule. The stats and playing resumes of MLB hitting coaches show that an ability to teach, communicate and connect are more important than being an excellent player.
What is probably even more noteworthy is how transient MLB hitting coach jobs are. Hitting coaches have become the pressure relief valves of MLB baseball. When a team struggles, firing the hitting coach is a way for an organization to show they are doing something without taking the more significant step of firing the manager.
The numbers bear this out. Only seven managers who were managing on Opening Day 2018 will not be leading their respective teams in 2019. But more than a third of all teams (12) will have new head hitting coaches for the 2019 season. In comparison, only six pitching coaches have changed.
Broaden the perspective a little and the same patterns continue. There are 13 current managers who were running their teams when the 2016 season began. And there are 11 pitching coaches who remain in the same job they were in to begin the 2016 season. But only six hitting coaches remain in the same job from then.