What is the worth of a major league hitting coach? Are hitting coaches interchangeable?
A good hitting coach is actually worth his weight in gold. That’s why the Rangers kept giving Rudy Jaramillo raises over the 13 years he served as Rangers hitting coach. Managers came and managers went, but Jaramillo was the one constant in the Rangers coaching ranks.
Sadly, Jaramillo’s last Texas contract expired at the end of the 2009 season, when previous owner Tom Hicks was suffering major money troubles. Thanks to belt-tightening, the Rangers were unable to give Jaramillo the increase he felt he deserved (and probably did). Jaramillo is now the hitting coach for the Chicago Cubs.
Enter Clint Hurdle. The former Rockies manager had always had a solid reputation as a hitting coach. After the Rockies cut Hurdle loose, Texas took advantage and got him as the replacement for Jaramillo.
So does one hitting coach make that big a difference? Yes and no. Just like any boss or manager in any walk of life, his charges take listen to his directions, but many may choose to ignore those directions and still do their own thing. The ones willing to listen, though, can see dramatic results.
In the case of Hurdle, all one has to do is look at Josh Hamilton. Hambone has always been blessed with natural talent, but one thing his hitting coaches had tried to get him to do was get rid of his toe tap timing mechanism. Jaramillo tried to get him to do it in 2009 and Josh got mentally tied up in knots over it and eventually went back to the tap. For some reason, Hurdle managed to explain it in a way that not only got Hamilton to stop it, but to not even think about it anymore. The result? A .359 average and a probable MVP award.
Ian Kinsler is another Hurdle success story. Kinsler’s uppercut swing was really wearing on Rangers fans. In 2009, Kinsler hit 30 home runs, but his average also dipped down below .250. Hurdle got Kinsler to be more patient at the plate. His homers went down, but his average, walks and OBP went up.
On the down side, Hurdle was not able to do anything with Chris Davis. In fact, Davis may have regressed under the new hitting coach. Some players just don’t mesh well with a coach. Maybe Hurdle just couldn’t explain himself in a way Davis would understand. It happens sometimes.
As a team, though, in one year under Hurdle’s tutelage, the Rangers saw an increase in walks, a decrease in strikeouts and they led the American League in productive at bats and batting average.
After only one year in a Rangers uniform, Clint Hurdle has gotten the managerial call once again, becoming the new manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He will be sorely missed by the American League champions.
He has his work cut out for him. The Pirates haven’t had a winning record in 20 years, but there does seem to be some talent coming up the pipeline for him to work with. Pirates fans, win or lose, know you have a good one in Clint Hurdle. He’s not only a good baseball man, he’s a good man as well. He fit in well with the Rangers family. I’m sure you’ll embrace him as much as we Rangers fans did, even for the short period of time he was with us.
The search is on for Texas’ third hitting coach in as many years. Whoever follows Jaramillo and Hurdle has a tough two acts to follow.