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05/06/2013

Ian Kinsler, Rudy Jaramillo & the most overrated positions in baseball

KinslerARLINGTON, Texas - Ian Kinsler, please allow me to test a theory: All batting coaches are the same.  Of the 13 position players carried on a major league roster, the most a batting coach can genuinely affect or make a dramatic difference with is maybe two. If that.

"That sounds about right," Kinsler told me. 

The Rangers second baseman is killing it right now, batting .333 with eight doubles, six homeruns and 19 RBI. This has nothing to do with the fact the Rangers have yet another hitting coach, Dave Magadan.

Batting and pitching coaches are routinely changed with preposterous idea they are going to make a difference. If a guy can't hit, the batting coach is screwed. If the pitcher can't pitch, the pitching coach is toast.

This theory anchors around the notion that former Texas Rangers batting coach Rudy Jaramillo was a savant. The man has his own DVD on hitting and was once one of the highest paid batting coaches in baseball. To Rudy's credit, he parlayed the success of those monster (steroid?) Rangers' bashing clubs he worked for into a reputation as one of the very best in the business.

His hitters loved him, and he is a decent man and a true professional, but this team did not stop hitting after he left the club a couple of years ago.

He was fired in June of 2012 from the Chicago Cubs because the team sucked. That's not Rudy's fault. It's the nature of the job - you can only do so much.

The counter to this is current Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux. Since his arrival, a team once known as one of the worst pitching franchises in baseball is now one of the best. Is that Maddux, or the fact he has guys with ability?

Go with the latter, but Maddux is not a dummy who merits no credit.

The only coach I can think of who appeared to have magic dust was Tony LaRussa's long time friend, Dave Duncan. The man was a wizard, like one of the Harry Potter characters ... only different.

I asked long time major league pitcher Derek Lowe if he ever came across any bad pitching coaches.

Lowe-4_3_r536_c534"A bad pitching coach?" Lowe asked rhetorically before he sat there and thought for several seconds. "A bad one? I'd say no."

Lowe is 39, and been in the majors since he was 23. He has been around a looooot of pitching coaches. He figured the last time a pitching coach made a major difference with him was when he was in Double A.

"A good pitching coach (at the major league) is about making in-game adjustments," Lowe said. "This is your job and you have to be able to adjust, at this level. The scary part is that I have seen over time is the unwillingness of the pitcher to make an adjustment or change."

He said if a guy is struggling the people players usually lean on the most are the coaches from their past - high school, college, A ball, maybe a dad - someone with whom they have a much closer relationship with before they became a big leaguer.

A "bad" position coach apparently wills his approach on an individual player. At the major league level, that's not going to fly which is why no position coach embraces this method. 

"Rudy was the closest to a philosophy but he changed it hitter to hitter," Kinsler said. "He had a five-step way but he never changed a guy's natural way of hitting. He was really good at the mechanics of hitting. A hitting coach is not a swing coach like in golf. He's more of a psychologist and it's more fine tuning all the time."

A position coach can reach maybe one or two guys to the point where the batting average or the ERA makes a noticeable move. The rest are on their own.

@MacEngelProf
tengel@star-telegram.com
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