The Miami Marlins hired Frank Menechino as their hitting coach last season, and the Fish at least did better at the plate than the horrific 2013 year. The Fish went from one of the worst offenses in the modern era to a respectable 17th in all of baseball in wRC+ for non-pitchers. The team improved the talent of their hitters, having full seasons from guys like Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna along with additions from free agency. But how much of that was from Menechino and his emphasis in coaching?
Fox Sports Florida's Christina De Nicola had a nice interview with Menechino from earlier last week. Let's unpack that interview and see what we can glean from Menechino's answers.
FSF: So someone like Hech. You've seen his approach all year. It's been consistent going opposite field. Is that something that was your idea? His idea? Joint effort?
MENECHINO: No. 1, the communication barrier was a factor. No. 2, I just helped him out mechanically, so once I fixed a couple things mechanically it helped him hit line drives better. I taught him to not swing as hard and not do too much. His first year, being here, being Cuban, he wanted to impress. I just showed him how to be consistent with everything he's done. The guy plays every day, plays hard. This is where guys learn who they are the last week of the season.
Hech hit more grounders and more line drives last season than he did in 2013. He also hit better, though the peripherals don't show any improvement over the last year. He struck out less, but he also walked less, in part because he swung a lot more. Menechino probably needs to improve Hechavarria's contact abilities if he wants to improve his game. It seems clear it will be difficult to get Hechavarria to discern balls from strikes well, but getting him to make better contact may be more up his alley.
FSF: What about someone like Stanton? He has this potential. Look at his numbers before the fluke injury. Was it a matter of him just developing more and being on the field every day?
MENECHINO: Stanton's going to continue to learn. I think Mikey was a little more comfortable with some of the guys who were around him. He didn't feel like he had to do too much. Casey McGehee helped him relax a lot, and he's still learning a lot about his swing. With Mike, it was like me being his eyes for him. He knows what he wants to do. He does things a lot differently than other people would do. By me just being there and not throwing a million things at him helped him develop himself. Ultimately, I teach guys to be their own hitting coach. I teach them how to eliminate me.
Pitchers approached Giancarlo Stanton the exact same way they did in 2013, when he had worse players batting cleanup behind him. McGehee may have made him more comfortable, and there may be something to that, but I'm on De Nicola's side in saying that Stanton staying healthy and in the lineup throughout the year probably helped more than any other lineup-based effect. Stanton has displayed in the past his relative intelligence on how he approaches hitting. He regularly works on going the opposite way and up the middle during batting practice. He probably needs the least amount of coaching on the team.
FSF: How much is it a balance of mentioning something to players? At the end of the day they need to have an idea.
MENECHINO: Sometimes you've got to wait for the teaching moment. That's when you see some stuff, but you wait for the guy to come to you for help. If you over-coach, you're going to lose your players. But if you let them come to you and you say, 'I'm here to help you. It's not about me.' You get more out of them that way.
That's a nice approach for a coach who is not looking to instill a particular style on his franchise and his players. We have an idea that the Marlins would like to instill a style on their pitchers, but the hitting side is a little different. Focusing on one strategy may be right for one guy with the correct disposition and wrong for another. Adeiny Hechavarria is never going to be as patient and discerning at the plate as Christian Yelich, and forcing that upon him may be difficult to manage. For Menechino, it may be a matter of focusing on a player's strengths and minimizing his weaknesses.
How can one approach this? My theory is to allow players to fall into "archetypes" and get them to emulate the best versions of their archetypes. Martin Prado is a great example of a contact-oriented hitter whom Hechavarria can strive to become. Stanton is an elite high-strikeout, high-patience power guy. Yelich is a prototypical patient leadoff man who could benefit from more contact like Joe Mauer used to do. Menechino can guide those guys towards their archetypes and mechanically adjust them as needed.
Menechino has not been bad for the Marlins so far, though it is hard to say if he has been good either. Let's see if 2015 holds better promise for Menechino and the Marlins, who have key players to alter including Dee Gordon and Hechavarria.