Hitters need to be more selective at dish
Hillman, Barnett preaching better approach in at-bats
KANSAS CITY -- From Day 1, manager Trey Hillman and his batting coach, Mike Barnett, have preached the value of having a proper "approach" when it comes to hitting. While approach is hard to define, it's even harder to master.
"It's a bottom line business: You've got to produce," Hillman said.
The bottom line for the Royals is they rank at or near the bottom in many key offensive categories, such as walks, doubles, home runs, RBIs and total bases.
As of Sunday, the Royals were tied for last in the AL Central standings with Detroit, but in 36 games have 51 fewer walks, 16 fewer doubles, 18 fewer home runs, and 48 fewer RBIs than the Tigers.
Seems they have a ways to go before they can put into practice Hillman and Barnett's approach.
"Usually, most veteran players have a pretty good idea about it," Barnett said. "It is tough to teach to the young players to have the mindset of staying up the middle, the other way, to give themselves a better chance of being in a position to make adjustments. Most of the times when guys make outs, they hook ground balls to the pull side or they're out there early on the ball away and hit lazy fly balls."
Mark Teahen and Billy Butler recently cited the difficulty in mastering the "approach" -- finding the balance between aggression and selectivity.
"Once you start hitting your pitch, you don't have to worry about hitting the other pitches so much," Teahen said.
"In certain situations, you've got to be more patient than others," Butler said.
Barnett said it's all a matter of staying with your strength.
"Most hitters ideally like the ball out over the plate, and a lot of times what happens is we end up forcing the situation and swing at pitches we're not capable of doing a lot with early in the count," he said. "Whether that comes from pitch No. 1 or pitch No. 6, if you're more selective in staying with your strength and in your zone, you're going to have a higher on-base percentage, you're going to get better pitches to hit. Therefore, hopefully, you're going to have a better success rate."
Barnett uses the example of a left-handed pitcher who throws a changeup away. A right-handed pull hitter is not going to have a lot of success trying to pull it. But if that hitter thinks about staying up-the-middle, the other way, it gives him a chance to adjust.
"A lot of people get confused by it, they think on-base percentage and just taking pitches just for the sake of taking pitches is going to do you good," Barnett said. "The mindset is swinging at what I need to swing at to be successful.
"Up until I get two strikes, I've got to be locked in on my zone to where I want to stay, whether that comes at pitch No. 1 in my at-bat or pitch No. 6 in my at-bat," he added. "You do that, you're going to work deeper into counts."
Barnett presents it to a player this way: "Would you rather be 0-and-1 in the count or 0-for-1 in the game?" he said. "We're just trying to get these guys in that mindset. They've gotten better, but we still need to get a lot better."
Max Utsler is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.