Good swing choices are a core element of the Toronto Blue Jays’ organizational hitting philosophy. That doesn’t make the American League East membership distinctive — each crew desires its hitters to be disciplined on the plate — however the diploma to which they intensify attacking the best pitches is noteworthy. From the bottom ranges of the minors all the way in which as much as the large leagues, swing choices usually are not solely a spotlight, they’re assigned grades.
Hunter Mense has performed a key position within the observe. Now doing double-duty as the large league assistant hitting coach, the 37-year-old former Florida Marlins farmhand has been Toronto’s minor league hitting coordinator since 2019.
Mense mentioned the group’s efforts to develop disciplined hitters when the Blue Jays visited Fenway Park final week.
David Laurila: What are you able to inform me concerning the Blue Jays’ organizational hitting philosophy?
Hunter Mense: “A number of it has actually simply filtered over from 2019 and continued to construct. Nothing has drastically modified. However I’ll say this: The issues which have modified, in all probability — what I’ve seen up right here — are among the extra essential issues that play within the large leagues. It’s us doing a greater job of that, and studying easy methods to develop it extra within the minor leagues.”
Laurila: What performs within the large leagues?
Mense: “The one factor I’ve seen… and it’s laborious to quantify this. You’ve all the time heard concerning the professionalism of the at-bats, and that’s what you see right here. Guys aren’t anxious to swing at each single pitch, as a result of they know that 1) the stuff up right here is admittedly good, and a couple of) they’ve confidence to hit in each kind of depend, in any state of affairs, so that they’re prepared to take a pitch if it’s not one which they need to drive. They’re prepared to attend, wait, wait, wait till they get the pitch they need. What that filters right down to is the swing-decision side of hitting.
“That’s one thing we’ve talked about fairly a bit over the previous couple of years, principally the methods we need to body and talk it. Resolution-making is so key at this degree, partially as a result of, once more, the stuff is so good. They’ll expose you so quick, particularly should you’re not an excellent decision-maker. They may discover holes actually, actually quick, and are going to maintain exploiting them. In the event you hold making dangerous choices, they’re going to maintain going there and expose you. One thing we’ve tried doing a greater job of within the minor leagues is scaling that out, in order that when guys come up right here they’re good decision-makers.”
Laurila: To what extent is decision-making innate, versus developed?
Mense: “A number of the actually good decision-makers I’ve been round are very considerate. They’ve nice recall, and sometimes a really laid-back kind of persona. They’re calm they usually’re simple. So, I believe there’s in all probability a persona trait that’s innate with good decision-makers, however I’ve additionally seen guys develop into lots higher decision-makers after they didn’t essentially have these innate skills available to them. I believe what often occurs is that they simply haven’t thought of hitting by way of decision-making.
“In the event you can body it as, ‘You’re going to be a greater hitter, you’re going to have extra residence runs, should you’re swinging at higher pitches,’ you’re framing it in a means that is sensible to them. It’s not decision-making to stroll, however somewhat decision-making to do harm. As guys begin to study and perceive that, you’ll see the decision-making scores and numbers begin to go up. We’ve seen it with guys in our group. They begin swinging much less, as a result of they’re trying extra for a particular spot of their zone, versus attempting to hit all the things that’s thrown.”
Laurila: Are you able to give an instance of a man for whom that’s come fairly naturally?
Mense: “It’s all the time come fairly pure for Alejandro Kirk. He’s all the time been an excellent decision-maker. And if you wish to discuss someone who may be very laid-back, and really considerate, he’s your prototypical man. Even on the decrease ranges of the minor leagues, he was all the time strolling greater than he struck out. He was all the time getting himself into good counts.
“Now we have a grading-out system of decision-makers within the group, and Alejandro was all the time one of many higher ones, even on the lowest ranges. His success has come from hitting the ball tougher and within the air a little bit bit extra, however he’s all the time sort of had that innate capability. You don’t essentially discuss it a complete lot when a man is admittedly good at it, however you do proceed ensuring they hold at it.”
Laurila: How does the grading system work?
Mense: “In the event you’re in a position to take a pitch that most individuals are swinging at, you grade out rather well as a decision-maker. After which should you’re swinging at pitches which have an anticipated slugging proportion that’s actually good, you’re going to get excessive grades. Spencer Horwitz is one other one in our group that’s all the time been a extremely good decision-maker. He swings at each pitch that’s within the space the place the anticipated slugging proportion is admittedly good, and he takes lots of pitches which might be strike-to-ball — pitches that 75-plus p.c of persons are swinging at, he’s in a position to take them.
“That’s the way you finally grade out. It’s not essentially simply low chases and excessive in-zone swings, though that does play into it. However how powerful is the pitch that you simply’re taking? It might be a very easy pitch, a ball out of the hand that everyone takes. Conversely, if it’s one which begins within the strike zone and goes out — possibly it’s from a pitcher with actually good things — you’re in all probability a fairly good decision-maker.”
Laurila: Are you able to share a number of extra specifics on the grading system?
Mense: “So, we’ve obtained a swing-decision rating, a metric, that grades all people out. On every pitch that you simply see, you get a rating. It goes all the way in which right down to negative-30, and all the way in which as much as plus-30, primarily based upon how powerful the take was. You may get actually good factors or actually low factors.
“It’s cool, as a result of the blokes who dive into it are in a position to have a look at [the numbers] and be like, ‘That is the method.’ When all people says ‘belief the method,’ that is it — it’s the method of the at-bat. Once you go up there and the factors you accumulate for the day are all the time plus-one or plus-two, you’re placing your self able to be actually good over the course of time. It’s telling you that you simply’re all the time swinging at good pitches, and that you simply’re taking powerful pitches. Say it’s an Alek Manoah sweeping slider that begins center and goes off the plate away on a 3-2 depend. It’s a pitch the place swinging at it isn’t going to do you any good, so should you’re in a position to take it for a ball, you’re going to get rewarded closely for it.”
Laurila: The grading occurs in any respect ranges?
Mense: “All through the minor leagues. Now we have a little bit bit completely different of a system up right here, however actually, it’s all simply geared to their consideration in the direction of decision-making. Once more, it’s one thing that we discover essential. What I’ve all the time sort of lived by as a coach is, what you set in entrance of them, what you discuss, the way you present them issues, that’s the stuff they’re going to search out essential.
“The choice-making stuff… they don’t essentially need to know all the things that goes into the scoring system. But when they know that we discover it essential, and for this reason it’s going to assist, and the way it’s going to assist, they’re going to study what good decision-making appears like.”
Laurila: You stated that it got here naturally to Alejandro Kirk. Are you able to give an instance of somebody who has improved their decision-making via concerted effort?
Mense: “One man can be Orelvis Martinez. Initially of final yr, he was not superb at decision-making. There was lots of chase, and it was lots of chase on strike-to-ball. Our hitting coach with him in Low-A was Matt Young, after which in Excessive-A it was Ryan Wright. That was one thing they put lots of emphasis on. Orelvis obtained sizzling in July — I imagine he was Participant of the Month — and we monitor tendencies. His decision-making scores began trending rather well as he was getting sizzling. He’d began at a fairly low spot, however with the emphasis that Matty and Ryan have been placing on it, he slowly began to get higher with it.
“It was the work within the cage, too. It was doing a little mix-BP. It was doing a little breaking balls and a few recognition. And that’s the place teaching comes into play — the fantastic thing about teaching — determining why the chases are taking place. No person desires to chase. No person desires to be a foul decision-maker. Attending to the basis explanation for why it’s taking place is what actually good coaches are good at.”
Laurila: The foundation trigger for Martinez was principally…
Mense: “For one, Orelvis simply didn’t have that many at-bats but. He was nonetheless a 19-year-old child, and he’d missed out on lots of at-bats in 2020. He was getting again into the swing of issues in 2021, sort of getting his ft moist once more. Two, it was an understanding of why breaking balls have been giving him lots of bother.
“Matty Younger helped him determine the place he wanted the breaking ball to begin for it to be an excellent pitch to swing at. Orelvis would see it within the zone and swing, and he’d miss it as a result of it ended up out of the zone. As soon as he figured that out, his yr began accelerating. The choice-making had gotten lots higher.”
Laurila: You talked about mix-BP. What precisely is that?
Mense: “It might be someone throwing fastballs and breaking balls, after which having a depend connected to it. That’s in common BP, however we’ll use machines, too. A number of occasions what we’ll do is transfer the machine round so it received’t simply be a fastball proper in the midst of the plate. Some might be balls, others might be strikes, and we’ll connect a depend there as properly. We don’t need it to be simply an auto-swing, as a result of when you get within the sport, it’s by no means going to be an auto-swing. There’s all the time a call being made.”
Laurila: Any remaining ideas?
Mense: “The one factor that we have now to verify of as coaches, and as a company, is that once you’re instructing swing choices, it’s not about taking the balls. It’s about being aggressive on the pitches you need to hit. I believe that’s how good coaches train it. They provide guys the liberty to swing at each single pitch that’s within the zone the place they will drive the ball. They’re working in areas the place they will hit residence runs and produce extra-base hits.
“A very good determination is simply as a lot swinging on the pitch that you may drive as it’s taking the breaking ball that’s out of the zone. Each weigh closely, and you can even say that swinging at a pitch that you must drive out of the yard is extra essential. One will get you deeper within the depend and would possibly get you a stroll. The opposite one goes to present you a run should you sq. it up.”
Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can discovered via these hyperlinks: Jo Adell, Jeff Albert, Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Alex Bregman, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, JJ Bleday, Bobby Bradley, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Josh Donaldson, Brendan Donovan, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Michael Fransoso, Ryan Fuller, Joey Gallo, Devlin Granberg, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Robert Hassell III, Rhys Hoskins, Eric Hosmer, Tim Hyers, Josh Jung, Jimmy Kerr, Trevor Larnach, Doug Latta, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Daniel Murphy, Brent Rooker, Drew Saylor, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Turner, Mark Trumbo, Josh VanMeter, Robert Van Scoyoc, Zac Veen, Mark Vientos, Matt Vierling, Luke Voit, Jared Walsh, Jordan Westburg, Jesse Winker, Nick Yorke, Kevin Youkilis.