The Los Angeles Dodgers have brought in a lot of new faces over the last few months. First it was the trade with the Miami Marlins that brought Hanley Ramirez in followed by a trade with the Boston Red Sox that saw Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford arrive. Zack Greinke joined the team this off-season and the Dodgers suddenly look like a formidable team. However, the biggest addition to their roster might just be hitting coach Mark McGwire.
Manager Don Mattingly has assembled a staff that looks like a team from the 1980s and 1990s. McGwire assumes the role of hitting coach with John Valentin assisting. Rick Honeycutt and Ken Howell are the pitching and assistant pitching coaches respectively. Tim Wallach is the third base coach while Davey Lopes handles first base duties. Chuck Crim manages the bullpen and Steve Yeager handles the catchers.
McGwire’s addition could drastically change how the Dodgers’ hitters approach their at-bats. Last season, it seemed as if Dodgers hitters became too aggressive, trying to make something happen with pitches that weren’t right. The pressure looked like it got to Matt Kemp, Andre Eithier, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Carwford and Hanley Ramirez. Walks were hard to come by and the team would go long stretches without producing much on offense.
McGwire figures to change all of that. Last season, with the St. Louis Cardinals, McGwire preached patience and players such as Allen Craig, David Freese, and Jon Jay produced. It will be McGwire’s job to work with Matt Kemp, a superior hitter who has walked more than 53 times just once in his career when he had 74 in 2011 (24 were intentional), to get him to wait for his pitch.
Of course, it won’t be easy. Crawford has never been a high OBP guy and Kemp’s best year was a .399 OBP, which is good, but he could be much better. McGwire will have his work cut out for him but I think it will pay off big for the Dodgers.
With the Dodgers lineup now looking a little more formidable, Kemp will be able to wait for a pitch he likes. He doesn’t have to try and put the club on his shoulders and make something happen like he did in years past. It will be up to McGwire to get that to happen though.
Hitting coaches are sometimes looked at as guys who are there if hitters need advice on their swing. It is not often that a hitting coach takes an aggressive approach to the job. It does happen from time to time but most of the time a hitting coach tries to work with what he has on the roster. McGwire sees something more and wants to get it out of his players.
If McGwire can change the approach of some of these hitters on the Dodgers roster and they respond with higher OBPs and better swings the Dodgers could be an extremely dangerous offensive team. Of all of the Dodgers imports over the last year it is McGwire who might be the most important.