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Orioles hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh keeps a low profile, seemingly because he’s always working with his hitters in the indoor and outdoor batting cages.
The low profile is probably good, too, because I’m sure there are thousands of arm-chair hitting coaches that would love to explain to him what’s wrong with the Orioles’ offense.
I mean, how can a team lead the majors in homers and be seventh in the American League in runs scored? If the hitters are all-or-nothing and undisciplined, that’s on the hitting coach, right?
Well, sort of.
Ultimately, how the Orioles’ offense fares is Coolbaugh’s responsibility. But he also is overseeing talented, veteran professionals who, many times, do things their own way when they are performing their jobs.
Translation: Coolbaugh can preach and teach, but he can’t swing for them. And, trust me, he preaches and teaches. His calm, honest demeanor is welcomed by his players.
In his third year as the Orioles’ hitting coach, Coolbaugh sat down with me for about 20 minutes in Sarasota last week to discuss his hitting philosophy, the potential of the 2017 Orioles and his disappointment with a rough second half offensively after his group was so good in the first half.
“The consistency factor has been the one thing that everybody kind of looks at. We were a first-half team last year that probably was one of the top three offenses in baseball. And then in the second half, we were (about) the last, bottom three teams in baseball,” said Coolbaugh, who spent parts of four seasons as a corner infielder in the majors. “And I think from the standpoint of a veteran club, just maintaining their focus, maintaining them being where their feet are every day, like, ‘Today is the most important day’ and not look ahead of things. And when things are going well, maintain what we’ve been doing. That’s going to be the challenge, I think. … I take pride in working with these guys and am humbled, but, at the same time, it is a challenge because you have to keep everybody on the same page for a full 162 games, and not just 81.”
There are two major criticisms of Coolbaugh’s hitters:
One, they’ll swing at everything, including balls well out of the strike zone. He hears you on that one.
“The biggest thing is that some of these guys are so talented that they feel they can hit any pitch at any time. And when you’re going well and you’re in the hot zone, so to speak, as a hitter sometimes you can do that. But it also gets you into detrimental positions too, because then you’re actually swinging at everything and doing too much. So, my philosophy is maintaining hitting the pitch that you feel you can do the most damage with. Does that mean (always trying to) hit a home run? No. … To me, it’s just maintaining the consistent message to them, getting a good pitch, and when things get out of whack and they speed up, how to simplify it and how to get back to basics so they can be at their best.”
And two, that the homer is the Orioles’ only weapon. Part of that is because of a lack of diversification in the lineup, which, frankly, isn’t his to fix. And perhaps that dynamic has changed some this year, with speedy players such as Joey Rickard, Craig Gentry and Aneury Tavarez in the mix. Coolbaugh believes this team may have more speed and on-base capabilities – a full season of Hyun Soo Kim and the addition of Seth Smith — than it has had in his tenure with the Orioles. And that should, theoretically, help manufacture more runs.
“It gives you a sense of comfort on the offensive side when you can do things more than just the home run, because the fact is that you’re just not going to do that all the time,” Coolbaugh said. “One of the things when our season took a turn for the worse in the second half is because we relied on (home runs) too much.”
In this interview, Coolbaugh talks about some of his more prized pupils such as Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Kim. And he also gives a glimpse into his dealings with some younger players such as Rule 5 picks Tavarez and Anthony Santander.
Coolbaugh also reveals his goal for the Orioles in 2017: 810 runs, or five per game. That would be a jump from 744 in 2016.
“If we do that, I really truly believe we’ll get into the playoffs,” Coolbaugh said.
You can listen to the full interview/podcast below. You can also check my most recent radio show on WOYK 1350, which includes a snippet from the Coolbaugh discussion as well as interviews with Kevin Gausman and Davis.
All are available on iTunes – search BaltimoreBaseball.com – for downloading as well.