When I was in Toronto the Jays PR department was nice enough to let me talk to hitting coach Dwayne Murphy. We talked after batting practice before the game on Sunday June 17th. He didn't have a lot of time, he told me I had 5 minutes before we started, then we talked for about 15 minutes. He was very kind to give me some of his time.
Dwayne Murphy had a 12 year major league career, mostly with the Oakland A's, that ran from 1978 to 1989. He was part of what many think as one of the best outfields of all time, with Rickey Henderson in left and Tony Armas in right. Dwayne was an underrated player, back in those early days of sabermetrics, he hit for a low average, but had good power and took a lot of walks. He was in a tough spot, he hit 2nd in the order behind Henderson, for much of his career, and would have to take a pitch or two to let Ricky steal, so he knows what it is like to hit when behind in the count.
I liked him as a player, I always tend to like the underrated guys, and he played for a pretty interesting Oakland team that had Billy Martin as manager. Bill James had him listed as the 69th best center fielder of all time in his 'New Historical Baseball Abstract', but that book came out in 2001. I'd imagine he'd drop down a few spots by now. I would have liked to talk to him a bit more about his playing career, I'm sure he has some interesting stories but, with limited time, we stuck, mostly, to his current job.
I am breaking it into two parts. We'll put up part two in the next couple of days. As always, it would be smarter to blame any bits that don't read well on my inability to transcribe rather than any failings on his part. Where we talked was fairly noisy, so occasionally some words were hard to understand but I'm confident that no meaning has been changed.
You've talked about the balance between taking pitches and being aggressive, you've felt that we have been a little too far to the 'taking pitches' side?
No, I think lately we've been finally coming around to the other side. I thought that, early in the season, we took too many pitches. It is tough to hit, you can't just sit there and let the pitcher get ahead of you. If you go 0-1, 0-2, he will win, I guarantee you, he will win. You just can't get in those counts all the time. There is a time when you are going to take pitches, there's a time when you'll be aggressive, but there is a happy medium. You gotta be ready to go up there and hit, more than sit there and take. You want to walk when the pitcher tries to nibble, than just sit there and take and hope you walk. There's a difference.
You had that role, as a player, with Ricky Henderson batting in front of you, you had to take pitchers.
Yeah. And I didn't go up there to walk. I got 100 walks in a season, but I didn't go up there to walk. You walk when there's a little fear around there.
What's the difference between working with a former batting coach compared to working with a former pitching coach as manager?
Cito, he's played in the big leagues, hit in the big leagues. Sometimes you understand what we're talking about, where you have to understand that you go up there ready to hit. Not that I'm saying John doesn't, or nothing like that. It's just that he's a pitcher and he may not understand that part of it or he may.
Cito was a really good hitter, you know, when you are a good hitter you kind of understand that, what it takes to hit. I don't think you can compare them because they weren't even in the same roles.
You made changes to Colby Rasmus swing, over the off-season, what is he doing different from last year?
Got rid of that big leg kick he had. He had watched Bautista hit, you know, there are several guys that tried to do the big leg kick and you just can't do the big leg kick. The big leg kick was getting him in big trouble. He was getting beat coming out of it. Colby is doing real well now and I'll tell you what, he's a one of the guys we needed to help carry this team.
He's got a great swing. Really there's not much to work with his swing, his swing has been his swing. It's just made this little change, get rid of his leg kick and let him be Colby.
What percentage of your job is motivation and what percentage is mechanics?
I think one thing about players, when they don't get a hit, they blame everything on their mechanics. And they can change whatever they want, when they walk up to that plate, they are going to swing the same way they always do because it is just naturally bred in your mind that that's your swing, that's your swing. Most of my thing, I try to explain to these guys is being up there with a mind set to go up there and get a pitch you want to hit and hit it. You'll have a better chance than sitting there worrying about where my hands are and trying to hit the ball. Because your mind isn't ready to hit the ball, your mind is worried about where my hands are. Try to get these guys out of mechanics and really focus on hitting the ball.
What's the difference between Edwin Encarnacion, between the start of last year and now?
He's a better hitter. You learn each year. I really thought, when we first got him, basically everything was to oppo field, trying to hit the other way. He kind of turned the field around on him. We tried to teach him how to go to the middle of the field instead of oppo field. Now the barrel's getting there, and I just think it took a little over a year for him to learn, to learn to hit. And he knows how to get the barrel out there on the ball.
What does Adam Lind have to do to come back? (this was before the Jays called him up).
It's not his swing. There's the one guy that was really passive in his swing. He was 0-2, 1-2 every count and he's not going to hit. You can look at the best hitters average when they are 0-2, 1-2 and it's .200 or less. You just don't hit. You have to hit the toughest pitcher's pitch. He was just one of those guys that got into those counts and really never swung the bat. So, again, of course, he's going to say we'll goto work on his swing but it's not the swing. Plus there is a big difference between major league and minor league pitchers.