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Mudville: June 16, 2021 9:29 pm PDT
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Launch This

Chili Davis was a proponent of hitting the ball hard to all fields. You know, baseball.

The Mets struggled with that assignment, especially when it came to driving in runs, and Chili was fired.

With Chili and assistant Tom Slater out the door as hitting coaches, I fully expect the Mets to be another team rushing headlong to the Church of Launch Angle with the hirings of Hugh Quattlebaum and Kevin Howard.

Maybe that will help, maybe it won’t.

Quattlebaum came from the Mariners and was hired in the offseason as the Mets Director of Minor League Hitting. Howard came from the Indians, past home of Francisco Lindor.

 

Convenient.

Quattlebaum offered up a Zoom press conference the other day, but he really didn’t offer any of his core hitting principles. He spoke in generalities like, “I’ve seen the value of some of the newer school stuff work for guys, so it’s a blend.’’

And this: “Guys are more confident when they’re prepared.’’

Here at The Story we try to dig deeper.

With that in mind we reached out to Kevin Gallagher, author of the excellent new book Teach Your Kids to Hit … So They Don’t Quit.’’

We all know where Gallagher stands. He wants contact. He wants batters to put the ball in play, especially at the youth level to keep the kids interested in playing baseball. Hitting a baseball is fun.

Chili Davis.

Gallagher and his book were first profiled in this space at the end of December. Gallagher has talked to a lot of hitting people and checks out videos of great hitters like The Real Home Run King Hank Aaron.

With all that in mind, early in spring training Gallagher got an unexpected call from a Mets minor league hitting coach to discuss the Art of Hitting.

You guessed it: Hugh Quattlebaum.

Now this is getting interesting. Now you see where I am going with this piece.

The two discussed hitting in depth. Little did Gallagher know… that Quattlebaum would be named the Mets hitting coach 23 games into the season, one of only 30 major league hitting coaches.

Kudos to Quattlebaum for reaching out to Gallagher to investigate different hitting philosophies. The jury is out on what type of hitting coach he will be and whether he will have success with the Mets.

Quattlebaum clearly is a believer in lifting the ball. You don’t get hired these days without that belief.

Gallagher picks up the story from there.

“It was an interesting conversation,’’ Gallagher told BallNine. “We started talking and he wanted to know what my philosophy was. He said that he agreed with my philosophies about 80 percent but he said ‘I believe you need to have a lift in your swing. I think you can get that lift without getting off the plane of the ball. In other words get the plane of the bat onto the ball and then lift at the last minute and bring it up. I don’t teach launch angle necessarily I teach a lift swing.’”

That right there is fascinating information and gives you some real insight into Quattlebaum’s hitting world. That is certainly more in-depth than anything Quattlebaum said at his Zoom press conference. I reached out to Quattlebaum through the Mets on Saturday and at the time this article was published, did not yet get a response back.

Not Chili Davis.

The Mets need the help and need to get on the ball. When Davis was fired the Mets were hitting .206 with runners in scoring position. Of course, hitting with runners in scoring position has become a lost art throughout baseball with the emphasis on Launch Angle.

The Diamondbacks were somehow 1-for-16 with RISP in the 5-4 loss to the Mets on Friday night when the struggling Francisco Lindor hit a tying two-run home run. That was part of 3-for-44 run with runners in scoring position for the Diamondbacks. Yikes. The Diamondbacks are hitting .202 with RISP, only the Rays at .201 are worse. The Yankees are at .236.

Overall, hitting is absolutely atrocious throughout the major leagues with 22 teams hitting .241 or lower. Five teams were hitting under .220. The pitching is good but it isn’t that good and most pitchers don’t have super command. The Mets are 14th in baseball with a .236 average. The Red Sox are No. 1, hitting .266. This lack of hitting, lack of action, lack of contact is making the game a snooze fest and already there have been four no-hitters thrown and we are just at Mother’s Day.

These guys can’t hit even with a juiced baseball.

The Launch Angle revolution has led to a strikeout revolution mixed in with an occasional home run. Baseball is becoming a contact-less sport.

Let the kids strike out!

Only two teams, the Red Sox and the Angels have more hits than strikeouts.

Again, Quattlebaum should be commended for reaching out to Gallagher. The exchange of ideas is always a good thing. Perhaps Quattlebaum heard of Gallagher through my original column or saw the book somewhere and was intrigued enough to talk shop.

“I enjoyed a lot of his take on it,’’ Gallagher said. “But I also stressed to him that my book was written for the ordinary kid, going into high school so he keeps playing the game. When you teach that very difficult swing to kids, it’s hard. Yeah, guys in the major leagues are hitting 30 home runs but they are striking out 200 times. (Hank) Aaron averaged 68 strikeouts and 37 home runs because he was  able to make contact with the ball. That’s what it’s about.’’

“We can begin to teach our kids to make contact with the ball and when they do this, they will have fun and want to come back and play again tomorrow…’’

This is the 60th anniversary of Roger Maris beating Babe Ruth’s single season home run mark in 1961, Maris hit his 61 home runs while striking out only 67 times.

Strikeouts have always been a part of the game but there are too many strikeouts now across the board on every level.

“And that is why we are losing our youth they are not enjoying the game. Nobody wants to swing and miss and get embarrassed,’’ Gallagher said.

“Mainly it came down to what we disagreed on, what he said was swinging down on the ball,’’ Gallagher said of his conversation with Quattlebaum. “We are not swinging down on the ball we are beginning with the top hand to direct the bat to get onto the plane of the ball and then we level it out … we get there as quick as we can and then we level off. Your method, I said, takes the barrel of the bat underneath the plane of the ball. One of big things he was saying, and I guess I agree with it, fastballs don’t come in on a straight line, they come down. I don’t know if I always agree with that because by the time they release that ball they are in front of the mound, basically on level ground and the descent of the ball is very, very slight. He was getting very technical about it. It was an interesting conversation.

“I want to come under and up just slightly,’’ Gallagher said Quattlebaum told him. “I want the same thing you do, try to get on the plane of the ball as quickly as we can but I need the lift’ … It was a great conversation.’’

“You can use this method at any level,’’ Gallagher said of his hitting process. “I always talk about Hank Aaron hitting  his 715th home run, you look at that clip and he hit a letter high fastball which you are not going to catch up with with a lift swing or long swing, he’s on top of the ball with his top hand. There’s the swing, there’s a guy who struck out 68 times a year and averaged 37 home runs and was a .305 average.’’

A call was made. Was it the right one?

There was only one Hank Aaron, of course.

Jose Altuve got on top of a high fastball the other day though against the Yankees to hit a three-run home run.

“It’s been used for years that method but it has been put on the back shelf now,’’ Gallagher said.

Through the years I’ve known so many talented hitting coaches, going back to guys like Merv Rettenmund with the 1988 Padres. Conversations on a daily basis with the ex-Oriole with the dry wit who is now 77 years old, were fun. That was when hitting coaches were not closed off from the media like today’s hitting coaches. Hitting coaches put in a full day. Davis never had a chance with these Mets because Zack Scott who is running the show was part of the Boston braintrust that fired Davis with the Red Sox.

Quattlebaum, 42, was a 25th round draft pick of the Tigers in 2000 and managed to hang on for four years in the minors, hitting .241 before his pro playing career ended. He put all his efforts into learning as much about coaching hitting. Now he has his big chance with the Mets.

It’s also interesting to note that Tom Werner, one of the Red Sox owners, also reached out to Gallagher recently. “He put me in touch with the RBI Foundation, I’m working with them and working with Nike now, their sponsorship, to get this book out to coaches in New England as an educational tool,’’ Gallagher explained.

The goal is simple. Get the kids hitting the baseball so they enjoy the game and stay in the game, and for that, Gallagher should be commended.

Gallagher wants action back in the game, noting, the excitement of a hit-and-run play or a stolen base. “There is stuff going on,’’ he explained. “The launch angle swing creates more valuable hits, you get three runs on one swing. Everybody stands up for 20 seconds and then they sit down for half an hour and wait for the next home run. If you score three runs with base hits, there’s continuous action. The pace of the game is the problem, not the length, the pace.’’

He has added a new chapter to his book, a chapter called Save The Game … from the bottom up.

Gallagher, who has been in technology sales the last 30 years, believes baseball can be saved by teaching kids to hit the ball, make contact, noting of the Launch Angle approach, “This approach creates too many swings and misses and slows the game down.’’

Stop.... Hammertime.

His book has been strongly endorsed by former Red Sox star Rico Petrocelli who said that method of hitting allowed him to hit 40 home runs in 1969 with only 68 Ks. Gallagher now lives in Estero, Florida. He was the first player at Pace University to accumulate 100 hits and is in the college’s Hall of Fame.

He had dreams of playing for the Mets. “I thought I was going to play at Shea Stadium,’’ he said

A torn rotator cuff ended those dreams. His love for the game shines through. He does not like some of the things that are being taught today to young players and in that way he is much like former major league player Jeff Frye of the #Shegone movement, who is quick to point out some of the more bizarre hitting techniques of the day through videos. Frye has quite the following on social media of former players.

“A lot of these guys that are coaching kids, 13 and under and what they are telling them to do is oh my God, so complicated,’’ Gallagher said. “They are going down the rat hole with their limited knowledge.’’

Gallagher said Perfect Game is advocating his book and its method to players, the eight step process to help young hitters.

Gallagher speaks in rapid fashion and his passion for the game is off the charts.

“We can understand that most kids will not go on to become pro ballplayers or even college players, but that all kids can learn to make contact and have fun,’’ he said. “When they have fun they will stay with the game, become fans of the game, mature, grow, improve and stay with the game … and maybe go on to play at higher levels,’’ Gallagher said.

And this.

“We can begin to teach our kids to make contact with the ball and when they do this, they will have fun and want to come back and play again tomorrow,’’ Gallagher said.

That would be a win-win for baseball.

“But if they quit because no one teaches them how to make contact initially or later when they move up a talent level and they encounter failure, we will never know how good they could have been. We need to simplify how we teach kids to hit and not complicate it with sophisticated advice about driving with your legs, loading up, torque, etc.‘’

As for the Mets, their hitters will hold the key to the team’s success or failure.

Quattlebaum has his work cut out for him. Will his methods truly be a blend as he said they will in that Zoom call last week? A good hitting coach takes in multiple scenarios. A good hitting coach will not be “my way or the highway.’’ It doesn’t work that way in the majors. It will be fascinating to see how this all works out for the Mets,

Considering the Mets pitching staff led by Jacob deGrom and the present mediocrity throughout the game today, Mets hitters don’t need to move mountains, they just need to move some runners into scoring position and find a way to get them home.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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