Over the course of the 2013 season, Mark McGwire of the Los Angeles Dodgers quietly continued to solidify his reputation as one of the league’s best hitting coaches. That a man of McGwire’s size and stature is able to remain somewhat in the background is a bit hard to believe, but McGwire allowed the team’s hitting to do the talking for the bulk of the season.
That the team benefited from McGwire’s presence should be evident through the comparison of the team’s hitting numbers in 2012 and after McGwire’s arrival in 2013. Dodger hitters struggled to be successful at the plate, often appearing overmatched and unprepared in 2012. During that season, the team ranked 18th in on-base percentage and 16th in batting average. While the additions of Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, and Carl Crawford certainly helped matters, McGwire was able to radically improve the overall team hitting, raising their 2013 rankings to 9th in OBP and 5th in batting average.
The Dodgers got off to a slow start, but after McGwire had an opportunity to allow his philosophy to be understood and executed, the Dodgers began their historic 42-8 run. This, of course, coincided with Yasiel Puig’s debut and Hanley Ramirez’ return, but that does not mean McGwire does not deserve his fair share of the credit.
The pre All-Star and post All-Star batting splits tell the tale of the Dodgers’ improvement. In the early portion of the season, the Dodgers struggled while posting a collective slash line of .261/.324/.388. As McGwire’s voice continued to be heard, the hitting improved. After the All-Star break, the Dodgers collectively slashed .267/.329/.408. McGwire preaches patience and discipline at the plate, and the improvements from the first half of the season to the second half make clear that the Dodgers began to heed this advice.
Perhaps McGwire’s most impressive work came with Yasiel Puig. The “Wild Horse,” as Vin Scully affectionately refers to Puig, was wildly successful in his debut, though as pitchers made adjustments, Puig began to struggle. Fortunately for Puig, McGwire helped him make adjustments of his own, showing the value of not chasing pitches out of the strike zone and making the pitcher come to him. Before the All-Star break, Puig posted a walk rate (BB%) of a mere 4.3%. After the All-Star break, Puig adjusted his approach based on McGwire’s advice, posting a BB% of 10.7%. While Puig’s other numbers were bound to regress to the mean after his torrid start, he did make adjustments to ensure his continued effectiveness.
In his second full season with the Dodgers, McGwire has already proven himself to the Dodgers’ hitters. The team will likely continue to benefit from his presence, and should again be near the top of all the major team batting categories.
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