Baltimore Orioles: Hitting Coach Change to Occur


Sep 6, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles batting coach Jim Presley (left) talks to third baseman Manny Machado (right) during the third inning against the Chicago White Sox at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

The surprise news out of the Baltimore Orioles organization on Monday was the announcement of a change to come in hitting coach for the big league team. Current coach Jim Presley is being reassigned within the organization, reportedly (and I believe fully truthfully) at his request.

This would not appear to be like the change announced yesterday of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, which was probably more of a “You DO want to resign, don’t you Chuck!” kind of thing. It seems Presley’s initiation has a reason sourced in his life outside of baseball.

There are several questions that come to mind relative to this change and the entire issue of batting coaches.

How valuable are hitting coaches on a major league team?  I’ve been told by some inside baseball people that a smart organization puts their best and most communicative coaches at lower levels of the system and as roving instructors. Clearly there is a great need there for great coaching.

But at the highest levels, with players who have been around for years and seen just about everything there is to see in the sport, how important really is an instructor?

I suspect that answer varies a great deal from player to player. So much of baseball now involves video analysis – of looking at what might be different during a time of struggle as opposed to an earlier period of success … or how a player is being pitched or defensed differently. And some people are more teachable than others, or are more aware of changes and modifications that are happening either intentionally or accidentally. We all remember how Cal Ripken went through continuous changes in stances and constant adjustments.

So it would seem that the most effective hitting coach would be one who has some sort of intuitive knack or eye to notice subtle changes, along with an ability to communicate those changes in a positive and encouraging way to a variety of personalities.

How necessary is it that a hitting coach had success in their own lives as batters? There is certainly no shortage of renowned hitting coaches who were not great players themselves. And conversely, the majority of great hitters have no capacity to explain what they do, see it in anyone else, and communicate it to make someone else better.

For the record, if Presley is replaced by Jeff Manto – the current minor league hitting instructor and presumptive frontrunner, who has already interviewed for the job – the Orioles will not be making an improvement statistically from the careers of the two men.

Presley was a corner infielder mostly for the Mariners who played a total of 959 games, hitting .247 with 135 home runs. Manto was a journeyman who played in 289 games for eight teams, batting .230 with 31 home runs – 17 of them with the Orioles.

Did Presley do a good job in his time with the Orioles? Some numbers would say so – like the incredible total of home runs over the past three years. Other numbers like on base percentage and the lack of plate discipline that is characteristic of the O’s could be used to make a negative argument.

I will render the opinion that this is a good moment for the Baltimore Orioles that gives them an opportunity to make a positive change. It has seemed to this observer that too many of the O’s have gone into extended slumps that are inexplicable and unnecessarily interminable.

But, ultimately the players have to make it happen. All of the great coaching in the world won’t help if the hitters will not or cannot apply what they are being taught.

More from Baltimore Orioles

It is pretty much impossible for any of us who are outside of the day to day operations to really make any informed opinion on this. It was not difficult to look in from my position and know that Tommy Hunter was not going to work out as a closer, or that Ubaldo Jimenez was not going to live up to advertised billing as an innings-eater – not with his naturally soaring pitch counts. But it is not discernable ultimately what benefit a particular coach is; yet even so, I was pleased to see this news and have hopes for a positive change and addition.