Boston’s Tim Hyers Talks Hitting

Tim Hyers has emerged as one of the game’s most respected hitting coaches. His resume speaks for itself. As Boston’s minor league hitting coordinator from 2013-2015, Hyers helped hone the skills of players like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers. He then moved on to Los Angeles, where he was the assistant hitting coach for division-winning Dodgers teams in 2016 and 2017. Since returning to the Red Sox as their hitting coach prior to the 2018 season, the 48-year-old Georgia native has seen the club score the second-most runs in baseball. Moreover, he’s played a key role in the emergence of Betts, Bogaerts, and Devers as bona fide offensive machines.

Hyers discussed his hitting philosophies, and the strides made by multiple Red Sox hitters, late in the 2019 season.


David Laurila: Is there such a thing as a Red Sox hitting philosophy?

Tim Hyers: “Yes. I think all hitters are different. I really do. That said, the Red Sox hitting philosophy is pitch selection, game planning, and mechanics. If we don’t dominate the strike zone, if we don’t have a good plan, if we don’t have solid mechanics — then we’re going to run into trouble. Every at-bat, those three things come into play.”

Laurila: The Red Sox probably aren’t different from most teams in that respect…

Hyers: “No. Teams are pretty similar. But when you’re talking about those basics, how do you peel back the layers? What is getting to the player? How is the player consuming the information? How is he buying into the importance of those three things?

“The mechanical realm is probably the one that can go in many different directions, depending on what organization you talk to, or what hitter you talk to. I really believe every hitter is different, but they also do similar things. How they go about them is what’s different.”

Laurila: You were in the organization [from 2013-2015], then came back [in November 2017]. Is the mechanical realm approached differently now than it was in your first go-round?

Hyers: “Yes. Some of the things that we stress are different. And it’s mostly based on pitching. Pitching has changed, and it’s gotten better. They’ve learned so much about pitching that it’s forced us to get better as hitters. That and technology. Technology has helped us understand the swing a lot better.

“We have to be better at hitting velocity. 90 mph was the average velo not that long ago, and now it’s 93-94. And we also have to be able to handle the different speeds. The average slider velocity has gone up, and the average changeup velocity has gone up. More velocity, and more movement, is making it really tough on hitters.”

Laurila: How do you handle better velocity without “cheating” to get to the ball?

Hyers: “You need more efficient mechanics, and more understanding of how to be connected to what I call ‘a quick launch.’ You have to be a little faster, and a little more consistent, with what you’re doing to catch up.

“When I was playing [in the 1990s], I didn’t know some of the things I know now. With today’s technology, the super-slow-mo cameras with the information on how the bat is coming through the zone… we understand the importance of things that we’re focusing on now. Back then, we understood, ‘OK, boom!’ We need to do certain things.’ But to make them a principle you can stand by… that’s something that’s changed.

“We’ve developed principles that show us, ‘Hey, this works at the major league level; this helps us compete with the modern-age pitcher.’ We’ve opened those doors, and put terms to some of the principles that are important. Now thing are being proven, compared to when I was playing and it was more, ‘Yeah, Barry Bonds and some other guys are doing it really well, but specifically, how are they doing it?’ Now we have some answers as to why that works.”

Laurila: What are some of those answers?

Hyers: “Again, it’s different for different hitters. But being able to utilize the body in certain ways… J.D. Martinez does it differently than Mookie Betts. Brock Holt does it different than Xander Bogaerts. But if they don’t use ground force — they don’t use the ground really well — and they don’t use connection — connecting their upper and lower bodies — that makes it really difficult. So, ground force, connection, and having a quick launch to get to your contact point. Those are principles we strive to get better with every day.”

Laurila: J.D. Martinez is a hitter who…

Hyers: “First, let’s go back, one step. It used to be, ‘Throw your hands, have a steep angle.’ Now it’s being able to get on plane, utilizing the body to make a turn to get to the velo — turning the barrel to make sure that the velocity gets to us in way that we can get to our strengths.

“The two things we’ve kind of gone away from are throwing your hands and making sure your hands move first. Those were really preached back then. You’d hear, ‘Have a really good top hand.’ I’m not sure that many hitting guys speak those terms anymore, because they know it’s probably not the best way to go about it.”

Laurila: Are you a big proponent of hitting the ball out in front?

Hyers: “I think that’s a hitter-to-hitter thing. Do more hitters hit it out front? Yes. More of your successful hitters do, but there are also some players who can really let the ball get deep, and make a steeper turn. And it’s worked out for them.”

Laurila: That’s what I was going to ask about J.D. [Martinez]. He lets the ball get deep.

Hyers: “He does.”

Laurila: What does he need to do to make that work as well as he does? He obviously hits for a ton of power.

Hyers: “He has to stay inside of it. Really stay inside. He has to make sure he’s very linear, and not trying to turn and get into his shoulders too quick. Staying inside and linear helps him stay inside of the baseball while letting it get deep and into his strength. Then he can drive through it.”

Laurila: Would you like all of your hitters to stay linear, as opposed to rotational?

Hyers: “No. There are some guys who are better thinking more rotation, and there are guys who think more linear. For instance, Justin Turner and J.D. are linear guys, whereas Aaron Judge is a lot more rotational. Matt Carpenter is a lot more rotational than J.D. and Justin Turner. Mookie is another guy who is a lot more linear. He and J.D. stay in their legs longer, stay closed a little bit longer.”

Laurila: Who on the [Red Sox] has made the most-meaningful changes this season?

Hyers: “Rafael Devers. And it was a simple change. Some of it is maturity — growing up as a hitter — but when he would load his body in that kinetic chain, he would start his front shoulder and get his hands caught behind him. He would stride and load… he’s a big guy. Big shoulders. Big man. So when he was loading, his hands would get caught behind him and he had to swing around his body. That created length, and created time. Fastballs in, and fastballs up in the zone, were eating him up. He was fouling a lot of them off, which got him into bad counts. Pitches he should have putting into play, he wasn’t putting in play.

“Rafael cleaned his stride up. He cleaned his load up. His hands are now a little bit better in terms of having a clear path to the ball, so when he loads, his firing position is cleaner to the ball. It’s more of a straight line. It was a simple, not a dramatic, change, but it’s paid huge dividends.”

Laurila: Xander Bogaerts has shown an increasing amount of power. Has he made changes, or has he simply matured as a hitter?

Hyers: “It’s a combination of things. At the beginning, he had success hitting line drives and using more of the opposite field. He was good at that. And it’s something we look for in a good hitter — being able to stay on the ball and have some length through the zone — but he started to get a little too steep and, again, the game has changed a little bit. Defensive alignments. Shifting took away some of those hits.

“Xander is a big, powerful player. Where the changes came in is that he understood how to sync his body up a little better, and stay in his legs a little bit better. There’s that kinetic chain… and it’s kind of just portions of the kinetic chain. I don’t think everybody has be perfect at it. But there are portions to understand if you want to know how to get to your strength. Xander started to utilize the pull side. He started to get behind the ball a little more, and he started to elevate.

“Basically, he’s opened up a whole new part of his game. He’s had the ingredients, and he started to use those ingredients the right way. He’s still a good two-strike hitter — he’s still good at going the opposite way — but now he can go pull side and get the ball in the air a little more.

“We call it ‘the flight plan.’ Opposite field, we would rather have more line drives. As you get to the center, and to pull side, the ball gets elevated more. Is it going to be perfect? No. But in your mind, and as you’re working on things, that’s kind of your game plan.”

Laurila: Does how the ball is playing impact how hitters should approach optimizing their swings?

Hyers: “That a great question. There are some guys who can benefit from being a little more aggressive in putting [more balls into the air] into their game. They’re strong, powerful guys who can knock the ball out of the ballpark. They can even miss-hit it and knock it out of the ballpark.

“There are other guys who need to stay within what they’ve been doing. They need to be utilizing their line drives. They need to focus on making solid contact. Brock Holt. He’s an on-base guy, a line-drive guy. He’s going to hit his home runs in advantage counts when pitchers make mistakes. He shouldn’t change things based on a few extra long balls, not when what he does best is hit line drives.”

Laurila: It’s often said within player development that the hit-tool comes first, and the power later. Is that becoming less the case, given the way the game is changing?

Hyers: “The power is coming faster. In this day and age… I mean, the pitchers are providing a lot of power now, also. They’re throwing so hard that if you make contact … we’ve got these big, strong guys, and if they get behind it and make solid contact, the ball goes. It’s not just the baseball. The extra velocity pitchers are bringing helps the hitters. Of course, that’s when you’re making contact.”

Laurila: A lot of today’s high-velocity fastballs are being thrown up in the zone, with carry. Those are tough pitches to square up, and drive in the air.

Hyers: “Yes, but pitchers are going to make mistakes. If pitchers make really good pitches, in certain zones, we’re not going to have consistent success. They have to make some mistakes. They have to throw the ball in areas that are our strengths. And do you know what? They can’t not make mistakes. It’s too hard not to. That’s a part of the game.

“Mistakes are something you’ve got to be ready for. Part of the cat-and-mouse game is, ‘Do you stick with your strengths, or do you give something away?’ They might be trying to work up there, but they might miss up enough to where you don’t swing, and they might miss down. If you make them get closer to the heart of the plate — and they are going to miss there — you’re going to be in your area of strength.

“Most hitters should be focusing in their lane until they get to two strikes. If you try to cover too much real estate — too much of the plate — you’re probably just going to be average. If you’re specific with an area, and you’re aggressive in that area, you’ve got a chance to take a really good swing if he misses. That’s where most of your damage is done. The way I look at it, you’re only as good as the pitches you swing at. Taking it one step further, you’re only as good as the strikes you swing at. Not all strikes are created equal.”

Laurila: Outside of 0-2, are there specific count-specific approaches?

Hyers: “That’s another great question. It’s getting into the dynamic of the game. To me, when you’re facing a Justin Verlander or a Clayton Kershaw — some of the elite pitchers — I think you have to give up a lot more. When you start to get into those pitcher’s counts earlier — 0-1, or maybe even 1-1 — you may need to cover a little more of the plate. They have a lot of weapons.

“Conversely, if it’s a pitcher you see well, or he doesn’t have the wipeout stuff, you can stay with your aggressive game plan. You can live on the edge a little more in terms of being selective. You’re not… I don’t want to say ‘afraid,’ but you’re not as defensive when you fall behind. The pitcher kind of dictates that. I remember Chase Utley saying, ‘We need to single this guy to death. If we have big thoughts and big swings, this guy is going to eat us up tonight.’ So you approach might change against certain pitcher. But for the most part, you want to stick with the approach that works best for you.”


Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Cavan Biggio, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Joey Gallo, Mitch Haniger, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Trey Mancini, Daniel Murphy, Drew Saylor, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Turner, Mark Trumbo, Luke Voit, Jesse Winker.

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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