To say Edgar Martinez knows hitting would be to state the obvious. The Seattle Mariners legend slashed .312/.418/.515 between 1987 and 2004, and he won a pair of batting titles along the way. He ranks 21st all-time in OBP and is 44th all-time in adjusted OPS.
Martinez is now entrusted with getting the most out of Mariners hitters. The should-be Hall-of-Famer took over as the team’s hitting coach in late June after beginning the season as a roving instructor. It’s a challenging job. Seattle ranks 11th in the American League in runs scored, and several players are falling short of expectations.
Martinez talked about the art of hitting — and how he evolved during his career — earlier this summer.
Martinez on being direct to the ball: “We sometimes make (hitting) complicated, but the simpler it is – the simpler the mechanics – the better your chance are of hitting a fastball. Sometimes we think too much about the mechanics. If we go to the plate thinking about our legs or our hands, we’re not focusing on what we need to focus on, which is hitting the pitch. For that reason, we end up missing our pitch.
“How you position your hands is important. If you have them someplace other than where they are when you fire to hit a baseball, that’s not simple. I wanted to have my hands very close to where I was firing to hit a fastball. There are players who hold them low and have to bring them up, or they’ll hold them up and have to bring them down. Others have them in front and need to move them back. I think it should be simple. You should have them where you’re starting from your firing position.
“For some players, it’s not easy to make a change, because they’ve done the same thing for so long. For instance, if a player has his hands in front and always has to move them back, it’s not easy for him to start back and just strike to the ball. Breaking a habit is difficult and it takes time It’s hard to make an adjustment like that – a bigger adjustment – in the middle of the season.”
On not opening up too soon: “We also get into habits in the bottom half, especially with our hips. That’s another habit that can be hard to change. Opening up too soon can be from always thinking about pulling the ball – you want to open up the hips first, to pull the ball. For a player who’s always been a pull hitter, it’s a tough habit to break if you want to help him start going the other way. Another reason for opening up too soon is being anxious. You’re trying to make it happen instead of waiting for the pitch.
“The way you think affects the way you react. If your mind is thinking, ‘I have to look inside,’ your hips are going to open up. It is very mental. Nelson Cruz starts opened up, but he comes closed and waits on the ball very long. He’s not worried about trying to pull the ball, so he can just go with the pitch.
“When you’re in a slump – you’re not hitting the ball very well – it’s almost like your mind gets a little foggy. When you’re hitting very well, it’s like you know what he’s going to throw. You’re anticipating very well and aware of everything. That makes you more confident, and confidence makes you a better hitter.”
On confidence and video: “The only thing I like my hitters to watch (on video) is when they’re doing well. I don’t like them to dwell too much when they’re doing something wrong. It’s almost like they’re experiencing it again, and I want them to be positive. I want them to see, ‘This is what you’re doing when you’re doing well; just go ahead and do that.’
“Most of the time, hitters know when they’re doing something wrong. They know they’re opening up their hips or that their hands aren’t ready before the swing. They know when their swing is too long. I don’t need to show them.
“When I’m trying to explain something – staying inside the ball, or how he uses his legs – sometimes I’ll show players film of someone like Miguel Cabrera. Watching certain hitters is a good way to learn about the swing. I did that when I played. In my early years, I worked a lot with my cousin, Carmelo Martinez. From there, I learned from watching hitters like George Brett, Kirby Puckett, Don Mattingly,Tony Gwynn. I would make sure to watch all of their at bats when I played against them.”
On talking hitting with his teammates: “I talked hitting with my teammates a lot. I talked to Bret Boone, Stan Javier, Jay Buhner, Alex Rodriguez. Alex was able to make adjustments. He actually made big changes to his swing. After his rookie season, he came back from the offseason and made changes. I don’t know if he learned from me, but he started using a high kick when he came to spring training. He also simplified his hand position – his hands were just ready to hit – and he hit through the ball. He always knew his swing very well.”
On adjustments he made as a hitter: “I was a player who was able to change a stance and make an adjustment. In Double-A and Triple-A, I hit with my hands in front. When I came to the big leagues, I couldn’t have my hands there, because they were pitching under my arms. They were pitching me inside, so I couldn’t pull the ball. I had to fight everything to right field. I needed to find another hand position that would make it easier for me to pull the ball.
“The last month in Triple-A, I started using a high kick. That gave me more bat speed. With the combination of having my hands in a better position, and the high kick, I was able to pull the ball. I was also able to wait on the ball more and use the whole field.
“I didn’t keep my high kick forever. I had to make adjustments later. When I got older, my hands were still in a ready position but my high kick got smaller. I was just tap-toe. With the high kick, I felt I wasn’t ready to hit the ball like I had been before.”
On timing, and notable pitchers he faced: “I had problems with Pedro Martinez. I couldn’t see the ball. His release – his chest was so in front that I wouldn’t see the ball coming out of his hand until late. Of course, he also had four good pitches that he could command and throw any time in the count.
“At the beginning, I faced Nolan Ryan and couldn’t hit him. I struck out 10 times in (19) at bats. I think maybe I would have hit him better later on, when I got shorter with my swing. Early on, I tried too hard and my swing got a little long. I tried to hit the ball too hard instead of just trying to make solid contact.
“I did pretty well against Mariano Rivera. He threw the cutter middle away, and I didn’t try to do too much. I just tried to make solid contact where the ball was pitched. I got some good hits off of him, and I got some soft ones too. But I knew what he threw – I always wanted to know what a pitcher’s out-pitch was – and I could time him. I used to hit with movement and timing.”
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.