Mentored by Phil Plantier, Connor Joe Is Pittsburgh’s Hottest Hitter

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been a pleasant surprise so far this season. Far exceeding the low expectations placed upon them by prognosticators, the Bucs boast a 16-7 record, tops in the senior circuit. Their best hitter has likewise been a pleasant surprise. Sixty-six plate appearances into his fourth big league campaign and his first in the Steel City, Connor Joe is slashing a robust (and obviously unsustainable) .357/.455/.643 with 10 extra-base hits and a 194 wRC+. (His .467 wOBA comes with a .384 xWOBA and a .439 BABIP.) Over his last six games — all Pittsburgh wins — the 30-year-old outfielder has gone 9-for-19 with three doubles, a triple, a home run, and a pair of walks.

Joe talked about his evolution as a hitter, including what he learned from former big league slugger Phil Plantier, when the Pirates visited Fenway Park earlier this month.


David Laurila: Let’s start with my favorite icebreaker question: Do you view hitting as more of an art or as more of a science?

Connor Joe: “Oh man. It’s a good mix of both. It’s a combination of everything, right? It’s science, because you need to be educated on what the opponent is trying to do to you. But it’s also not so scientific. It’s more athletic, right? So yeah, it’s a good mixture of a lot of things.”

Laurila: Would your answer have been any different at the time you signed your first professional contract?

Joe: “For sure. I’d have said that it’s more of being a good athlete, just seeing the ball and reacting to the ball. In professional baseball, you’re being exposed to the data, the research, the science, all the scouting information. That’s really opened my eyes and kind of opened up a big ground for me. I’ve dived into it.”

Laurila: What specifically have you dived into that has helped?

Joe: “Kind of just being able to… you get a lot of information, right? It’s about being able to build my filter and use the information that works for me. It’s really easy to get caught up in every little tidbit of information, and that can slow us down in the box. We want to be very quick, we want to be very precise, so you need to filter all of that information into a quick hit. You want to take four or five things that work for you against an opponent that day.

“I also just want to be on time for the guy’s fastest pitch. It’s about knowing what his fastball looks like, and then loading and being on time for that pitch, which is usually the fastball up.”

Laurila: What is your timing mechanism?

Joe: “I think it’s different for every pitcher, right? So, based on that pitcher… like, if it’s more of a slide step, it’s going to be when he picks up and goes. Some guys are a little bit more exaggerated, so it will maybe be the arm stroke or something like that.”

Laurila: How many times would you say you’ve changed mechanically over the years?

Joe: “I would say there’s been one major change, and that happened in 2017. Going into the 2018 season, someone reached out to me from back home. It’s someone that I knew before — someone who had his own career in big league baseball — and we worked together for a full offseason. We figured out how my body works and what makes my vision the best. I made big changes then, so in ’18 and ’19, I was different. Then I made another change going into ’20.”

Laurila: Who is the former big leaguer?

Joe: “His name is Phil Plantier. He was a family friend growing up — I was really good friends with his son, Ryan — and he knew I’d struggled that year. It was the first time I’d really struggled in baseball, in ‘17. When he reached out to me, all he said was, ‘Hey, let’s talk. I’ve been watching you. Come over and we’ll hang out.’ I did, and we hung out for multiple hours, diving into video, talking about approach and whatnot.”

Laurila: What changes came out of those conversations?

Joe: “I opened up. I kind of started hitting like ‘The Big Cat,’ like [Andrés] Galarraga. I started figuring out how my body works, like getting rotational. I was learning how to use my hips, like loading into my hip and then using my hip to start the swing. That was the big change.”

Laurila: You mentioned a second change in 2020. What was that?

Joe: “Kind of a two-step. A toe tap was… it was hard to be consistent in the big leagues. So it was just to simplify a little bit more, but also still using my body — that rotation and my hips. This was after my first stint in the big leagues, leading into 2020.”

Laurila: Which team were you with at the time?

Joe: “I had just finished the [minor league] season with the Braves and then got traded to the Dodgers.”

Laurila: You’ve been with a number of organizations since getting drafted out of the University of San Diego in 2014. Has having a variety of hitting coaches impacted you as a hitter?

Joe: “Oh, yeah. Absolutely. And it’s been great. You kind of pull little pieces from different organizations, and that’s also where I learned to build my filter. Everyone wants to, in a sense, touch your career and have an impact on you. They feel like they can help you, and sometimes it gets to be too much. That’s how my personal filter was built up, by being exposed to different organizations. But yeah, the exposure to different guys, different hitting philosophies, has been great for me.”

Laurila: Do you still talk to Phil Plantier?

Joe: “I do. He’s kind of turned into my mentor, almost. It’s kind of evolved into a cool relationship where we’ll talk about things like his family — it’s good to get a nice break away from the everyday of baseball — but we do also talk hitting. We talk hitting a lot.”


Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Jo Adell, Jeff Albert, Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Alex Bregman, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, JJ Bleday, Bobby Bradley, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Gavin Cross, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Josh Donaldson, Brendan Donovan, Donnie Ecker, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Michael Fransoso, Ryan Fuller, Joey Gallo, Devlin Granberg, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Robert Hassell III, Nico Hoerner, Rhys Hoskins, Eric Hosmer, Tim Hyers, Josh Jung, Jimmy Kerr, Heston Kjerstad, Steven Kwan, Trevor Larnach, Doug Latta, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Hunter Mense, Owen Miller, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Daniel Murphy, Logan O’Hoppe, Vinnie Pasquantino, Brent Rooker, Drew Saylor, Trevor Story, Fernando Tatis Jr., Spencer Torkelson, Mark Trumbo, Justin Turner, Trea Turner, Josh VanMeter, Robert Van Scoyoc, Chris Valaika, Zac Veen, Mark Vientos, Matt Vierling, Luke Voit, Anthony Volpe, Christian Walker, Jared Walsh, Jordan Westburg, Jesse Winker, Mike Yastrzemski, Nick Yorke, Kevin Youkilis

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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11 months ago

Nice interview