Orioles Hitting Coach Don Long Answers a Question

I asked Baltimore Orioles hitting coach Don Long a question on Monday morning, and he responded with a lengthy answer. I wanted to know, relative to years past, how much more frequently players are approaching him with ideas of changing their swing, and what he tends to tell them when that happens.

“Honestly, I’m not a believer in changing swings,” the veteran hitting instructor responded. “I operate under the thought that [for] every hitter, their best swing, they already possess. The thing that gets in the way of them being able to access their best swing, consistently, usually has to do with their thinking, their timing, their position, or their ability to be really good with their eyes.

“You’ve probably heard the old Michelangelo story, right? Supposedly, he carved this statue of David out of this block of granite, and they said, ‘How did you carve such a beautiful statue out of a block of stone?’ He said, ‘I simply chipped away at the stone until the statue revealed itself.’ That’s how I look at a hitter’s swing. You already possess your best swing — it’s already there — so let’s not spend time chasing a good swing, or chasing something that you already know how to do. Let’s chip away at the thing that’s getting in the way of that. And for most guys, the thing that interrupts the physical part of their game is the mental part of the game.

“I can give you an example. I had a guy come to me a couple days ago in the cage with an exasperated, ‘Man, what’s going on? I don’t know what to do.’ I said, ‘Let me ask you a question.’ I picked a ball up out of the basket and said, ‘What’s this pitch going to be?’ He looked at me and said, ‘I don’t know.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you do.’

“Long story short, I led him in the in a direction to come up with the answer himself. What I wanted him to get to — and he ultimately did — was a fastball. Okay, where is the fastball going to be? Middle-middle. And when is it going to be there? Ultimately, he arrived at, ’It’s going to be there before the pitch is ever thrown.’ In other words, as a hitter, the disadvantage I have is that I don’t have the ball in my hand when I walk up to home plate. I’m on offense, but I don’t have the ball. The pitcher has the ball, so my goal is to make a pitcher a part of my plan.

“Most guys like to hit fastballs, and most guys like to hit fastballs in the heart of the plate. So, I might as well walk up there anticipating a fastball in the middle of the plate until my eyes tell me ‘no’ — it’s not that pitch in that location; it’s out of that spot. So I’m ready to hit all the time, and I’m ready to hit according to my plan. He’s simply changed his mentality, which allows the swing that he already possesses to come out in the game.

“That’s the importance of the mental part of what they’re doing. That’s where most guys get bogged down, so it’s where I spend the bulk of my time — making sure that these guys check in with what’s going on up here. Because if [you’re] right up here, usually the physical part of it will take care of itself.”

***

As Long hadn’t addressed the “how much more often” part of my question, a follow-up was in order. It’s become increasingly common to hear about players coming into spring saying, “I want to hit more balls in the air; I’m working to change my swing.” Is that something he’s been encountering?

“I’ve had plenty of guys over the years,” Long said. “It’s typically the ‘Four-A’ player, the guy that’s maybe had a cup of coffee in the big leagues. He’s looking for that one thing that’s going to get him over the edge, to help him become a full-time major-leaguer, maybe an everyday major-league player. Usually, when guys think that way, they’ve been a good hitter in the minor leagues [but] maybe haven’t hit for the power they think people are looking for. They think, ‘If I hit for more power, that’s going to be the game-changer for me.’

“When [you hear], ‘I want to hit more balls in the air,’ you’re typically talking about a guy who is changing his intent, which ultimately may change how he swings. I’ve seen plenty of guys over the years come into spring training with that new intention, which may lead to a new swing, [and it] actually makes them less than they were before. So I think you have to be really careful with that. Ultimately, they kind of circle back to what they were good at anyways.

“What we aspire to do is hit the ball hard on a line. With an approach of ‘hit the ball hard on a line,’ now I have way more margin for error in my points of contact. I can get a little deep on time, or early, in any location, any kind of pitch — a little toward the top, middle, or bottom of the ball — and still get a good result that will work in the game. When I become too one-dimensional and say I need to hit the ball in the air more, I may hit the ball in the air more, but that may not be where I am really at my best.

“I understand the part about guys saying, ‘I want to change my swing.’ When guys say that to me, what they’re really telling me is, ‘I want to change my intention; I want to change the outcome; I want to change the result.’ There may be a handful of guys that have been successful with that. I don’t think there have been hundreds of guys who’ve been successful doing that.”





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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SucramRenrut
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SucramRenrut

This is a nice reminder of how hard/easy hitting is. If a guy has a really flat swing, sure trying a higher follow-through will help his bat path, but so much of the result is timing. Look at Vlad Jr. He has so far hit so many balls into the dirt in his MLB career, but you wouldn’t say he needs to change his launch angle, because we’ve all seen the BP and derby clips. He has that Plakata! swing, he just needs to find a way to consistently time up the 95mph that same way, and the difference between the bomb and 105mph GB double play is so slight. Call it being early, call it aggression vs passivity, but it’s probably not a “swing change” as often as the new narrative suggests.