Controlling the zone conversations benefiting young D-backs lineup
PHOENIX — Conversation is key for Arizona Diamondbacks hitting coach Joe Mather to get on the same page as young hitters navigating the major leagues.
Mather said a challenge hitters experience when making the jump is facing pitchers who can locate at a much more advanced level but do so similar or better stuff than minor leaguers.
So, as outfielder Alek Thomas put it, some of the conversations that regularly occur internally focus on not giving in to the pitcher and waiting for a better pitch — even if thrown a strike.
“When they’re able to live on the edges, it makes it tough for us,” Mather said Tuesday. “When they live on the edge of holes, even tougher. So it’s a lot of conversation about giving it to him if he hits that spot. It’s OK. He’s still got to do that two more times and even that’s tough to do for really good pitchers to hit that spot over and over and over.
“I’d say just a lot of conversations, a lot of bringing them back down, ‘same game,’ a lot of those types of conversations. Hopefully, they settle in and breathe.”
Thomas said he has such conversations with Mather almost every other day.
The D-backs entered Tuesday with the fourth-highest scoring offense in baseball since the start of July. The only teams ahead of them are the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals.
There has not been an influx in power or slugging.
Arizona has excelled in disciplined at-bats over the second half of the year. Since July 1, the D-backs are tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for the lowest rate of swings outside the strike zone at 29%. Their walk rate (9.2%) and on-base percentage (.326) both rank No. 7 in the league over that stretch.
The D-backs have the lowest swing percentage in baseball at 44.8%. Where they shoot up a leaderboard is with zone contact percentage — measuring contact on pitches in the strike zone — at 86.6%, No. 8 in the league.
Mather said in August that Arizona has won games this year due to walks and by passing “the baton.”
“We talk about controlling the zone, especially in those big situations where we truly feel like the pitcher is in trouble — not us,” Mather said.
The D-backs have had 572 games played by rookie position players this year, the second most in the league behind the Pittsburgh Pirates. Their success in the minors that’s translated to the majors is in part a credit to the restructured coaching staff put together by manager Torey Lovullo this past offseason. Lovullo appointed Mather to lead a hitting coaching staff that works across major and minor league levels so there is that continuity for young players reaching the D-backs.
Thomas and fellow rookie outfielder Stone Garrett said that recognizing and waiting for the right pitch are emphasized in the lower levels, which has translated.
“Just the emphasis by the hitting coaches, just getting your pitch to hit and do damage when you get it,” Garrett said Tuesday. “It’s trickled down throughout the system. I think that’s why you see a lot of guys banging down in the minor leagues and up here. Just getting your pitch and doing damage.”
“I think you don’t get called up if you don’t have a good approach,” Thomas added. “I think in the minor leagues they really honed in on that.”
Mather said his group has taken to the instruction well.