Phillies: Can Matt Stairs Develop Philadelphia’s Young Hitters?
The Phillies hired Matt Stairs this offseason to be their new hitting for the 2017 season. Can he help their young hitters develop at the plate?
The Phillies were notoriously bad at the plate last year, struggling in nearly ever aspect of hitting. They scored the fewest runs (610) and had the second-lowest batting average (.240) ,on-base percentage (.301), slugging percentage (.385), and walk rate (7.1%). They also struck out the fifth-most of any team with a 23% strikeout rate.
After struggling in so many offensive categories, the team fired hitting coach Steve Henderson and replaced him with former Phillie Matt Stairs. While Stairs has never been a hitting coach before, he was a guest instructor with the club in spring training.
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Throughout his career, Stairs had a solid approach at the plate. He had a career 11.9% walk rate and 18.6% strikeout rate. Hopefully he can translate some of the aspects of his plate discipline to the players he will be coaching when spring training starts this week.
Stairs knows that fixing the Phillies’ hitting woes is no small undertaking. He told Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer:
“I don’t think you can turn it around overnight,” Stairs said. “I think you need to sit down with each player and ask them, ‘What is your strength? Are you a first-pitch fastball hitter? Are you a very good curveball hitter? What type of hitter do you want to be?’ You can break down with all of these guys how many at-bats they gave away throughout the year. It’s a process that you start in spring training and just drive it into their mind. Is it going to happen? I hope. Is everyone going to jump aboard and say, ‘We believe in that?’ I hope. But, it’s going to be in some DNAs that they’re just aggressive, first-pitch hitters.”
To say Philadelphia was agressive in 2016 is an understatement. As mentioned before they had the second-lowest OBP and walk rate. Two of their hitters ranked in the bottom 30 in walk rate among all qualified hitters: Freddy Galvis (4.0%) and Maikel Franco (6.3%).
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Some of the Phils’ better prospects also struggled with their approach at the plate. Nick Williams walked just 19 times in 527 plate appearances while striking out 136 times in Triple-A. Jorge Alfaro also struggled with his approach, walking just 5.1% of the time while striking out in 24.1% of his plate appearances in Double-A Reading. While Dylan Cozens walked at a 10.4% clip, he also struck out nearly a third of the time in Reading. Both will be in spring training with the major-league club, so Stairs will be able to work with each of them.
The team boosted their veteran presence in the clubhouse for this season, which could also help their hitters.
In addition to the bevy of veteran pitchers the team added, they acquired two veteran hitters in Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick. They could also pass along some pointers to the team’s younger hitters.
If the Phillies have any chance at breaking even in the win-loss department, their offense will have to take a major step forward in 2016. Stairs could help the offense take that step, but it won’t be easy.