Please Listen to Mike Schmidt

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. – George Bernard Shaw

The above quote is one of the stupidist in human history, probably right alongside…

“I’ve never really wanted to go to Japan. Simply because I don’t like eating fish. And I know that’s very popular out there in Africa.” – Britney Spears

I’ve often wondered why guys like Milt Thompson, Greg Gross and Charlie Manuel have been successful Major League hitting coaches during their careers (and say what you will about all three guys, they all have had success as coaches in the Majors). After all, they were not star hitters themselves.

Of course, a good coach is a good teacher, and most of the time the gents who have had to work the hardest to learn their craft end up being the best teachers. That’s why so many superstar athletes have had problems finding success as a coach or manager. Because the game came so easily to many of them, they often cannot articulate instructions to players with less talent than they had.

But when the greatest third baseman in baseball history is in your spring camp, and he wants to talk to you about the fundamentals of hitting, both physical and mental, it is wise to open your ears and take heed.

Earlier on Monday, Schmidt spoke to reporters about his role with the team this spring, and indicated he’d be staying a bit longer than normal, with a more defined role…

“They asked me to be a little more involved than I have in the past with hitting programs. I have been invovled in the past, but this year might be a little more one-on-one with guys, just chatting more specifically about in-game hitting strategy. There will be times when I chat with guys about mechanics, but for the most part, the additions I’m going to offer this year are in-game strategies like, ‘Let’s be more aggressive in fastball counts, let’s be tougher to strike out, let’s figure out a way to give up fewer at-bats.’ “

For this particular group of Phillies, any message from Schmidt, but especially that message, should resonate more. Consider how many Phils are on the wrong side of 30. Perhaps better than anyone else in franchise history (save Jamie Moyer) Schmidt did better in the twilight of his career.

Schmidt has admitted that he was hard-headed for most of his career, but made some changes later on that allowed him to have what were probably the two best overall seasons he ever had at the plate in 1986 and ’87.

“I changed and I was very stubborn throughout my career. I was in my 14th year and made major change to my approach both mentally and physically. I became maybe the best hitter in my career in my last couple of years. Guys need to want to improve.”

As you can see in the table below, Schmidt’s numbers in his mid-to-late 30s were phenomenal. The guy won an MVP award in 1986 at age 36, leading the league in home runs, slugging percentage, OPS and OPS+. And in ’86 and ’87, Schmidt posted the 3rd best and 2nd best averages of his career, hitting .290 and .293, respectively. His strikeout totals dropped noticeably as well, going from 117 in 1985 to 84 in ’86 and 80 in ’87. And in five seasons from age 33 to 37, Schmidt hit 181 HRs, drove in 540 runs, and posted an OPS of .925.

Year Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1983 33 154 669 534 104 136 16 4 40 109 128 148 .255 .399 .524 .923
1984 34 151 632 528 93 146 23 3 36 106 92 116 .277 .383 .536 .919
1985 35 158 645 549 89 152 31 5 33 93 87 117 .277 .375 .532 .907
1986 36 160 657 552 97 160 29 1 37 119 89 84 .290 .390 .547 .937
1987 37 147 613 522 88 153 28 0 35 113 83 80 .293 .388 .548 .936
1988 38 108 451 390 52 97 21 2 12 62 49 42 .249 .337 .405 .742
1989 39 42 172 148 19 30 7 0 6 28 21 17 .203 .297 .372 .668
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/27/2012.

For guys like Utley, Howard, Victorino and Rollins, a chat from Michael Jack should have added resonance. They are entering the twilight of their careers. And while no one on the Phillies is up to the level of Schmidt, a lot can be learned from how he changed his approach toward the end of his career.

Schmidt has talked about not giving away at bats. He’s talked about how not to get yourself out when ahead in the count, how to attack a pitcher that’s on the ropes, and how to take pitches and work the count when the situation calls for it.

Presumably, he’d talk about NOT swinging at a 3-0 pitch when leading off the 7th inning in Game 5 of an NLDS when your team is trailing 1-0.

Sometimes, like in the above example, it seems as if the entire offense has no idea what they’re doing in the batter’s box. There doesn’t appear to be any kind of game plan. They let fastballs go right down the middle and then swing wildly at pitches out of the zone. It happened once again in the NLDS last year, and it’s a problem Schmidt has been brought in to help solve.

No one is expecting Ryan, Chase, Shane or Jimmy to all of a sudden start putting up MVP numbers again. It’s possible, but injuries play a role in just how good these guys can be.

But if there’s one thing Schmidt knows about, it’s producing in the twilight of one’s career, all while continuing to work hard at your craft and strive for perfection. Undoubtedly, most of the hitters on the Phillies care about getting better and want to succeed.

If that’s the case, then they’d be wise to sit at the feet of Michael Jack Schmidt and listen to what he has to say.

The track record speaks for itself.

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