For many members of the Red Sox, the weekend in Texas will offer a reunion with a longtime beloved member of their organization.
Former Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers — who spent several years as a scout and minor league hitting coach with the Sox, then returned after a stint with the Dodgers for a four-year run as the hitting coach from 2018-21 — is now the Rangers hitting coach. Last winter, he declined a new contract offer from the Sox, instead opting to go to Texas for both professional and family considerations.
Over his four seasons in Boston, the Red Sox led the majors in runs per game, batting average, slugging, and OPS. He helped several young Red Sox position players to achieve career breakthroughs.
And so, it will be natural while watching Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers and others exchange hugs with Hyers — at a time when the team has managed just 3.5 runs per game (third worst in the big leagues) to wonder: Does Hyers’ departure have anything to do with the team’s offensive malaise?
When many players perform below expectations, as is the case with the 2022 Red Sox, it’s natural to seek a theory for several individuals’ struggles — onethat usually involves a look at the coaching staff. And in the case of the Sox, the departure of Hyers led to personnel change, with former assistant hitting coach Pete Fatse elevated to lead hitting coach, and the team hiring assistant hitting coaches Luis Ortiz and Ben Rosenthal to assist their hitters.
Yet to suggest that’s at the root of the Sox’ problems seems like a conclusion of convenience, particularly since many players have been working with Fatse since 2020 and regard him highly.
“I don’t think [Hyers’ departure has] anything to do with [the Sox’ struggles],” said Kiké Hernández. “Pete was here last year. We worked with him last year all the time.”
|Chase rate (MLB rank)
|April 28-May 4
The team has altered its hitting coach dynamics, with three hitting coaches — Ortiz and Rosenthal are new to the organization — instead of two.
“I wouldn’t point to that [as a cause of the team’s struggles],” said chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. “Tim and Pete were in lockstep on so many things. We love what Luis and Ben are bringing to the mix here. I have incredible faith in the three of them. It’s unfortunate that it isn’t clicking right now.”
That change was implemented to permit a better division of labor, with two coaches in the dugout (Fatse and Ortiz) to break down video and game plan for opposing pitchers and one (Rosenthal) in the cage to throw to hitters.
Fatse said that he felt comfortable in a lead role with the game-planning and in the quality of information being passed to players, seeing only limited changes — chiefly, watching the game from the dugout to try to identify in-game sequences being used by opposing teams, rather than staying in the cage with J.D. Martinez — from what he did a year ago.
“[Hyers] gave me opportunities to run with the group since day one,” said Fatse. “He gave me the opportunity to kind of lead a lot of different conversations with guys, so it doesn’t feel much [different], except for the fact that I’m [in the dugout] during the game as much as I was [in the cage].”
Earlier this month, Martinez said the team was doing a good job of game-planning — but players were simply failing to execute in the batter’s box. Fatse agreed that, despite the behind-the-scenes work players are committing to honing their swings and having an approach, they’ve chased pitches out of the strike zone while trying to force the sort of success that has eluded them for much of this year.
“When it comes to execution, it always goes back to swinging at strikes,” Fatse said. “We’re an aggressive group. We swing a lot. We swing a lot early. You see a lot of teams that have kind of taken advantage of that aggressiveness.
“And then you compound that with, we haven’t been scoring runs. You get runners on, and then that impatience wants to kind of come out. It’s expansion in those situations that’s been the driver for the lack of runs.”
The Sox have indeed been more prone to chasing pitches out of the strike zone than any other team in baseball. According to Baseball Savant, they’ve swung at 31.3 percent of all pitches out of the zone.
Yet in the last two weeks, the team has reined in its swing-at-everything approach, posting one of the lowest chase rates in MLB last week and a middle-of-the-pack number this week. That improved discipline has yet to net more runs — indeed, while the Sox have cut their chase rate, their scoring average has dropped in every week of the season to date. But Fatse believes better results will soon follow improved swing decisions.
“Would I like to have more W’s in the column there? Absolutely,” said Fatse. “[But] I try not to look at the micro too much. I look at the things that matter throughout the course of a season. If we’re hitting the ball hard, if we’re swinging at strikes, minimizing chase, if we’re doing those things for the next four months, we’re going to be where we want to be at the end the year.”
That big picture view, and the willingness to work and double-down on broader philosophical tenets that the team believes will net success, are part of life as a hitting coach. So is failure and scrutiny — as both Fatse and Hyers understand.
After all, under Hyers, the Rangers have very similar numbers (.219/.285/.342) as the Red Sox (.229/.285/.345). At a time when pitching is better than ever and the ball isn’t jumping as it had in recent years, hitters across baseball have been on the defensive — and hitting coaches around the game are joined in a Sisyphean endeavor.
“Hitting is the hardest thing to do in sports just because of the failure alone. You have to go into it knowing that there’s massive amounts of failure,” said Fatse. “For me it comes down to, what are the things that help create runs? If we’re doing those things, the runs will happen. That will happen at some point.”