Mariners using situational hitting to employ new offensive philosophy

Feb 26, 2016, 4:07 PM | Updated: 4:09 pm

There’s a highlighted line that reads “Situational hitting/baserunning” on the bulletin board in the Mariners spring training clubhouse. It is the final assignment of the day, each day, and only one hitting group is assigned to it.

In addition to the four hitters in the group, a large coaching group made up of manager Scott Servais, hitting coach Edgar Martinez, bench coach Tim Bogar, Tacoma hitting coach Scott Brosius and Tacoma manager Pat Listach join them on Field 3 at 12:45 as well.

This is more than just situational hitting and baserunning drills. This is where the big leaguers and potential big leaguers are getting an introduction to the Mariners’ new hitting philosophy. Unlike the hitting summit in January, where the philosophies were talked about in a classroom setting, here the work is taking place on the field.

“In doing those things in smaller groups, you find out a lot more about your players, and they are much more willing to share, especially young players,” said Servais. “We are grouping up the guys in groups of four or five and talking about what our philosophies are in situational hitting. And within those talks, do you know what the Major League average is scoring a guy from third with less than two outs? A lot of guys don’t know. They are, ‘Oh, we have to get them in’ … but more importantly, what’s the approach? What are we thinking?”

The last question is not rhetorical. Servais and staff want answers.

“They wanted to know what are thoughts were, what our approach was, but it all goes back to what they are trying to get accomplished,” said third baseman Kyle Seager, who along with Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Adam Lind made up Group 2. “We’re all trying to get the same thing done. It’s kind of talking about how do you go about to get it so when you are up in that situation, you are not just up there swinging. You have an approach, you have a plan, whatever your plan is to get what they want done.”

The session started with Servais addressing the group in front of home plate for about 15 minutes. You could see the back and forth. Every player was called on, every player gave input. That input is invaluable to the coaches in getting to know their players, according to Bogar.

“To hear them speak, to hear what they have on their minds and what their game plans are in those situations so we actually know what they are thinking,” he said. “Some of the guys you hear good things, some of the guys you are going to have to actually maybe correct. I think the communication back and forth is what the key was in that whole process, and the guys can learn from that.”

While common language was stressed, this isn’t a cookie-cutter offensive philosophy. It isn’t a matter of demanding that a big league hitter do things a certain way. There is more than one way to get a run in.

“It’s different for everybody,” said Seager. “Some guys it’s staying in the middle of the field, some guys it is go the other way, some guys it is thinking pull in that situation. There were four guys in that meeting and all four of us had little bit different thoughts on what we did individually. It really depends on what your strengths are and what the pitcher is trying to do to you.”

After the talk, the players hit on the field with game situations presented to them. Talk first, put into practice, then reinforce with another two-way conversation with the coaches again wanting the hitters to share what they are thinking.

“We have an offensive philosophy, we have an offensive system that we are trying to get these guys to buy into, and there’s a lot of experience in that (clubhouse) and there are a lot of guys who do it in a different way that are very successful,” said Bogar. “So there’s not one way to do it and we just want to know how people are thinking so when they are up there we know how to coach them better.”

While the numbers are important and the staff knows exactly what each hitter has done in each situation, the coaches are not overwhelming the players with statistics or metrics. According to Seager, the message can be delivered without the specific metrics.

“There’s different stuff that we need to improve on and I think that’s where your numbers come into it. But if you are talking to us, and you are talking over our head, you are not really going to get most of us, so they do a good job in speaking more of our language,” Seager said.

That said, there has been a lot of “new” for the players, but Seager for one appreciates it.

“There’s definitely some new stuff and I think that is a good thing,” he said. “Obviously we haven’t played as well as we could have, should have in the past. Definitely new stuff is good. The way they are going about talking about everything, the way the culture has changed already is tremendous. It’s a lot of fun, there’s a lot of getting to know everybody, it’s a lot of being much more personal. It’s been really nice.”

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