Right before I met Jeff Francoeur for the first time I asked Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle if he had any message for Frenchy. Hurdle had been Francoeur’s hitting coach in Texas and I thought he might have some message he wanted to pass along. Here’s what Clint said: "RCF is the key."
That’s what he said, here’s what he meant:
If Jeff would concentrate on hitting the ball to right-center field—"RCF"—a lot of his hitting problems would be solved. (Jeff didn’t always follow Clint’s advice, but that’s another story.) When a hitter tries to hit the ball to the opposite field he has to wait to start his swing. That keeps his front shoulder and hips closed while providing a longer look at the ball. Getting a longer look at the ball also means the hitter is less likely to be fooled; he’s less likely to start his swing early because he thinks he’s got a fastball, then swing and miss when that fastball reveals itself to be a slider. So if going the other way provides all those benefits, why do hitters still want to pull the ball?
If a hitter catches a pitch out in front of the plate and pulls it down the line in Kauffman Stadium he’s got to clear a fence 330 feet away. If he waits even abit
longer he’ll have to clear the bullpen gates and, because of the curve in Kauffman’s corners, those gates are maybe another 30 feet away. Wait just a bit longer and the hitter has to clear the gap which is 387 feet from home plate. Hit the ball to dead center and the hitter has to hit it more than 410 feet to get it out of the park. But that big centerfield also means more ground for the defense to cover and that means more places for a hit to drop in. So if you want to hit for power, try to pull the ball—if you want to hit for average, hit the ball up the middle.
But some guys still want to hit home runs and pile up RBIs so a lot of them still try to pull the ball. Some guys do nothing else, but if you’re going to be a dead-pull hitter, you better have the pop to make that pay off. Take a look at Adam Dunn: last season Dunn hit .219, but had 34 home runs and 86 RBIs. Teams will live with low average if a hitter gives them production. Here’s what Mike Moustakas did last year: 233 average, 12 home runs and 42 RBIs. Playing in a big ballpark like Kauffman means it’s difficult to make a dead-pull approach pay off.
Here’s part of what the Star’s Blair Kerkhoff wrote about Moustakas back on February 2nd:
"In Venezuela, he worked with Royals hitting coach Pedro Grifol. Moustakas would take some 300 pre-game swings with the primary purpose of stamping out the dead-pull in his swing.
"That’s where I got into trouble last year, trying to pull everything," Moustakas said. "Pedro told me that’s not going to work. We’re going to work the middle of the field, do damage up the middle."
The idea wasn’t to eliminate pulling the ball for Moustakas, a left-handed hitter, but only on pitches over the inside third of the plate.
Last season, almost half of Moustakas’ hits, 53 of 110, were pulled. The mind-set was to always aim at right field, which was the wrong approach.
"When I tried to pull it, my hips flew open, my shoulders flew, my head flew, and I had no chance of making contact," Moustakas said.
Every day, Moustakas and Grifol worked on hitting through the middle, which also opened the opposite side. Moustakas said the going was rough for the first week.
"I wasn’t trusting the process, and I was going back to my old ways," he said.
Then, just like that, things clicked. Two of his three home runs flew over the center-field wall. He knocked doubles to left center.
In 17 games, Moustakas hit .288 with three home runs and six doubles. A career .222 hitter against lefties, he hit .259 against southpaws, and he saw plenty of them.
Now, it’s a matter of taking the lessons of Venezuela and applying them to major-league pitching.
"It’s something we’re going to keep working on," Moustakas said. "Pedro has me dialed in and I’m excited to keep working with him, I feel like I’m a step ahead and now I want to work this approach against major-league pitching."
So far, so good
So the Royals still want Moustakas to pull the ball, but only when it’s on the inner third of the plate. I talked with hitting coach Pedro Grifol in the clubhouse and he said that looking to go the other way has Moustakas keeping that inside pitch fair. In the past Mike would hook some of those inside pitches foul.
Pull the inside pitches to right, take the pitches in the middle of the plate back up the middle and hit the balls on the outer third of the plate to left field—which sounds a hell of a lot simpler than it really is. At 95 miles an hour, things are happening very quickly.
I’ve already said that fans should not take spring training numbers too seriously, but it’s always better to hit than make outs. As I write this, Mike Moustakas is hitting .467.
And the way the Royals have been pitching the last couple of days, they need him to.