Scottsdale, Arizona — After parting ways in the offseason with the Arizona Diamondbacks as their hitting coach, Dave Magadan moved across the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick complex in the offseason to take on the same position with the Colorado Rockies.
The Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies not only share a spring training complex and a spot in the National League West but also something else neither team wanted. They’re both coming off historically bad seasons at the plate. Arizona was tied for the third-worst average in Major League Baseball last season (.235) while the Rockies posted the lowest overall batting average (.256) and road batting average (.225) in team history.
“I didn’t see them having any issues watching from the other dugout last season,” Dave Magadan joked with me regarding Colorado’s success in the box against Arizona in 2018. The Rockies as a team slashed .286/.360/.489 against the Diamondbacks last season, their third-best production against any National League team and by far their highest against any division rival.
When Magadan was hired by the Rockies in mid-December, the goal was simple: Improve the offense. In an exclusive interview, Magadan told me that, while tweaks are needed, an overall attitude shift has to happen when the Rockies venture outside of Denver.
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“It’s a process. You don’t just come in and fix it. We have to be better on the road,” Magadan said matter-of-factly.
In his 16-year Major League career, Magadan posted a career .288 average. He has the experience of being in the batter’s box that can translate into trust when it comes to his new pupils. He also has information that is available in today’s game that wasn’t around when he broke into the big leagues with the New York Mets in 1986.
“The pitching and information given to the pitchers is very good. All of the information is a huge part of why guys struggle at the plate now,” Magadan explained. “Pitchers find the holes in a swing and the analytics back it up. If you can make it pitches in those areas, you’re going to get outs. It’s our job as hitters and mine as a hitting coach to use the information at our disposal to make guys better.”
Colorado manager Bud Black said the changes that have occurred in the game of baseball have changed what it means to be a hitting coach.
"“With data, with technology, with video, with advanced scouting, with all of the information available about the opposing pitcher and percentages and trends and possibilities, you have to coordinate that into your advanced scouting and pre-series meetings about what Scherzer’s going to do, what Kershaw’s going to do, what deGrom’s going to do, what Buehler’s going to do,” Black said. “You watch their pitches. All of the Trackman information about spin rates and top of the zone fastballs and breaking balls below the zone. They throw this pitch on this count 70 percent of the time, relaying that type of information to certain players who want that type of percentage into their game. That’s all a part of modern-day coaching.“You have to be multi-talented. You have to be a coach who knows a lot, whether it’s on the mechanical side, the analytical side, the psychology side … all of those things. That’s modern-day coaching.”"
Magadan agrees, and that’s one of the reasons why he said he talked to around 30 Rockies players right after he got the job. Part of it was an introduction and part of it was the first step on getting to know the players and what each was looking for heading into 2019.
One of those was David Dahl, who was quickly impressed with Magadan.
“I liked him a lot,” Dahl told me inside the Colorado clubhouse. “He asked us what we were working on and he wanted to get to know us. He said he just wanted to watch in spring, early at least, and pick our brains on what we worked on in the offseason so he wasn’t saying something that was the opposite of what we worked on.
“He went about it in a really good way and made it really comfortable. It was easy to have a conversation with him.”
Black says Dahl’s experience with his new hitting coach is very common with the Rockies players.
"“I think his personality, his touch will become evident with the players,” Black said. “He’s very soft-spoken in a lot of ways but it’s a pretty impactful message he sends, whatever that message might be to that hitter. Obviously, there are different messages to different hitters. He’s been in their shoes. He’s been in the batter’s box in the big leagues. He knows what that is like and he is passionate about hitting.”"
Can “paralysis by analysis” can happen? Magadan says it can, but he also tries to boil it down into its simplest essence on what success will look like for the Rockies in 2019 at the plate.
“There are a lot of different ingredients going into being a good offense. We have a lot of those ingredients already. We have to be better at executing,” Magadan said.
That starts in spring training. While spring stats may be glossed over and final scores don’t count in the standings, Black and Magadan both said they are keeping a close eye on how the Rockies execute in the spring in certain situations at the plate. After all, the game results may not matter … but the results of every bat are building toward what is hoped will be improvement in the regular season.