Howard Johnson doesn’t buy into the cautious, passive hitting approached espoused by the Met organization. Johnson, the new hitting coach of Seattle’s Mariners and the former third baseman on the last World Series champions of the Mets, talked with the New York Daily New’s John Harper for a piece published in Wednesday’s edition.
Ike Davis was the topic of conversation that brought Harper and HoJo together. Reacting to rampant speculation that the Mets will be moving Davis this winter, Harper was curious to know what Johnson, who worked with Ike as his batting coach during Ike’s rookie season with the Mets in 2010, had to say about the Met first baseman.
HoJo prefers that batters approach hitting the baseball with a more aggressive mindset than is currently in vogue at Citi Field. Johnson wants the batter, not the pitcher to determine what happens at the plate. That’s a philosophical constant that is consistent with the Mariner’s organizational approach, and one that Johnson and Harper speculate may have been partially responsible for Davis’s power promise at the beginning of his career.
As all Met fans know, on-base-percentage and base-on-ball’s are staples in the Met hitting philosophy. The Mets hitting beliefs are shared by many teams in baseball including successful run producing teams like the Red Sox and the Yankees.
But, Harper points out that if outputs are your measure of success, the Mets passive approach to batting surely is not working. It’s not that the Mets haven’t been executing the organizational batting model. They have. Harper notes the Mets placed fourth in the National League last season in walks but finished eleventh in runs scored, fourteenth in batting average and tied for the top in strikeouts.
Harper speculates that in the case of the Mets they may be taking their batting philosophy to an extreme. His sources have told him that part of the evaluation system of minor league players in the Met system is based on the number of pitches they average in an at bat. That’s a very cautious approach indeed.
For his part, Johnson want hitters under his tutelage to be aggressive early in the count and not waste pitches in the strike zone, pitches they were looking for. “We don’t get into having to take a strike. Sometimes your approach is dictated by the scoreboard, the situation in the game, but it comes down to being a good hitter, not a guy who sees a lot of pitches,” he told Harper.
Johnson got a chance to see Davis last year during his stint as the Mariner’s Triple-A hitting coach. His team played in Las Vegas during Ike’s Triple-A demotion, and Johnson joined the Vegas coaches to watch the Met’s slugger take early batting practice.
HoJo was stunned at what he saw. “My jaw dropped when I saw him swing the bat. I couldn’t believe it. He didn’t look anything like the guy I remembered. I saw about eight things right away,” the new Mariner hitting coach told Harper.
Even so, if the Mets have truly given up on Ike Davis, Howard Johnson would love a second shot at the Mets slugger. Johnson believes that beneath the surface the same power potential he saw in Ike Davis when the young Met slugger joined the Mets during his rookie season is waiting to blossom.
Johnson insinuated the answer to the riddle for Ike might be to keep things simple. HoJo thinks Ike’s accommodating personality makes it hard for the Met slugger to tell people “no,” and Davis could be listening to too many voices. And, it’s possible Davis is working too hard trying to follow the Mets hitting blueprint to the letter of the law, like paining by numbers.
“There’s hundreds of ways to get the job done because big leaguers are so talented,” HoJo told Harper. “That’s where hitting coaches get in trouble, if they try to get everybody to do the same thing.”
It’s pretty clear, unlike the Met brass, HoJo has not altered his vision of the slugger Ike Davis can be. It’s Johnson’s view that a simplified approach tailored to meet Davis’s needs, not an organizational script all players must follow, can still unleash the raw potential Davis has already proven is there.