Last season the Washington Nationals went 3-6 against the Atlanta Braves in one-run games. What if the Nationals had been able to squeeze six more runs across the plate against the Braves? If they could have tied those games maybe then baseball's endless opportunities would have rolled the Nationals' way.
The Nationals do not employ an assistant hitting coach and the Braves have had one for a few years now. Part of the equation of winning in baseball today begins with finding any way to gain an edge over other teams.
Assistant hitting coaches are a relatively new idea around baseball and one of the many ways teams can try to gain that advantage. Teams are having success with them when they adopt the role similar to what Tony La Russa, the 2014 Hall of Fame inductee, established with the Cardinals.
"I definitely think there's a lot of advantages to it," Giants right fielder Hunter Pence said about having an assistant hitting coach. In 2011 and 2012 Pence played for the Phillies and they did not employ one. He was traded to the Giants, who will employ Hensley Meulens and Joe Lefebvre in 2014. "They work together really well. There's a lot required of a hitting coach and so many people that need to hit so [the two hitting coaches] are on the same page. There's just more people, more access. You know, two minds are always greater than one."
The Phillies added an assistant hitting coach before 2013 and John Mizerock will take the role this season alongside Steve Henderson. The Angels, Rangers and Indians are the newest teams to currently employ an assistant hitting coach and the Diamondbacks are expected to announce the hiring of a second hitting coach as well.
ESPN.com learned that the Yankees will not have one for 2014. The Twins have not officially hired one. The Mariners do not have an assistant alongside Howard Johnson, but new manager Lloyd McClendon has been a hitting coach in the past. The other teams who do not currently have assistant hitting coaches are the Royals, Blue Jays, A's, Marlins, Nationals, Mets, Brewers and Rockies (see chart).
One team who had an assistant hitting coach for the first time in 2013 said it was a tremendous benefit. From their experience last year, they learned the personalities of the two hitting coaches are a key component to having success.
They said the coaches' personalities, the way they interact and share information are vital elements to the success of the concept because there are times when they each have a job the other usually performs. Roles switch daily and they work with the same players. If the assistant hitting coach has any insecurity it can become an issue and then it's not helpful to the team.
The Padres are another team who have had success after hiring Alonzo Powell as the assistant hitting coach before the 2012 season. Powell had a history of working with Phil Plantier before he was hired and Padres general manager Josh Byrnes said the two have worked well together.
"I think it's had a real impact," Byrnes said. "We had a six-month stretch where our offense was clearly above league average, which has not been the norm for the Padres in the Petco era. So we had a good stretch that kind of fell off at the All-Star break in 2013. A lot of that was we were really hit with injuries at that point."
Byrnes said more players take a lot of swings and the Padres needed another coach to not only be part of the cage time, but to help with the instruction.
"There's definitely a physical component but also being a confidant, a psychologist, someone who helps prepare for the opponent," Byrnes said. "The in-game, there's a lot to it but I'd say where it really pushed us was the cage time."
Teams who do not employ assistant hitting coaches say they feel the extra work is covered with the roving hitting instructors.
"They can make an impact," said Pence about roving instructors and extra coaches. "But what you are really missing out on is, the beauty of it is, you have two people that can flip at the same time in two different cages. You have two people that can throw, so you can get your work in. It just makes it way easier on the player, not just necessarily philosophically or mechanically, or eyes only, or your swing, but it literally helps you to just get prepared for the game."
Can a second hitting coach add to a team's run production during a game? If he aids in the confidence and the psychology of the hitter you could say it leads to better results and more runs. Pence offered insight into this.
"It's more the mind than anything," Pence said. "It's also being able to discuss what he's seeing. There are two sets of eyes watching you. At the highest level, I don't think I'm getting nitty-gritty about my mechanics because things are happening so fast in-game. The work and the process will be taken advantage of in the cages before the game and then when the game is going on we are more discussing what the pitcher is going to do to you, what's your game plan to attack, whatever he's coming at you with."
Maybe it's time for every team to have an assistant hitting coach.
"Absolutely," Pence said. "You are always trying to get the edge and I do think there's a lot of benefit to it so it helps."