ALBUQUERQUE – What are the qualifications for a baseball hitting coach?
That’s hard to say.
Walt Hriniak and Charlie Lau are noted as legendary hitting coaches, but they must have done more than their big-league statistics reveal: Hriniak had a brief, 47-game stint in the majors in 1968-69, when he batted .253 without a home run; Lau spent aa seasons in the bigs, hitting .255 with 16 homers.
Needless to say, neither is enshrined in Cooperstown.
Now, meet the Albuquerque Isotopes hitting coach, former La Cueva and University of New Mexico standout Jordan Pacheco. He spent six seasons in the majors, hitting .272 and swatting 10 homers.
Maybe it’s more a case of, “Do as I say, not as I did.”
Interestingly, Pacheco said his best hitting coach, “by far, was my dad (Joe Pacheco) … and my mom.
“He kept it as simple as possible for me; anytime I’d call and it wasn’t going well, he kept it simple. My mom kept me motivated.”
Pacheco said his most memorable day in the majors was having his parents in the stands when he hit his first MLB homer, and giving it to his dad.
He said he did get some help from professionals – neither his mother or father played professionally.
Former UNM assistant and now San Diego State head baseball coach Mark Martinez, Josh Simpson, Kevin Riggs and Duane Espy all had some input.
“I had a lot of former player guys that taught me, I think, more of the mental side of the game than anything,” Pacheco said. “Your swing’s your swing, just try to get the best out of it every day.”
Pacheco said that, as in many sports, 90 percent of the game is between the ears.
In his second season in this role with the ’Topes, Pacheco said it isn’t a case of him going up to players and making adjustments, nor them coming up to him asking for help.
“I think the proof’s in the pudding. They come out here and they perform every day. If it works, it works,” he said. “There’s definitely not one way to swing the bat, we’re figuring that out.”
For example, former MLB stars Andres “Big Cat” Galarraga, Jeff Bagwell and Julio Franco each had what some tabbed “weird” batting stances, but each succeeded at the highest level.
Pacheco adheres to the age-old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
“One-hundred percent – these guys got to this level because of their swing,” he said. “Maybe there’s some things I can refine it with; maybe now we have the data and the numbers that we can look at and really get specific.
“OK, well, you’re not hitting the ball as hard. OK, is that a couple drills we can do in the cage to help facilitate the extension of your swing? Is there a sequence thing that’s out of order? We can look at the bio-mechanics of it and get that stuff really (simplified). It doesn’t change their swing, it just makes it more efficient. Maybe a lighter bat.”
How do the parent club, the Colorado Rockies, or even the Isotopes measure a hitting coach’s success?
It’s more than just measuring batting averages, he says.
“I think it’s how well you relate to the players,” he said. “I think that’s what it comes down to, especially this triple-A level. There’s a lot of emotions – getting sent up, getting sent down – there’s an empathy factor that has to play a role.
“(Coaches) have to understand what these guys are going through on a daily basis: Their family’s here, they’re not playing well, they’ve got a lot of pressure at home to get to the big leagues. There’s all these outside factors that you got to take into consideration when you’re dealing with them.
“It’s not just about the swing – it could be a totally different thing that’s getting in the way of their performance. For me, that’s my job to figure out, and I think at the end of the day, when we have success and we’re winning ballgames, that’s how I would judge success.”
Interestingly, last year’s Isotopes collectively hit .273 and clobbered a league-high and team-record 240 home runs. Two other Pacific Coast League teams hit .273 and another hit .274; but the Isotopes’ record of 62-86 was the second-worst in the league.
The batting average and long-ball marks were improvements over the 2022 ’Topes, with a .258 batting average and 184 homers.
Not playing in 2020 because of the pandemic, let’s take a look at the 2019 Isotopes: a .287 batting average and 212 homers – and that was with the pitchers batting in games featuring other National League affiliates as opponents.
The 1994 Albuquerque Dukes – the last Duke City team to win the league championship – had a .309 team batting average with 168 home runs.