PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- From the outset, Eric Chavez made it clear that he wanted to be a Major League hitting coach. Upon joining the Yankees in December as an assistant hitting coach, Chavez told their general manager, Brian Cashman, that he hoped to interview for higher-level jobs if they opened to him. So when the Mets hired Chavez’s longtime associate, Billy Eppler, as GM, no one on either side was particularly surprised that Eppler came calling.
“It was important to me to kind of get that communication -- just being honest and upfront about what the situation was,” Chavez said.
Chavez’s popularity despite his lack of coaching experience was a testament to his otherwise well-rounded résumé. A star hitter for the A’s, Yankees and D-backs during a 17-year career, Chavez spent several of his post-retirement years working under Cashman in the Yankees’ front office. Scouting seemed fine for a time, but Chavez’s first love was hitting, so this offseason he pursued a switch back into uniform.
“At some point, I knew I wanted to get into the coaching side of it,” Chavez said. “I’ve always gravitated toward the hitters in the prospective roles that I was in. Last year, I didn’t do anything. And then all of the sudden, the phone started to ring, and things started to happen really fast.”
First Cashman, then Eppler, whom Chavez had also grown to know during his playing days with the Yankees. Now Chavez is in Port St. Lucie, charged with turning around an offense that cycled through multiple hitting coaches en route to finishing 27th in the Majors last year in runs per game. While Chavez was careful not to criticize previous regimes, he said his goal is to streamline the approach for New York hitters.
“Hitting is just so complex,” he said. “There are different philosophies, and things change throughout the day. But really, I’m going to simplify things with the players here. We want them going up to the plate with as little information as possible. We want their athletic ability to take over.”
Chavez may be a proponent of modern data usage and implementation, but he referred to himself more as a “filter.” Rather than crowd hitters’ minds with information, Chavez hopes to instill his philosophies in less intrusive ways. In that way, Chavez appears to be a hybrid of the past two Mets hitting coaches: Chili Davis, who preached a simple, all-fields approach but shied away from analytics; and Hugh Quattlebaum, who leaned heavily on data.
Beyond those nuances, Chavez subscribes to the same basic tenets as nearly every modern hitting coach -- emphasize on-base skills, swing at strikes, hit the ball as hard as possible. One of Chavez’s most influential mentors, former Mets and Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, colored many of his beliefs over the last decade. It’s Chavez’s goal to do as much as possible with that knowledge.
“We’re going to start with a new foot forward this year,” he said.
As he waits for Major League Baseball’s lockout to end, Chavez is filling his time with study. That means using video to dissect the players under his tutelage before actually meeting them, while also learning about the facilities in Port St. Lucie. On Saturday morning, manager Buck Showalter led his new coaching staff on a golf cart tour of the entire Clover Park complex, from the Major League clubhouse to the reorganized back fields. The goal is that once players arrive in Florida, there will be no wasted time.
“When the players do get here, it’s just kind of building those relationships and beginning to understand what makes each player tick, and what they need to go out and perform,” Chavez said. “We’re here to help them. We don’t have the magic sauce. We don’t. But we’re going to use as much information as we can, and hopefully players will get what they need to go out there and perform at their best.”