Crew's co-hitting coaches make solid 'tag team'

April 3rd, 2022

PHOENIX -- In a normal offseason, the Brewers’ new hitting coaches would have had three months. In 2022, Ozzie Timmons and Connor Dawson had three weeks from the end of the MLB lockout to the end of a short Spring Training to lay the foundation for some of the most important relationships in baseball.

Where did they start?

“Honestly, by walking up to a hitter in the cage and saying, like, ‘What you got?’” said Dawson, the 28-year-old, bespectacled foil to 51-year-old baseball lifer Timmons.

The conversations began that simply.

“Say hello and ask about their family,” Timmons said. “Then the first thing me and Connor did when we talked to those guys was, ‘What are the things you like to do? What's your routine? Anything we can do to help?’ And another thing we always said, too, was that we might throw some things at you that you don't like. Say it. Don't waste our time and your time. If you don't like it, let's move on to the next one.”

Said Dawson: “You’re just trying to listen, literally from Day 1. A lot of it was just Ozzie and I holding each other accountable to stay patient. It would be easy for us to really want to push and push and push. But really, it’s us just staying patient and waiting for them to give us the answer, and then to start the relationship. That’s really what we needed to do. I felt like we did that pretty well.”

The Brewers hired Timmons and Dawson on Nov. 11, plucking Timmons from the Rays and Dawson from the Mariners. They’d been based on opposite coasts and came from different baseball worlds.

Timmons played 16 pro seasons, including five in the big leagues, before a long coaching career in which he was a Minor League coordinator and manager and a first base coach and assistant hitting coach in MLB. Timmons described himself as old school compared to Dawson’s new school.

Dawson never played pro baseball but was hitting coach and pitching coach at Marshalltown (Iowa) Community College before getting a job in Seattle’s system. He was the hitting coach at Rookie-level Arizona in 2019, spent 2020 as the hitting strategist at the Mariners’ alternate training site, then was promoted to Minor League hitting coordinator in 2021.

Scott Paulus/Brewers

The duo will work with Matt Erickson, who was later hired as the infield coach and assistant hitting coach.

“I think for the most part, it really is just a tag team,” Dawson said.

The challenge is to make incremental improvements for individual hitters and the unit as a whole to keep up with a pitching staff that is the clear strength of the team. Last season, after walloping Cleveland in a three-game sweep by a 24-4 margin that included Corbin Burnes’ and Josh Hader’s combined no-hitter, Brewers hitters slumped to a .201/.286/.327 slash line and averaged 3.23 runs per game over their final 22 games, including the four games in the NLDS.

That ranked Milwaukee last in MLB in average and slugging percentage, next to last in on-base percentage and third from the bottom in runs per game in that span. Twice in the NLDS, the Brewers were shut out.

For the regular season, the Brewers were 20th of 30 teams with a .713 OPS and 23rd with a weighted runs created plus of 91 – a useful metric because it accounts for ballpark factors and shows Milwaukee’s production was nine percent below MLB average. The bottom line, however, was above average. The Brewers were 12th of 30 teams during the regular season at 4.56 runs per game.

That’s merely the tip of the tip of the gigantic iceberg that is data available to hitters today. Teams have expanded their coaching staffs to account for the monumental task of distilling data into usable information for pitchers and hitters; thus the addition of Brewers associate pitching, catching and strategy coach Walker McKinven on the run prevention side several years ago and the subsequent expansion to two hitting coaches and now to three.

A reporter visiting Brewers’ camp last week passed along that White Sox manager Tony La Russa mused that hitting coach is the hardest job in the sport. Brewers manager Craig Counsell emphatically agreed.

“We're in a stage with it that other areas of the game have provided some concrete ways to move forward [using technology] and we're still really searching for ways that we think can sustain in helping hitters,” Counsell said. “We're trying a lot of different things, and I think that's why you’re seeing coaches cycle.

“There's also the nature of the job, which is hitting -- not just coaching it, but hitting itself -- is very difficult. It's unlike a lot of tasks in sports where it's a task predicated on failure. There's also just some luck, and unfortunately some coaches bear the brunt of it.”

Timmons is well aware of the element of failure inherent in hitting. That’s another message he wants to impart as the Brewers embark on a new season.

“Have fun. That's No. 1,” he said he imparted to the players. “The majority of the time, the pitchers have their day based on the numbers, but you just have to take something positive out of every day, whether you go 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. We'll take the positives.”