PHILADELPHIA -- There’s no annual award for Most Valuable Coach, but if the honor existed, the early front-runner for 2023 MVC would have to be Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long.
Long has helped orchestrate a breakout season for Brandon Marsh. He’s reworked Edmundo Sosa’s swing to turn the elite defender into an offensive threat. More recently, he’s helped Cristian Pache see more success at the plate in one month with the Phillies than he had at any point over the past few years with the A’s or Braves.
“He’s amazing. He really is,” manager Rob Thomson said. “He’s the best I’ve ever been around. In every facet of being a hitting coach, he’s at the top.”
So what goes into being the best hitting coach in the Majors? MLB.com recently caught up with Long, who peeled back the curtain on his process:
When you’re trying to help a struggling player, what do you dive into first: the data or the film?
“I’m looking at the data, I’m looking at the reasons why things might be happening, but I’m really looking at the film and making my own decisions. I’ll have people from other organizations tell me, ‘This is what we’ve been doing’ -- I don’t even want any of that. I would rather take this guy from scratch, get to know him, get to know his swing and try to build it from there. That’s how I start.”
How much video do you watch of a guy before putting a plan together?
“I probably watch 2,000-3,000 swings on a guy before I even meet him.”
How far back do you go?
“I could have told you what Marsh’s high school swing looked like before I even met him. That part of it, he was like, ‘Dude …’ I said, ‘Yeah, you had the green and the gold uniform, right?’ He goes, ‘Oh my God, yeah.’ So right there, you kind of build something where they go, ‘Man, this dude really cares about me; he’s invested in my career.’ I think that’s as important as any part of it.”
So you see something on film and the data backs it up … now, how do you present it to the player?
“With Marsh, I just wanted to get him into a better position to hit overall. [His stance now] is kind of back to how he was in high school -- and that was the best he ever hit. I said, ‘Why’d you get away from it?’ And he goes, ‘Well, in pro ball … ’
“I said, ‘In pro ball what? It’s the same thing. There’s a reason why you were drafted in the second round -- you were probably doing a lot of things right. You just need to get back to some of the basic stuff you were doing.’”
You mentioned how important it is to be invested in these guys … so how rewarding is it for you to have so many players -- Marsh, Pache, Bryson Stott -- saying right now is the best they’ve ever felt at the plate?
“That’s what you want to hear, right? It’s not always going to be the case, I know that. At some point, we’re going to have to make some adjustments with their swings again. But it’s a good feeling. You want that more times than not -- guys to feel good about what they’re doing and how they’re going about their business.”
You acquired Pache on the eve of Opening Day … How quickly did you get to work with him?
“There’s no waiting. You just go to him, introduce yourself and say, ‘Listen, here’s what I see on video, and I’ve looked at a lot of your swings. There are a few things I think we can start to attack immediately that will help you be a way better hitter than you are right now.’ And they’ll say, ‘Oh OK, what are those things?’ If you make sense of it and you show them and you take video of what they just did and then watch it back -- here are the adjustments you just made … Look at your head, it was moving two-and-a-half feet before, how far is it moving now? ‘Oh, it’s really not moving that much.’ OK, how were you seeing the ball? ‘I’m seeing it a lot better.’ So how will your decision-making be? ‘Probably a lot better.’ And then the swing comes out much better.”
How’s your approach different when you’re trying to help a young player as opposed to a proven veteran in a slump?
“In essence, when you’re talking superstars, they’ve been there, they’ve done it -- they’ve had big-time success. When you’re talking about Marsh at the big league level, he hadn’t had that success. Pache had had no success at the MLB level. So that’s the difference: they don’t know if they can do it or not. So that’s where I come in, and I’ve got to build their confidence and build their swing and build their routine. I’ve got to get them feeling sexy about themselves as quick as I possibly can.”