Braves’ bats come alive — is it all about Greg Walker?

Greg Walker has made an impression on Jason Heyward and Braves. (Jason Getz)

Greg Walker has made an impression on Jason Heyward and Braves. (Jason Getz)

After watching the Braves score 55 runs on 78 hits in the last eight games, there is a tendency to jump to rash conclusions, like: 1) How did Greg Walker get away from Mensa and; 2) Is Larry Parrish giving out the wrong change on the New Jersey turnpike?

So just a little perspective: It won’t always be this good. But Walker, the Braves’ new hitting coach by way of the Chicago White Sox, clearly has made an impression on players and it’s showing up in the numbers.

So I figured I would spend this morning’s blog on Walker. Let’s call it, the TalkBlog. What follows are nothing but comments from Walker and several players, gathered after Wednesday’s 14-6 win over the New York Mets.

First, from Walker, who spent almost his entire playing career with the White Sox and later served as their hitting coach for nine seasons:

(on connecting with players) “When I left Chicago I was pretty mentally beat up. I had been there for nine years, and probably overstayed my welcome there. My last two years had kind of beat me down and I didn’t like the way I had gone about my business. So I was going to take a year off. But some people called me and said this organization from top to bottom has some really good people and you’ll fit right in with them and they’ve got a really good young team too. As soon as I started coming up here in the winter, they made me feel comfortable.”

(on his philosophy) “I just look at each player individually and how their swing works. There’s a lot of different ways to go about hitting. You’re trying to figure out what makes a guy good, and when it’s going bad what you can do to correct it. But the longer I do this job, the more I understand it’s about the mindset of a team. You want guys to go out and compete every day and these guys have got it in them. They’re competitors, they pull for each other, they are a team. So anything that has to do with playing team baseball is going to be a no-brainer. So now you just start looking at ways to be effective. … I’m just a small piece of the puzzle. What I do is minuscule compared to the players. There’s a lot of failure in this game and that’s one thing I’ve never forgotten is how hard it is to play. … Over the years I’ve tried to learn about mechanics as much as I could. I’ve gone all over the country talking to people, trying to steal stuff so I can help and do some small part.”

Now, some players. Understand that none of them are openly going to throw the former hitting coach, Parrish, under the bus. But it’s clear from their comments that they like the change to Walker and assistant Scott Fletcher.

• Freddie Freeman, who’s off to a slow start but went 2-for-4 Wednesday: “He’s awesome. He lets you be yourself and then he’ll throw in a little bit of himself. The main focus is us. He’s always there for us. He’s always there in the cage. He’s always wanting to do something extra. He always has time for you. That’s what you want in a hitting coach.”

• Jason Heyward (.341 avg., .610 slugging, 2 HRs, 6 RBI): “They’re players coaches. Whatever we need, whatever we feel, it’s for us. Whether it’s talking hitting, talking baseball, talking life in general. It’s friendship. If we need them to be more technical, they’re there for you. But a lot of times when you get to the game, you’re battling and you don’t get into the mechanics too much. They’re there helping with your confidence.”

• Chipper Jones: “They’re both very hands on. Very mechanically inclined. They’re sticklers for mechanics. I think all of the guys will tell you they’ve made good observations, they’ve made good suggestions. They’re good communicators — they’ll tell you how to fix [problems], and that’s the most important thing for a hitting coach. … [Feeling a connection] is important. Having a guy who you feel like you can sit down and talk to and have a conversation about hitting is big. A hitting coach’s communication skills are important. One’s a little more mechanical, the other is a little more visual. It’s good to have both.”

• Brian McCann: “Both of those guys are a hitter’s dream. They understand the game. They understand how hard it is. They understand we need a game plans. … I think everybody has felt a connection with both of them. They cover all sides of being a hitting coach. They give you great scouting reports. They’re available every single day to work. They’re there with extra time if you need it. They’re a great duo.”

• Dan Uggla: “Greg has been great. Fletch has been great. I think our mentality as a team, which Greg has helped us with, is being aggressive but having controlled aggressiveness. If you’re just aggressive and up there hacking at the first pitch, you’re going out of your zone and putting yourself in a hole. But if you’re aggressive on your pitch, it lets you see the ball better, recognize pitches, and that’s what these guys have done.”

Twelve games down. Only 150 to go.

By Jeff Schultz

105 comments Add your comment

chuckw/deadjournalist

April 19th, 2012
8:39 am

I think the Scott Fletcher hiring has flown a little too far under the radar. It would be nice to find out more about him, his role and the organizations thoughts on his impact as the season progresses.

Benjamin

April 19th, 2012
8:50 am

Not a lot of people know/remember this, but Greg was an outstanding first baseman in the mid to late eighties before suffering a seizure on the field one day before a game vs the Angels. I used to like watching him play as a kid.

Good to see him doing well here. Go Braves.

Big Enos Burdette

April 19th, 2012
9:07 am

What’s so hard about hitting?

Dan

April 19th, 2012
9:13 am

These two are filling a gap that has existed on the Braves for too many years. Their influence is being shown by the batters in the last several games.

rico43

April 19th, 2012
9:19 am

Heard Wednesday that the Braves lead the NL in runs scored. To me, that makes Walker our MVP for the first two weeks.

myside

April 19th, 2012
9:19 am

Terry Pendleton has proven to be a much better first base and infield coach than he was as a batting coach. One thing that bears this out is the lack of cussing he gets on these blog entries.

Herschel Talker

April 19th, 2012
9:20 am

Schultzie:

Well, in one sense, yes it is about him since he’s not Larry Parrish. But JHey is probably feeling better, and Uggla isn’t feeling the same pressure as last year, so those are big factors too.

FIRE FREDI GONZALEZ!!!

HT

JImmy T

April 19th, 2012
9:22 am

The most noticeable difference so far has been more quality at bats. Making pitchers throw more pitches nd hitters getting depper into counts. Last year we saw that from Chipper, McCann, and Prado most of the time, but not up and down the line like we are now. Looking good!

Zane Smith's Teeth

April 19th, 2012
9:23 am

When the Braves hit in September, then I’ll be impressed. 12 games does not a season make.

Paul

April 19th, 2012
9:23 am

What’s so hard about hitting?

Everything.

dtanner

April 19th, 2012
9:24 am

ridiculous to think a hitting coach would make any difference,it’s like these swing coaches in golf,see tiger woods as example,played best when he was playing by natural talent and feel,did’nt get screwed up til these swing coah got him thinking about mechanics and he lost his feel, same apply’s to the baseball swing

steve brown

April 19th, 2012
9:28 am

As far as I can tell Chipper is still batting .000 for the games he misses. Imagine how deep this team could be having one or two full time players making CJ’s money.

phil

April 19th, 2012
9:32 am

I’ll take half of Chipper Jones most any day over most anyone else…

Fire Steve Brown!!

Steve

April 19th, 2012
9:37 am

The Braves are second in runs scored, rico43. I am still wanting to know where the crybaby “fans” are? The ones who said the season was over after the Braves were 0-4. The ones who said to trade McCann. The ones who said the Braves would end up in dead last. Funny how they are on here when the Braves lose but when they go 7-1 over 8 games they vanish. If Washington is all we have to worry about in this division, the Braves will be fine. I would not be surprised to see Philly end up in third place.

LakeDawg

April 19th, 2012
9:38 am

I know Greg and he is a good man; when the players benefit from his expertise in hitting and then find out that what they hear from him is genuine, respect is almost inevitable.

We are not going to hit like this every week, but I believe we will see continued improvement over the last few years. Walker was a great addition.

Sam A.

April 19th, 2012
9:45 am

Hey Chuckw/deadjournalist and Herschel Talker….you guys seemed to know anything about baseball. First of all Scott Fletcher was a pretty good little ballplayer. He wasn’t great but a steady player. Scott was always consistent plus he fielded pretty good. Herschel Talker…..Why do you want Gonzalez fired. As of thursday morning the Braves are 7-5. I like what I see in the Braves so early in the season. Go Braves.

Gene

April 19th, 2012
9:48 am

There is a definite improvement in hitting, and yesterday Fredi pulled JJ before the game got out of hand. I hope JJ doesn’t become another Derek Lowe.

The Walrus

April 19th, 2012
9:51 am

Small sampling of a long season, but these past 8 games have been fun.

Color me cautiously optimistic.

Power of the post!

April 19th, 2012
9:51 am

Marteen is a Ballplayer

April 19th, 2012
9:52 am

Steve:

I’m one of those guys who lost all confidence after ST and the first four games. I am certainly cautiously optimitic at this point. Granted, I never asked for any players to be traded or insulted any of the players as some bloggers do. I love the Braves but still take issue with Fredi Gonzalez. That isn’t going to change until I see him make a positive impact on the team. He managed a top-notch game once this year that I have to give credit to, but I am still worried about his close game decisions and the decisions he makes when we are up by five runs and he is not aggressive enough with the pitchers.

Just one man’s opinion, but I’m not running away from stating I took issue with the Braves and their season after the first four games.

Go Bravos!

Tumbledown

April 19th, 2012
9:52 am

Yes, it is funny how all the doom and gloomers vanish. Wait … I was one of them. Oh well, I am hear to take my punishment for now.

Tumbledown

April 19th, 2012
9:53 am

Joseph

April 19th, 2012
9:59 am

I love all the negative people. It’s amazing to me to see that even when we are playing good baseball there are those who whine and complain! Of course these are the same people who want to overpay for free agents and fire the manager after 12 games of which we have won 7 of 8!

Steve

April 19th, 2012
9:59 am

It’s just amazing people forget that there are 162 games. 0-4 is a bad start but not the end of the world. Could be a lot worse! Boston is 4-8, the Angles are 4-8, and Philly is 5-7. Gotta love the bad start by the Angles and Pujols (0 home runs, 4 RBI).

Tumbledown

April 19th, 2012
10:06 am

Just as I was too quick to proclaim doom and gllom after four games, it is also much too early to proclaim this team championship worthy. I think we all need to wait until at least the end of May to have an idea of this team’s potential. Assuming the team is in contention for a playoff berth in September, we will then have to hold our breath to see if the Braves can overcome any psychological issues that may linger from last year’s collapse.

Tumbledown

April 19th, 2012
10:07 am

gloom not gllom. I am an idiot.

Mike

April 19th, 2012
10:11 am

I think the last two games is pretty good evidence of Greg and Scott’s work. Santana and Dickey fooled us once, but not twice.

Steve

April 19th, 2012
10:12 am

Agreed Tumbledown, way too early to proclaim them as a championship team. Regardless of who from the NL goes to the World Series, I think the AL wins it no matter what. Texas and Detroit are stacked.

Tumbledown

April 19th, 2012
10:19 am

I have been able to see quite a few Texas games. Early reports indicate that the Rangers are again World Series’ caliber. Their overall hitting is scary, and Matt Harrison has proven to be a quality starter. That Texeira trade with the Rangers bums me out more and more, but hindsight is clearly 20/20.

chuckw/deadjournalist

April 19th, 2012
10:19 am

Sam A. –

Your assumption is incorrect. I’m know about Fletcher, his career, his announced role and his displacement of in-person advanced scouting for video scouting as well has his development of software.

But I haven’t seen any interviews with him or any in-depth discussion about his specific day-to-day interaction with the players and coaches, his personal views on hitting, how he has integrated with the organization and with the players, etc.

That’s was what my post was referencing.

mudminnow

April 19th, 2012
10:24 am

Nice article. I like the behind the scenes info on my favorite teams.

corvette11

April 19th, 2012
10:25 am

All I am hearing from the commentators on MLB network is Washington Nationals, greatest thing since sliced bread!

OldFan

April 19th, 2012
10:26 am

I’m impressed with Walker’s comment that there’s a lot of failure in this game and how hard it really is, which McCann repeated. If Walker is really the kind of coach who can work the hitters thru their failures, then the successes ought to come more frequently and more quickly. We’ll see. But the results so far are pretty promising.

southern hope

April 19th, 2012
10:29 am

How hard is it to hit a baseball? You should read The Physics of Baseball by retired Yale University physics professor Robert Adair. He writes that the moment of contact when a bat strikes a ball lasts just 1/1,000th of a second.

But the skills required to execute that at the highest levels require years and years of training. Guys get multimillion-dollar contract if you can pull it off successfully anywhere near three out of 10 times

Consider that a fastball thrown at 95-100 mph reaches home plate in about 0.4 seconds. Adair notes in his book that it takes 0.15 seconds for humans to voluntarily blink their eyes in response to visual signals. When a big-league fastball is on the way, you must do far more than just blink. You must swing the bat to precisely the right spot at precisely the right time.

reality

April 19th, 2012
10:30 am

I would contend, based on the body of evidence going back to last September, that after the first 4 games there was nothing to be optimistic about. Those that were exhibited a great deal of faith in improvement rather then objectivity. I guess that makes them better FANs (fanatics) than the rest of us – good for them. I am glad the team has turned it around but I put my trust (and faith) in performance. If they continue for the next 30 games like the last 8 then hallelujah! It will prove that winning baseball is truly more than just adding up statistics.

marseilles mutt

April 19th, 2012
10:35 am

Football is – more or less, king down South- and I am afraid that most of us have somewhat of that mentality, and forget that there are 162 games vs, say 12 or 13.

Even first place teams from start to finish in baseball endure three, four game losing streaks. Sometimes even more. Realisticly, I was somewhat, no make that downright, impressed last year that the Braves were even close enough to the play-offs to pull an ‘el Foldo’ in September. The fact that they were even there after the way the entire season played out, was, in my opinion, outstanding.

The Braves are an interesting team- with no real stars- of guys who seem to really like one another, have great comraderie in the clubhouse, who sometimes win- and lose- in spite of themselves.

Couple that with a couple of ‘beat ‘writers that go the extra mile, and it shapes up to be a fun season. May not win, or even make the playoffs, but this a heckofa good group….looking forward to the season!

Oh, and “Go Braves!”

Gary

April 19th, 2012
10:35 am

I still think the Giant’s Willie McCovey summed up successful hitting the best, “I just hit it where they aint.” The dude’s success speaks for itself. Fire Hershel Talker

ExBraves Fan

April 19th, 2012
10:36 am

The hitting is actually better than the pitching. JJ is off slow. Hanson has good and bad innings, giving up big hits at wrong time. Love those OLD, washed up, over the hill, broken down, released players that they picked up and now have ERAs over a million. Great pick ups there! (sarcasm).

Hawg

April 19th, 2012
10:41 am

Lets here it for the coffee county son!

usbummer

April 19th, 2012
10:46 am

Considering that the Braves usually start slowly and don’t pick up speed until May or June, a 7-5 start in April is really good for us. Something to be optimistic about. Are we headed for the playoffs this season? Okay, it’s way too early to be that optimistic, but this is a better start than is usual for the Braves in April. Go Braves!

mediocrity continues...

April 19th, 2012
10:47 am

I’m hearing a lot about how much these two are available and always have time for the payers. Would I be correct in saying that Parrish didn’t?? If he didn’t, why wasn’t that picked up on by Fredi and management?

I’m just sayin’…

mediocrity continues...

April 19th, 2012
10:47 am

“players”

George Stein

April 19th, 2012
10:48 am

It probably hasn’t hurt that they haven’t really faced many elite pitchers, but they have shown a willingness to take a walk and work the count this year. Having Heyward healthy hasn’t hurt, either.

Sonny Clusters

April 19th, 2012
10:56 am

Coach came up to us once and said, “Clusters, you are dipping your bat when you bring it forward and that is causing you to hit the wall instead of hitting it over. We want you to stop dipping and smooth that swing out and we think you will get a little more loft and that should put it out of the park.” Well, he was right! We started swinging better and the coach from one of the Cobb County teams came over and talked with Coach and asked him if we could go easy on them a little bit because some of their players was crying after we beat them so bad all the time. We just laughed and told Coach it was their snacks their mommas brought them that was making them like that. All they ever ate was carrots and granola bars where we would have doughnuts and wings and sugary drinks. We always hated it when people would blame things on others when it was them all the time that was messing up.

Hillbilly D

April 19th, 2012
10:58 am

I like Greg Walker’s approach but this is baseball and things have to be kept in perspective. Players go up and down, they’ll be on fire a couple of weeks, play at their true level a couple of weeks, struggle a couple of weeks, etc. It’s a game of constant adjustment and pitchers and hitters are constantly adjusting to each other. The Braves are hitting the ball now and that’s a good thing but you really need about 50 games to see if it’s a trend or if you just have several guys getting hot at the same time. Getting good ABs is a good thing, though. If you do that consistently, the hits will come.

Steve

April 19th, 2012
11:03 am

Hmmm, I think “Sonny Clusters” needs a little help.

Sonny Clusters

April 19th, 2012
11:05 am

After a game one time, we all went over to the Dairy Queen and Mr. Tabor and his good looking daughter was giving us free treats because we had won the game something like 12-0 and the other team went back to Cobb County in some mini-vans with their mothers driving and they was all eating carrots and drinking bottled water with some flavors added to it. Well, being at the Dairy Queen sure beat that, plus we didn’t have to pay for what we ate as long as we won. We remember ordering a a hot dog and some fries and a pecan mudslide and that’s when Marcy Tabor came up to us and popped the question about going with her to the dance. We felt a little obligated since we was eating for free but we also wanted to keep our options open. Still, Marcy Tabor was hot and we accepted right on the spot. That got us some extra fries.

Bubba Bean

April 19th, 2012
11:06 am

Common thread in all of the comments was ‘communication’ and ‘having time for us’. Quite obvious those two attributes were missing last year from Parrish.

nashvillewill

April 19th, 2012
11:09 am

Looking at MLB stats: Braves are middle-of-the-road in all pitching and hitting statistics except runs Tescored (3) and stolen bases (1). Uggla’s BA is .200; Freeman is at .222. The trends are upwards over the last few games, but a few games do not make a season. To be successful Braves need a SS-2B combo that can field and throw; continued hitting from Heyward; more games from Chipper; and Uggla to hit at least .250. I, like many others, do not feel optimistic about JJ – he still doesn’t look right. Minor, Beachy, Delgado, Hanson, and Hudson look ok with Beachy and Minor playing the roles of Maddox and Glavine.
It is a long season and best not to get too down over 0-4 or too giddy over 7-1. Stats still point towards a third or fourth place finish in division.

Walker

April 19th, 2012
11:29 am

Scotty Fletcher was a great leader and player for Georgia Southern. A great guy.