MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Mattingly has logical cure to what ails batters

Dodgers' manager says whole-field approach to hitting is best remedy for downturn in offense

Mattingly has logical cure to what ails batters

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has witnessed the decline of offense firsthand.

He doesn't like it. And he has a solution. It has nothing to do with outlawing defensive shifts or lowering the mound or shrinking the strike zone. It is all about basics.

"A good way is to use the whole field and keep the ball in play," he said during a chat with the media on Thursday. "We've got a whole generation that wants to sit and spin and see how far they can hit the ball into the seats. They aren't using the whole field."

Mattingly knows hitting. He was one of the better pure hitters in the game with the Yankees before back problems cut his career short after 14 seasons. A career .307 hitter, he led the American League in 1984 with a .343 average, and the next year, while hitting 35 home runs, he led the AL with 48 doubles and 145 RBIs.

He was a hitting coach for manager Joe Torre with the Yankees and Dodgers before replacing Torre in Los Angeles.

Oh, and this is a guy who came to the big leagues as an opposite-field hitter, who could drive the ball in the alley but wasn't known for home runs, a lot like Todd Helton and even prodigious home run hitter Reggie Jackson.

That's what is known among scouts as understanding the basics of hitting.

The late Hal Keller, one of the all-time greats among scouts, called that kind of player "hitterish."

Angels hitting coach Don Baylor explains, "You can't teach a player to drive the ball the other way in the big leagues, but if you have a guy who can do that, you can teach them how to pull the ball. It's about understanding pitch counts and pitch recognition."

That is what gets Mattingly worked up when he hears talk about the dying offense in baseball.

He won't argue with the stats.

In the last four seasons, fewer runs were scored since the expansion to 30 clubs in 1998. The 11,109 last season was the fewest in any season since 1987, when there were 26 teams.

Mattingly will argue the best cure for what ails the game.

"The Commissioner [Rob Manfred] talked about banning shifts," Mattingly said. "Why don't we teach guys to hit? Go back to teaching hitters to use the whole field and keep the ball in the strike zone."

MLB Tonight on defensive shifts

Chicks may dig the home run, but the recent power surge has been accompanied by a massive increase in strikeouts.

The single-season strikeout record has been broken in each of the past seven seasons. The 17 highest strikeout totals of all time have come in the 17 seasons since 1998.

After the Royals' July 24, 1985, game against the Yankees, in which Steve Balboni struck out in the sixth inning against Bob Shirley, Balboni's 100th strikeout that season, there was champagne on ice in front of Balboni's locker.

"Ask Mac," Balboni said, nodding to teammate Hal McRae, who had the locker next to Balboni.

"You know how good a hitter that man is?" McRae said. "He's so good that he struck out for the 100th time tonight and he's still in the lineup. That calls for a celebration."

Balboni finished with 166 strikeouts that season. He also belted 36 home runs, which remain a Royals franchise record.

"[McRae] did it every year I was there, except my first year," Balboni said.

What happened the first year?

"We were in Boston," Balboni said. "I had 97 strikeouts and [Roger Clemens] was pitching. He had the champagne on ice before the game."

And after the game?

"We popped the cork," Balboni said.

The moral to the story: Strikeouts were rare in that era.

Hitters were under the influence of Charley Lau and Walt Hriniak. The focus was to hit the ball up the middle and make contact.

There was a major change in the game after the 1968 season to benefit hitters. The mound was lowered from 15 to 10 inches, and offense steadily increased until recent years.

"Pitchers have always had the advantage," Mattingly said. "They know what they are going to throw, and if they can locate, they know where the ball is going to go. They have seven guys trying to catch it.

"As a hitter, if you can't use the whole field, you are allowing seven guys to cover half the field and your chances go down."

It all sounds so logical.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.