Stairs hopes to stick around as hitting coach

GM Matt Klentak to give new manager license to switch up coaching staff

Stairs hopes to stick around as hitting coach

PHILADELPHIA -- Matt Stairs exited the batting cage early Saturday evening at Citizens Bank Park following a lengthy one-on-one conversation with Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins.

Stairs has had a lot of these conversations with his hitters this season. They like talking to him.

Stairs, 49, is finishing his first season as Phillies hitting coach and it has been a successful one. The offense has a higher batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage than last season. They have hit more doubles, triples and home runs. They have walked more. They have seen more pitches. They have scored more runs. But just as important, hitters have raved about Stairs' communication skills and his ability to keep things simple.

They trust him. They like him.

But in a twist, Stairs might not be back next season. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin will not return, and general manager Matt Klentak told his coaches that the new manager will hire his own staff. They are welcome to reapply for their jobs, but there is no guarantee they will get them. In the meantime, if the coaches want to find work elsewhere they should try.

Of course, the other twist is that the new manager might not find a better hitting coach than Stairs, and he might not know it because he might not give him the opportunity.

"It's weird," Stairs said. "You come in as the new hitting coach and I think with the numbers and success we've had, you name it, everything across the board is up. You're hoping the next guy that comes in here says, 'I want Stairsy here because he knows the hitters.' If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it [stinks]. But I understand."

But Stairs made it clear that this is where he wants to be. Why wouldn't he? He sees the potential.

"I'm happy with the direction this team is going," he said. "I really am. I'd love to be part of it. I think the Phillies fans have seen this young talent coming up here and turn the corner with the offense. I'm not saying they're one hitter away, but they're dangerous.

"I'm going to wait it out and see what happens. Hopefully it doesn't go too long."

Stairs has played a pivotal role in the successes of Aaron Altherr, Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro. He lowered Altherr's hands and minimized his leg kick in Spring Training. Altherr has an .864 OPS. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, it would be the highest OPS by a Phillies hitter since Jayson Werth (.921 OPS) in 2010.

Williams memorably said that he can't believe he ever hit the baseball before he met Stairs, who softened his stride. He has an .803 OPS, showing power and a knack for knocking in runs. Alfaro is using a more relaxed stance since he arrived in August, which includes lowering his hands. The rookie is hitting .314 with an .862 OPS.

They are not finished products. Williams and Alfaro still have high strikeout rates and low walk rates, but Stairs believes they will continue to hit, even if they never walk a lot. He still believes in Maikel Franco. He is the only player that potentially could be in next season's Opening Day lineup that has not improved under Stairs' watch.

"I hope he's back," Altherr said about Stairs. "He has helped me out a lot. I owe a lot to him for what he's done to me. He's really good with everybody. Everybody goes to him."

Altherr said Stairs' secret is keeping things simple.

"I just had a long talk with [Hoskins] about it," Stairs said. "I don't confuse you guys. As a hitting coach you have to get that one little pointer to help them out so when they step in the batter's box they're not thinking about all this stuff.

"They're all students of the game. And the thing I really wanted was to get from Day 1 to tomorrow's last game -- and then after that whatever happens, happens. I go by experience of what I did to give at-bats away.

"That's the biggest thing for me. Don't think too much. I think that's the biggest thing with the young guys. We'll sit in there for 30 minutes a day talking, just chatting baseball, talking hitting, how you make the little adjustments."

They have certainly made those adjustments, and that is why Stairs has earned another season as hitting coach. It remains to be seen if he will get it.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.