April 18, 2000
Prospectus Q&A: Roy White
On "The A's Approach"
Roy White has been the Triple-A batting coach for the Oakland Athletics since 1999. He came over from the New York Yankees, where he was a scout, international scout and the organizational outfield coach. He played 15 seasons in the majors, all with the Yankees from 1965 through 1979, never getting much recognition despite being a fine hitter and good defensive outfielder.
Baseball Prospectus: It seems like the A's organization is finally starting to get some well-deserved recognition for the approach that their batters take to the plate. How would you describe the organizational philosophy when it comes to hitting?
Roy White: The philosophy is to make the pitcher pitch, to get good pitches to hit, to be selective when you're up there and to try to get deep into the count. The more pitches you look at--rather than swinging at the first thing that comes up there--the better the chance of getting a pitch you can hit.
BP: That philosophy seems to fit well with the type of player that you were. (White posted a .363 career OBP and walked 934 times in 15 seasons, including a league-leading 99 times in 1972.) Is that something that the A's were attracted to when they interviewed you?
RW: When I was interviewed, they asked about my hitting approach. I always took a lot of pitches when I played and had a good idea of the strike zone, which is an important part of hitting.
BP: How do you try to teach that approach to the players?
RW: By the time they get here (Triple-A), the players who have come up through the organization have already heard it for two or three years. With guys who come in from other organizations, it's a little different. We can show them statistically how much more effective that type of player is. We keep records of that sort of thing.
BP: Do other clubs try to emphasize their hitting philosophies to players using statistics, or is that something unique to the A's organization?
RW: I really wouldn't know, not having been with a lot of the other organizations. I do know that the New York Yankees, as a team, are that type of hitter--they make pitchers work and take a lot of pitches. By the time they get to the fifth or sixth inning, they've got the starter worn out. There are other organizations that try to have the same philosophy, but it's the players that make it work. You have to instill it in them. Once they believe it and see that it works, then it's a lot easier.
BP: How do you delineate the fine line between being patient at the plate and losing your aggressiveness?
RW: You don't tell guys to go up there and look for a walk. If it's your pitch to hit on the first pitch, certainly go ahead and hit it. If you don't swing at good pitches, you're not going to go too much further unless you're hitting about .370. (laughing) If you can hit .370 without following that rule, you'll probably still get there.
BP: Is there any difference in how you tailor your instruction for a player who has been up in the majors for a while, like A.J. Hinch, versus players who haven't, like Adam Piatt, Mario Encarnacion or Terrence Long?
RW: Each player has different things that they like to do, and I'll usually check with each player to see what routines he likes to get ready for games and what drills are effective for him to be productive as a hitter. I'll watch them and if I see something that I think will help them, then I'll give them my advice.
BP: At what level in the A's organization does the emphasis shift from teaching to on-field performance?
RW: Certainly when you get to Triple-A and you're one step away, you have to be able to perform the way you're going to in the major leagues. Many more mental things come into play, more than just drilling and instructional stuff. I want to have a guy ready to do the things he going to need to do when he moves up to the majors, and that might be a lot of the little things: hitting the other way, advancing the runners and having good quality at bats. That's important in this organization.
BP: The A's were named Organization of the Year by Baseball America this past year, so obviously you guys are doing something right. What is the main difference you see between the A's organization and other ballclubs?
RW: Everything is very organized, to the most minute detail, but they're always open to suggestions; everything is not etched in stone. You can deviate from what's written down on paper, if you think you have a good idea. They'll listen and make alterations; they're not rigid. Some organizations will stay right with the way it's written and won't deviate from that.
BP: Anything special you're going to tell your hitters tonight when they face Ryan Anderson?
RW: We saw him in spring training, so we know what we have to do: wait for a good pitch to hit.
BP: Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk with us.