When it comes to teaching hitting, few do it as well as Rudy Jaramillo. Currently in his 15th season with the Rangers-the longest tenure of all big-league hitting coaches-the 58-year-old native of Beeville, Texas is arguably the best in the business. Called “a Hall of Fame hitting coach” by Alex Rodriguez, and “the best there is” by Michael Young, Jaramillo is a member of both the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame and the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame. Jaramillo recently sat down to talk about his favorite subject: the art and science of hitting a baseball
Rudy Jaramillo: Well, it is really great that people think that or say that. I feel that I work very hard and am really dedicated and have a lot of passion for what I do. I love to help players get the most out of themselves, and the way I go about it is to just be myself. I’m somewhat old-school. I tell them the truth and expect them to have some discipline, but the main thing is that you need an ability to win people’s trust. You need to have a great rapport and be able to communicate. These kids believe in what we’re doing, and it’s a two-way street. I’m the teacher, and they’re the students, and they have to apply the mechanical part of it, but the bottom line is that it’s mental. They have to be continuously working on the mental part, and trusting what they work on every day, which is their mechanics. It’s a hard game, because you fail a lot. You’re always dealing with having to stay positive, so I’m encouraging these kids. The bottom line is to get results, and that’s what I aspire for them to do: to get results.
DL: Is psychology a big part of your job?
RJ: Oh, yeah. Everybody is human, so you have to pick your spots as far as when to give tough love or when to praise them. You just have to learn that person, and then you kind of go from there. You need to know when to do what, to make them respond.
DL: Do you feel that being bilingual is a big advantage for you?
RJ: There’s no doubt about it. I don’t know if there are very many bilingual hitting coaches in the game, but it helps a lot. A lot of times, with Latin players, you’re explaining something in their language and it hits home maybe a little quicker than it would in English. They’re all at different levels as far as how well they speak English, and how well they understand it, and some of them may hear it easier in Spanish, or vice versa. I do it both ways, and I think it’s a big advantage. I think there is something like 40 percent Latins in the game, and there will continue to be more and more.
DL: What is your hitting philosophy?
RJ: Here with the Rangers, we teach it from the minor leagues all the way to the big-league level, and it’s a five-step program. Those five steps are just what all good hitters do. They’re the fundamentals of the game. I’ve watched tapes from Babe Ruth to Mickey Mantle to Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays, and they all did the same things. They got into a good hitting position, they were balanced, and there are five things that happen in a swing. For one, you have to have rhythm, and that rhythm has to time the pitcher. That rhythm times the arm to release point, so that you can see the ball, which is two. When the hitter separates, meaning that he goes in the opposite direction with his foot and hands to get in the power position, that’s three. Four is when they finish separating, they’re closed and are square, which allows the ball to get deep. And then they have a weight shift. That’s what every good hitter does. They just find a way, through their rhythm, to put those five steps together.
DL: Willie Mays once said: “It’s only a hitch when you’re in a slump. When you’re hitting the ball it’s called rhythm.”
RJ: It is timing and rhythm. That’s where you get power; that’s where you get recognition; that’s where you can back the ball up to make good decisions. I always say that Barry Bonds could probably get those five steps better than anyone, because of his recognition. He only swung at strikes the majority of the time, and he obviously hit for a lot of power. But all good hitters do those things more consistently than do non-good hitters.
DL: Mays used the word “hitch.” If a hitter is talented enough to have reached the big leagues, should a hitch be fixed?
RJ: You don’t really have to fix a swing if they’ve already had success in the minor leagues. You’re dealing more with the mental part, like expectations after the first year and the pressure you’re putting on yourself to try to repeat. The scouting reports on you are a little better, and they’re starting to maybe figure out some of your weaknesses versus your strengths, and we try to adapt to those things as we go. [Your] mentality is the main thing. You have to adjust as you go, whether it is physically, or in our approach, or in our plan. It all comes down to executing at home plate. Sometimes what happens is that we think result, and that puts pressure on you because you’re already worried about the result rather than the execution here at home plate. We always have to bring the hitter home. One thing too, which is so important, is that you have to see the ball. You have to see the baseball. When you do, good things happen and your timing gets better.
DL: A few years ago, Greg Gross said to me: “That’s why I don’t think you can teach hitting. Everyone has a different level of talent, and it’s up to their hand-eye coordination, and what’s in their head, to determine their success.”
RJ: That’s why I came up with my system. It enables you to do the drills, and you can check the tape to watch yourself. You can go, ‘Hey, those are the five things that every good hitter does.’ So what he mentioned there is important, but I don’t think anybody in baseball has the system that I use. I’ve put a lot of hard work into videotaping, and there is the dedication that you have to have to figure out what the best thing is for these kids-the best thing for them to have success.
DL: Gross isn’t the only instructor who has said that you can’t really teach hitting, that good hitters are born and you can only help them to refine the talent they already possess.
RJ: That’s true, too. These guys have great hand-eye coordination, and they have great ability. All I’m trying to do is help them see the baseball, recognize it, back it up, and make a good decision. Their eyes and hands are so great-and their ability-so yes, there’s a lot of truth to it. You’re just trying to help them a little bit to refine their skills and to be more consistent.
DL: Ted Williams once said: “More mistakes are made hitting than in any other part of the game.” Do you agree with that?
RJ: No doubt, because people start late and don’t get into a good hitting position. That’s why the majority of people probably struggle 75 to 80 percent of the time. Good hitters are getting three hits out of ten, so they’re still struggling seventy percent of the time. That’s what you’re dealing with: failure. He was right. You make so many mistakes, because the ball is moving, and you’re getting different pitches at different speeds. You really have to be on your game to get in a good athletic position and square the ball up.
DL: Williams has famously said that pitchers are dumb. Is there any truth to that?
RJ: Oh, I don’t really know. I suppose you could say the same thing about hitters, you know. So, I don’t know how much truth there is to that. When you start overthinking and outthink yourself… you hear hitters going, ‘What a dumb-ass, I’m giving at-bats away.’ I’m sure pitchers do the same thing. They overanalyze and overthink.
DL: Yogi Berra once said: “I never blame myself when I’m not hitting. I blame the bat, and if it keeps up, I change bats.” Is there any wisdom in that?
RJ: Whatever works, whatever works. You’re trying to trick your mind sometimes. But, pretty much, you have to trust your mind; you have to trust yourself. The ability is there and you have to apply it. You have to apply what you work on in batting practice and trust it and take it out to the game.
DL: Have you ever gone to a player and suggested that he use a different bat?
RJ: No. I don’t do that. I don’t even know what kind of bats they use-what size, or anything. That’s their choice. They have to feel comfortable with it, and their ability will take care of the rest.
DL: Is hitting an art or a science?
RJ: I think it’s both. Scientifically, the kinetic link that you have to provide… that is the best possible thing that you can have when you break a swing down biomechanically. Then you teach off of that. Those five steps… it’s what we do. We try to get the best kinetic-link swing there is. That’s scientific, and there’s an art to it.
DL: Hitters evolve. How much have you evolved as a hitting coach?
RJ: I’ve learned more, and tweaked, over the years. This is my 19th year at the big-league level, and the system is something I’ve gone with since I first started as a minor league coach. I’ve just refined it and gotten better and better at how to express it and get it across to hitters, so that they understand it. The main thing is to just keep it simple. Simplicity is sometimes the hardest thing to teach, but you have to keep it simple for them. You don’t want them overthinking or overanalyzing. Like we said before, they have such great ability, such great hand-and-eye, that you don’t want anything to get in the way of that.
DL: You spent four years in the minor leagues as a player. Would you have made it to the big leagues had you known then what you know now?
RJ: Well, there’s no doubt that I would have been better and would have gotten further. There are so many things that go on in a season, from when you’re hot and when you’re not, and it’s really kind of learning your swing. It’s learning your swing and the feel of it, so that you can repeat it. That’s a hard thing about baseball. You have to repeat something to get timing, through the rhythm, of the pitcher. That’s something you’ve really got to stay on your game with, mentally.
DL: You’ve obviously helped a large number of hitters. Who taught you how to hit?
RJ: When I first started, I figured out on my own what I wanted to do, but you learn from the hitters you’ve had in the past. I’ve had a lot of good hitters, and some great hitters, and over the years I’ve learned from them, just asking how they approach different pitchers and different counts, what they do for a two-strike approach. I’m just passing on all the knowledge I’ve gained from a lot of great hitters over my 19 years in the big leagues. That’s a lot of experience and people that I’ve gone through. I’ve learned from both trial and error, and from talking to people about hitting.
DL: Is your reputation as a great hitting coach in any way a hindrance to any managerial aspirations you might have?
RJ: I don’t know. I don’t know what the industry feels. I love hitting, but I’d like the challenge, one day, of being in a position to manage. If that comes along, fine. But if it doesn’t, I’m doing something that I love to do. I’m trying to learn more and more about the game, not only offense, but also defense, pitching, the infield-whatever it is. There’s a lot to learn, and you learn every night, watching the game. There are different situations, like how managers use their bullpen, but it’s something you learn, like everything else. You have to have a feel for pitchers. You have to know your pitchers just like you have to know your hitters. You have to know where they’re at mentally and physically when they’re on the mound. But I’m in hitting right now, and I love what I do.
DL: Any final thoughts?
RJ: I think that a lot of kids can learn from what I teach. I have a DVD that I came out with about three years ago, and it has a lot of big-league hitters that I’ve had with the Rangers. It is called “5 Simple Steps” and you can get it at Line Drive Productions or at rudyjaramillo.com. It teaches what we teach here with the Rangers, and it works. The kids believe in it, and we’re going to continue to have good offensive years.