Matt Stairs Is Excited for a Big Challenge as Phillies Hitting Coach

Matt Stairs requires no elaborate orientation, no long period of study to get ready for his new job as Phillies hitting coach. He took care of those necessities the last three seasons in the television broadcast booth.
“I feel like I was a hitting coach for the fans the last three years, talking about all of our hitters, talking about situations and hitting approach,” Stairs said. “Now I’ll work with those hitters on the field.”
Stairs was hired to the position Wednesday (see story). He replaces Steve Henderson, who spent four seasons on the job and was let go after the team scored a majors-low 610 runs in 2016.
Stairs, 48, played parts of 19 seasons in the majors and clubbed one of the biggest and most memorable home runs in Phillies history in Game 4 of the 2008 National League Championship Series. His two-out, two-run, pinch-hit homer against Jonathan Broxton of the Los Angeles Dodgers broke a 5-5 tie in the eighth inning and helped propel the Phillies to the World Series, which they won. Stairs spent the last three seasons as part of the Phillies' broadcast team on CSN Philly. During that time, he took notes — some mental, some on paper — on Phillies hitters. He can’t wait to work with those hitters in spring training.
“I already have a book on every hitter’s strengths and weakness,” he said. “I love hitting and love teaching it. I’m really excited.”
Though Stairs conducts many hitting clinics, especially in Canada — the New Brunswick native is a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame — and was a guest hitting instructor for the Phillies in spring training 2016, this is his first professional coaching job.
“It’s always been in the back of my mind, being on the field again, helping players get better,” he said. 
He followed through on that desire a few weeks ago when he texted Phillies manager Pete Mackanin and asked to be considered for the team’s opening.
Mackanin said he and general manager Matt Klentak spoke to “six or seven” candidates. Stairs emerged as the leader in recent days.
“Stairsy knows our team, knows the hitters’ strengths and weaknesses,” Mackanin said. “Talking to him the last few years, I didn’t need an in-depth interview. The passion and energy he showed, you could tell he wanted the job.”
Stairs has his work cut out for him.
In addition to finishing last in the majors in runs last season — 39 fewer than the next closest team — the Phils were 29th in the majors in batting average (.240), on-base percentage (.301) and slugging (.385).
Klentak, who took over as GM 13 months ago, wants to build an offense that works counts, grinds out at-bats and gets on base. The 2016 Phillies finished last in the National League in walks and fourth in strikeouts. Clearly, the club must improve its selectivity at the plate.
Mackanin said “controlling the strike zone” was the biggest thing the hitters need to improve on. Basically, that means doing damage on the pitches over the plate and not swinging at balls off the plate. Mackanin wants Stairs to stress that.
“The mark of a good teacher is getting results from his students and we think Matt can do that,” Mackanin said. 
During his long career as a player, Stairs batted .262 with 265 home runs, 899 RBIs and a .365 on-base percentage in 1,895 games. He had 490 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter and hit .252 with a .357 on-base percentage and 23 homers, a major-league record.
Stairs said his first task as hitting coach will be meeting with each player and asking that hitter about his strengths and weaknesses and what type of hitter he thinks he is and should be.
“Know your strength and build off that,” he said. “I want to talk about the philosophy of sitting on a pitch early in the count and if it’s not there let it go, unless there’s a runner in scoring position when you hunt the fastball. We’ll work on trusting your hands and cutting down your swing with two strikes.” 
Stairs is a big fan of Maikel Franco, who had 25 homers and 88 RBIs, but struck out 108 times with just 40 walks and a .306 on-base percentage in 2016. Franco has admitted he needs to become more selective.
Stairs sees a former Oakland A’s teammate in the 24-year-old Franco.
“He reminds me of Miguel Tejada,” Stairs said of the former American League MVP. “When Tejada first came up, he swung at everything. He was a free-swinger like Franco. Then he calmed down. He figured it out and became a true professional hitter. He spit on the stuff low and away and waited for the pitcher to make a mistake. Franco has good hands and a good swing. He’ll be an MVP candidate once he figures it out.
“If you work counts, the pitcher will make a mistake. I’ll try to make all of our hitters realize they don’t have to be in a hurry to hit and you do that through a lot of communication, film study and work. I’m looking forward to it.”

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