Jeff Frye wants to help your kid hit baseballs. He doesn’t want you to hire him as a swing coach, though. No, in fact, he’s no huge fan of the term “swing coach.”
Frye hit .290 with a .357 on-base percentage over eight Major League seasons, so you can make the case that he knows a thing or two about how to swing a bat. But he suggests that young people just learning to play the game can’t necessarily do what he or his professional teammates could. He makes that point via the medium of social media videos and he’s started to gather a following.
Frye thinks that many newfangled techniques for teaching young people how to hit baseballs don’t work and cause parents to give money to unqualified “hitting gurus.” He sees an emphasis on, for instance, launch angle (to hit the ball over the defense and the fence). He sees it as something that has trickled down from MLB to the lower levels that does a disservice to players like him who don’t have natural home run talent but could be productive players when trying to hit line drives. He started reacting to (and poking fun at) these developments through a series of videos he posts on social media.
As he explains in the interview video that’s the centerpiece of this blog post, Frye didn’t see this viral sensation coming. But he has quickly built 12,000+ Twitter followers and has a catchphrase: SheGone. It’s something he says at the end of each video, implying that whatever ball he has just hit has left the yard. You can even buy merchandise with the phrase at his website.
Frye also reacts to the advanced statistics movement he sees as having given rise to some of the approaches to hitting that he views as counterproductive, especially for young hitters. He feels the human element has a lot of value, in particular once you get into the actual playing of the game.
In the video interview we talk about this aspect of modern baseball. I have always felt that statistics of all kinds have a place in the game. And the more sophisticated you can get about them, the better. But if you’re going to use them to make decisions, you need to be sure you’re looking at the right stats – ones that reflect the reality of what’s actually going to happen on the field. To make good decisions, you need good information, and records of past performances, aka statistics, are only one evaluation technique. We live in a real-time world, and one has to be able to continually assess the reliability of one’s information. Many times the knowledge gathered by managers, coaches, and teammates over the course of a season, a game, or even an at-bat is the best tool for determining whether what you’re seeing in your spreadsheet actually reflects reality. Frye and I discuss that balance in the interview.
Frye has his share of detractors who think he’s behind the times. He embraces the criticism and reacts to it by making more videos. He’s taken on a “Judy The Hitting Guru” persona based on criticism of him as a “punch-and-judy hitter” who only hit singles in his career (439 more big league singles than you and I have hit, by the way). And, yeah, you can get a Judy shirt on his website.
I don’t necessarily consider myself qualified to render judgement on any given technique for teaching hitting, and I certainly don’t know as much as a former professional ballplayer. But one area Frye explores in his videos to which I can certainly relate is sportsmanship. He doesn’t consider celebrations that involve showing up one’s opponent as progress in the sport. If kids can’t have fun playing a game without showing disrespect, then somebody is for sure teaching them wrong. And perhaps the vital underlying point of all of Jeff’s videos – even if you don’t like them – is that parents should be taking a hard look at what’s being taught to their children, in baseball or anywhere else.