Sunday, April 23, 2006

Situational Hitting

Wrapping up some college games this weekend in south Florida, Carson (a.k.a. PC geek) and I had a frank discussion over something that can differentiate one player from another: an instinctual awareness for situational hitting and being able to execute accordingly. To me, I've seen a declining emphasis on situational hitting over the last 10 to 15 years. And it really extends from the highest level down to the youth leagues. Just look at the high salary premiums paid for home runs and slugging percentage.

Situational hitting is such a rich part of the game. Apart from pitching (I'm biased), it has to be one of the main attractions to the game. Carson didn't have a clue of what I was talking about. He kept reminding me that there was a reason for the high salary premiums paid for HRs, slugging percentage, and of course, he threw in on-base percentage. Although Carson has made great strides in scouting the tools, he still has difficulty putting value on certain aspects of a player's game that aren't always measured by the statistical world of production.

To help him focus (or so I thought I was helping), I gave him several basic examples. With the bases empty and no outs, the at bat is different from the same situation with two outs. With two outs, the batter who finds himself in a 2-0 or 3-1 count should be looking to drive the ball in order to get himself into scoring position rather than taking a walk. If he takes the walk, his team will most likely need a couple two-out hits to score him. If he gets into scoring position, then only one two-out hit should be necessary to score him. [Of course, Carson argued with me on the philosophy of not taking a walk in that circumstance. Any tactic that could hurt a player's OBP had to be faulty. He was certain that he could find some statistical data that would prove more runs were scored with two outs from a 3-1 count which resulted in a walk than a situation where the ball was put into the field of play from a 3-1 count (ie. the team would be better off taking a walk instead of swinging for a double).]

Another example would be a man on third with less than two outs. The hitter needs to get the runner in from third. It doesn't really matter whether the infield is in or deep. I'm looking for a hitter that stays on top of the ball, controls his swing (no overswinging), and puts the ball in play. A simple grounder directed to the gap between third and second or first and second. No pop-ups or short fly balls. And for crying out loud, never get caught taking a third strike in this situation! [Of course, Carson was screaming for the deep fly ball that might have a chance to go yard. To him, if a player is going to put himself in a position to be thrown out on a ground ball, why not swing for the fences for a chance to score two runs. If he comes up short, then the team scores a run on a deep fly ball. For anyone who's played, it's much more difficult to consistently hit a deep fly ball. There's too much opportunity to hit it short or simply pop-up. Most MLB outfielders can throw out a tagging runner on a shallow fly ball. Just get it on the ground and the chances are that something good is going to happen. The batter might even get it through the gap and improve his precious OBP]

Now, I realize that a manager should dictate the situational hitting tactics used during the game but the player needs to be able to execute them. Generally, a team gets to the playoffs because they have good pitchers who can beat the other teams' good hitters more often than not. But a way for hitters to overcome dominating pitchers is to use situational hitting to their advantage. Once in the playoffs, it's my opinion that the team who executes situational hitting is more likely to win. I want players who are comfortable with the concepts and can execute them willingly and without hesitation.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Changing Speeds

Notyourdoc wants to know if I had a mental tool breakdown? How much time do you have? I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Putting the ball in my manager's hand. Stepping off the mound (not knowing that it was actually going to be my last time doing so). I looked up into the late-September night sky and inhaled the crisp air. Of course, I was in full denial of what had just happened. And I was full of excuses too. If the second baseman had just a bit more range. How could the shortstop pull the first baseman off the bag? Why couldn't the right fielder hit the cutoff man like he was supposed to? Why did the groundskeeper mow the grass differently that day?

But truthfully, I was getting hit hard in more ways than one. My mind was not focused on throwing strikes but rather on the divorce papers that were served on me just two days prior. She waited for an away trip to have me served. It was all very well coordinated on her part. She moved out that same morning and took the two kids with her. My daughter was 8 years old and my son was 17 months. In an instant, my life changed. I became bitter and found myself throwing one pity-party after another. Things only got worse when my daughter mentioned on the phone that Mommy had a new boyfriend. I quickly sank into several bad habits during the offseason. It was hard enough for me to eat innings with a clear head and healthy body. But when I showed up at spring training without either, the team put me into rehab and offered me a scouting job in Florida. 23+ years and several clubs later, I'm still scouting in Florida.

And yesterday was my son's 25th birthday. I know he's not in baseball. I've checked each and every year since he graduated from high school. And he's probably done with college by now, assuming he went. Maybe even married. For all I know, I could be a grandfather and not even know it.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Into His Kitchen

I've been in the Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade County area this week. The high school teams are approaching their district tournaments and wrapping up their regular seasons. From what I've seen this year, there's no doubt that the strongest HS talent pool is located in these three counties. I would suspect that quite a few of the Florida state championship teams will come right from here. The community colleges also wrap up their regular season this week and the four-year programs will still be going strong through May and into June for those advancing.

Not surprisingly, this is around the time I see some fatigue related mental errors. For example, I was at a community college game this week scouting a freshman at third base. A real horse. Quick hands and impressive bat speed. Not afraid to let it loose. Especially with an inside fastball. I've watched him enough to know that pitchers with a runner on second and no outs will throw right into his kitchen and get burned by a hard shot to right field. It almost seems easier for him to hit it to right on an inside pitch. I love that ability in a kid.

But sometimes he's a bit too aggressive (or maybe impatient is a better word) given the situation at hand. For example, it was late in the game and his team was down by one. A runner was on third with one out. The infield was playing in. Mind you, he hadn't swung at the first pitch all night. And that strategy had served him well as he started 1 and 0 for his first three plate appearances.

He stepped to the plate and lo and behold, he took a hard swing at the first pitch and sent a ground ball to the second baseman. The second baseman held the runner at third and threw the batter out at first. The next batter popped out. End of inning and basically end of game.

I knew it drove me crazy to see him swing at the first pitch. And it certainly didn't help his cause that the ball was low and away. He had the pitcher in a hole. I could only image what his coach told him when he got back to the dug out. I sure know what I would've told him.

Impatience or perhaps lack of mental awareness. But either way, his mental tool broke down. And this was a good player who should go somewhere between the 30-40th round.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Double Play

After spending all afternoon checking up on a few of my prospects from the Orlando area, I made my way up to the northern end of town to catch up with the Parker family for dinner. Unfortunately, Dallas was still AWOL. Oh sure, he called his wife to at least let her know he was still alive, but the long and the short of it was that he just needed to get somethings straightened out. He then told her that he was somewhere in North Carolina but that he would be back tomorrow. Normally that would've given her some peace of mind but Dallas said the same exact thing to her yesterday and he never showed up.

Not the best of situations. Rachel, his wife, was trying to act strong but I could tell she was on the edge of her seat not knowing what was going to happen. She was already putting in plenty of overtime at the Walmart supercenter to make ends meet. At 6:00 am sharp she would drop her off at a friend's house who ran a small daycare, and not pick her up until about 8:00 pm.

Today, however, was a special day because I was invited over for dinner at 7:30 pm. Rachel brought home a Walmart rotisserie chicken, potato salad, and dinner rolls. Madison, her daughter, plucked a roll from the bag and ran off to her room without her mother noticing. Mattie, as her mother calls her, still had that awful cough. I could hear her from the bedroom hacking away in between bites. Soon enough though, she was back at my side at the kitchen table wanting to make sure that I knew of her request to the Easter Bunny for an extra large chocolate bunny.

But when she turned to her mother and asked whether "Daddy" was going to color the Easter eggs with her like he promised, I just about wanted to wring Dallas' neck. What the heck was he doing? He had only lost four games all year (mainly due to poor run support) and his ERA was near three and a half. He was leading the team in quality starts and strikeouts. But things either went really great for Dallas or they went terribly bad. He would throw a two-hit shutout and then follow it up in the next game with with a six run first inning. To make matters worse, his attitude was equally inconsistent. According to Rachel, the scouts who were hot a heavy on him stopped coming around about a month ago and won't even call her back.

I offered to talk with the Wekiva coach to see if he would take Dallas back for what's left of the season but that I'd really like to talk with Dallas first before I did anything. I made it clear to her that even if the coach allowed Dallas back into the dugout, the players would most certainly resent him for walking out and that it would take many months to re-earn their trust and confidence. I then leveled with her that it didn't look good for Dallas in the upcoming draft. Once the teams get wind of his latest act, he'll be lucky to go somewhere between the 40-50th round. Although she pretty much knew this was probably the case, hearing it from me made it that much worse. So much that I could see her eyes begin to water as her face sank down into her hands.

Mattie dropped her doll on the living room floor and ran over to her mother at the kitchen table. Mattie instinctively knew her mother was on the verge of losing it. Perhaps she had seen this one too many times in the past. I felt terrible but that was nothing compared to how I felt when the five-year old suddenly told her mother, "I can get a job. Don't worry Mommy. It'll all be fine."

So much for the Dallas Parker project.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Commissioner

While watching a high school tournament in Sarasota this evening, I happened to be seated next to several old-time area scouts. Like always, in between innings we shot the breeze about mostly everything except baseball. Very rarely did we talk about the kids and their performance with the parents in earshot. However, the topic of Barry Bonds did come up. Showing my age, I happened to ask them what Bowie Kuhn would do if he were still the Commissioner.

Commissioner Kuhn was at the helm when I made my entry and exit from the playing ranks of MLB. I can remember him being very harsh towards those that abused drugs with hefty fines (at least compared to our pay back then) and quick suspensions. Just ask the four Kansas City Royals (Blue, Wilson, Martin, Aikens) that were suspended in 1983 for cocaine use.

And gambling? Let's not forget that it was Kuhn that had the guts to ban Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle from baseball for their promotion of legalized gambling. It was Ueberroth who later reinstated them in 1985.

My most vivid memory, however, was his confrontation with Kansas City Athletics owner Charles O. Finley. Actually he had already moved the team to Oakland when the two went at it. Finley saw the writing on the wall after losing Catfish to free agency. He tried to sell Rudi, Blue, and Fingers, but Kuhn stepped in to stop the transactions because in his opinion they were not in the best interest of baseball. Finley sued and the case became major precedent for the broad authority of the Commissioner. I did some quick research to find a quote from the appeal's court:

"The commissioner has the authority to determine whether any act, transaction, or practice is not within the best interests of baseball, and upon such determination, to take whatever preventative or remedial action he deems appropriate, whether or not the act, transaction, or practice complies with the Major League Rules or involves moral turpitude."
Charles O. Finley v. Bowie Kuhn (7th Cir. 1978)

Anyhow, our discussion was cut short by a phone call I received from the head coach of Wekiva Community College. It seems Dallas Parker walked off the field in the middle of the fourth inning after giving up a three-run shot. Didn't say a word to anybody. Packed up his bag and went home. Needless to say, I'm going over to Orlando tomorrow morning to see if I can hunt him down. And it wasn't like he was getting rocked. He had a one-hitter going with no runs.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Comments

(Just this once for those that receive posts via email or feed and don't normally read the comments.) If anyone cares, today was the first time I responded to a comment with a comment instead of a post. Going forward I'll be paying more attention to the comments and will try to respond periodically in addition to my regular posts.


Cutter said...
Really, I don't normally read the comments. The Doc wanted me to get some things off my chest and that's been the whole premise of the blog...not me getting noticed. If I had zero people read it or 1,500/day, I'd continue writing just the same.

Although, I must admit I haven't done a good job of keeping my doctor's orders to open up. Thinking it through, I decided that maybe I should start to read them more often. That's why I threw in the alias idea. Maybe that's what I've been missing all along and why I haven't felt the blog doing much good for me. Perhaps on occasion I could respond to a few comments as sort of an extension to my treatment plan. On occasion, of course.

I mean look at notyourdoc. He drilled both Bonds and Bush with one single pitch. Whoa. He's really getting stuff off his chest both sportswise and politically. How efficient. Not a wasted movement. If only you could pitch that good on the mound? . . . Can you?

Anyhow I've never seen a scouting report compare a player to the Michelin Man but that's one I'll have to remember. I like it.

If I had a nickel . . .


Sunday, April 9th, 10:37 AM

Friday, April 07, 2006

Plunked (Part II)

As I've already admitted, I don't normally read the comments to this blog. But one recent comment caught my attention. It was posted anonymously to my original Plunked post. The comment was very articulate and questioned my support of Barry Bonds given my past anger towards those that tarnish the integrity of the game. And I would have left it alone but the person went on to mention the Doc in the last sentence. That's when my suspicions called time and caused me to step out of the batter's box. Could this be the Doc again trying to coax me into a dialogue? After all, he's just trying to help me. And one of my many issues just happens to be . . . anger. What could it hurt to respond? Back into the batter's box--

Look, when it comes to Barry, I'd just rather deal in concrete facts rather than speculation, hearsay, rumor, or innuendo. That's all I meant.

And unfortunately, I seriously doubt whether Sen. Mitchell will be able to dig up many useful facts. He's already coming unglued with a number of potential conflicts (i.e. he's a director of the Boston Red Sox and the Chairman of The Walt Disney Company, the parent of ESPN).

Bonds has flat out denied using steriods and has never failed a drug test. I'm not ready to throw out his stats or put up an asterisk next to his name just because of some book or a grand jury transcript that was made public illegally. Bonds was not granted immunity for his grand jury testimony leaving him totally exposed to a perjury case if he lied under oath. Given his testimony and the fact that it's illegal to obtain steriods without a doctor's prescription, the Feds obviously didn't think they had a case for either perjury, or anything else, otherwise they would have indicted Barry by now. Therefore, one would have to believe that there just isn't enough conclusive evidence. And lest we forget, until you're proven guilty, you're presumed innocent.

But if he's ever found to be guilty of taking illegal performance-enhancing substances, then he will be forever disgraced and should be dealt with according to MLB steriod policy. Now whether that policy is too weak, that is for the pundits to argue. And whether Bud steps in to do something extraordinary will remain to be seen.

Oh and yes, the Doc has accused me of being in denial on more than one occasion. Perhaps this is just another one of those instances, but I don't think so.

ps: To those who post anonymously, perhaps you would consider using an alias so everyone can identify your comment with past comments and get a better flavor of where you are coming from when you post. Just a thought.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Ace (Part III)

After ten minutes of trying to figure out what in the world was going on between the two, it finally dawned on me that both Goldie and Jacob "Jack" Booker (the classic breaking ball pitcher and Texas Hold'em prodigy) were talking a different language. A language which included terms like big slick, small blind, the button, limper, flop, American Airlines, the turn, fish hooks, the river, muck, and my personal favorite (given my psychological status). . . the nut hand or otherwise known as the nuts. Goldie spoke Jack's language and was able to build a degree of trust. The two were actually connecting.

Come to find out, Goldie is more than just a poker hack. When he's not in class or out here scouting, he's online playing poker for money. And not just for nickels and dimes either. He's actually pulling in enough to help fund his law school tuition! The things you learn. I wonder what the Georgia bar would think about that?

Anyhow, Goldie's approach was textbook. He started by acknowledging Jack's situation as a tough dilemma. He understood Jack's desire to play professional poker and the commitment it would take to play at that level. Thousands upon thousands of hands. Countless hours of folding and looking for just those two or three hands that will make your evening worthwhile. Once Jack knew Goldie fully appreciated his desire to take his poker playing to another level, Goldie swooped in to give Jack a reality check. He zeroed in on Jack's little league days and his tireless commitment to baseball year-after-year. That now was the time for Jack to get some return on his investment. That he could play poker anytime but that his opportunity to play professional baseball would only be open for a brief moment in time. Certainly he wasn't going to throw away the opportunity that he's spent most of his waking life to obtain.

I swear if Goldie were selling a used car, I'd probably buy it. He was that good. The most under rated part of scouting is sales and Goldie was a natural at it. Sales was and continues to be something that I have to work very hard at. I'm just not built for sales. To me, a career in baseball should sell itself. But that's not always the case. You're always selling the organization, the coaching, the facilities, the teammates, and the overall vision of management.

In the end, Goldie was able to convince Jack that he had to re-dedicate himself to baseball (not that he had to quit poker but instead putting baseball first and poker second), finish up the college season strong, and capture the opportunity that will make itself available during this year's draft. After an hour, he single-handedly turned that kid around. It was obvious to me that Jack's whole attitude towards himself and the game of baseball changed. How long it will last, however, is another story.

I would have left him to his own devices. Let him become a professional poker player. Why convince him to play baseball? A tiger can't change his stripes no matter how hard he tries and I'm not going to risk my job trying to help. I've seen it backfire too many times. Goldie, on the other hand, believes that Jack's potential is too good to pass up and that we should work with him rather than kick him to the curb. But to me, I don't want a gambler on my team who has to be convinced to play baseball instead of the World Poker Tour. It's safe to say that Goldie and I agree to disagree on this one. I'm sure I'll be hearing from DeSear in the near future.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Plunked

I need to digress for a post. You need to first understand that I've been a supporter of Barry Bonds from day one. You simply can't imagine what it's like to put up with the media day-in and day-out. Like a broken record, they ask the same stupid questions over and over. But when they sniff something out of line-- you're fresh meat ripe for the killing. Guilty before proven innocent. You tell them "no comment" and they continue to ask the same question three different ways like you're all of the sudden going to answer the question. Without a doubt, it was the most tasteless part of my playing days.

So when I see Barry giving the media a cold shoulder and reacting the way that he does, I can't half blame him. In fact, part of me says good for him. Too freaking bad if they can't get past his smug look, condescending attitude, and arrogant answers. Leave the guy alone. And that's always been my stance.

That was until I read somewhere that he said his life was in "shambles."

Surely he can't be serious. Someone who makes over $20 million a year isn't going to get much sympathy from my end. Check out his salary since 1988. I look at someone like Goldie who always has a smile on his face. He's going to spend the rest of his life tied to a wheelchair. He's never going to walk again. And as far as I can tell, he doesn't even have a steady income. You don't hear him saying his life is in "shambles." As a matter of fact, he's just thrilled to be around the game of baseball. Thrilled to have a minuscule opportunity in scouting. And yet, Bonds, who is chasing one of the greatest records in professional sports history, finds his life in "shambles?"

This afternoon I drove past All-Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. I would suggest that he walk into the cancer ward and talk with some of the kids who might not make it past the All-Star break. Then let's see if he still thinks his life is in "shambles."