Tagged: hitting

Twins Make Simple Things Look Simple

Amid the recent kerfuffle over Hanley Ramirez’s lack of hustle, much was made about a general lack of respect for the game among young players and their unwillingness to commit to the fundamentals and all the little things that win games.  However, there is one organization where this attitude seems to have been completely eradicated.

It’s no secret that the Minnesota Twins have been among baseball’s most consistent teams over the last decade.  They have yet to return to the World Series since their glory days of the early 90s, and yet they’ve persevered and excelled on a yearly basis.  It doesn’t hurt to have two of the best left-handed hitters–both MVPs–back-to-back in the middle of the lineup, but their success and consistency goes far beyond the imposing presence of the new-age M&M boys. 

They’ve won despite the Commissioner’s attempts to contract them, a terrible ballpark (until this year), a “small market” home, and miserly ownership that has just recently started to loosen the purse strings.  They let go of a Cy Young, and lost a potential future Cy Young for essentially two years and kept on winning. 

Last year they won 16 of their last 20 games to force a one-game playoff with Detroit, which they won in 12 innings.  This year, they lost their All-Star closer before the season, the savingest (if winningest is a word, so is savingest) closer of the decade and yet they’ve not missed a beat and currently lead the AL Central by 1.5 games.

How has this organization fostered such a winning tradition and battled through so many obstacles?  I submit that their organizational attention to detail and focus on fundamentals puts them at an advantage every time they take the field.  Of course, talent trumps all and that’s where Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau come in, but the success of the team is rooted in its ability to avoid mistakes and capitalize on those of its opponents in all three phases of the game; pitching, hitting, and defense.

Let’s start with pitching.  The Twins once again are getting good results and winning more than they lose with a staff of improving youngsters and a suddenly rejuvenated Francisco Liriano.  The Twins preach one principle to their pitchers from draft day all they way to the clubhouse at Target Field and that’s throw strikes, period.  Velocity and “stuff” are tertiary to the ability to pitch ahead and avoid walks, the free bases that turn solo homers into 3-run jobs and a single run into a crooked number.

As they have for seemingly since the game began, the Twins lead all of baseball with the fewest walks allowed (106), 15 ahead of the second place staff.  The Twins refuse to allow free passes (they’re also tied for 4th with only 10 hit batters), and force teams to beat them by swinging the bat.  Not only does this keep runners off base, but the focus on strike-throwing allows Twins pitchers to be more efficient and work deeper into games.  The Twins lead MLB in fewest pitches per inning at just 15.29. 

Of course, all those strikes come at the expense of big strikeout numbers as they rank 24th with 301.  However, their control is so overwhelming that they still manage to lead MLB in K/BB at 2.87.  The Cubs are second at 2.50 despite having struckout 76 more hitters.  Also, the Twins still rank 5th in MLB with a 1.28 WHIP, so even though they’re pounding the zone relentlessly, they aren’t allowing hitters to tee off on them.  They’re throwing quality strikes and letting their defense do its job.  Any big innings put together against this staff must be earned, as they’re handing out just over two walks per game (2.26 BB/9IP, best in MLB).  However, a staff that forces so much contact and racks up so few strikeouts must rely on its defense more than others.  For the Twins, though, fundamentals and discipline extend to the entire team.

Modern day statisticians, er sabrematricians, have found many ways to quantify defense, and they’ve devised some profoundly useful numbers that put real meaning into defensive ability.  However, for the purposes of this discussion I’m not looking for UZR or anything beyond the oldest and simplest of defensive stats.  The Twins just simply never makes errors, ever.  Their one miscue in yesterday’s game brings their season error total as a team to 10.  That’s the same number that Nationals’ infielder Ian Desmond has committed by himself!  They’ve played 46 games, which means they boot a ball about once every other series.  The second best team in MLB has 19 errors!  The Twins pick up the ball at a .995 fielding percentage clip. 

They are not likely to lead Baseball Tonight’s Web Gem awards balloting, but that’s not their style anyway.  They demand focus and expect every simple play to be made.  There are numerous players throughout baseball that thrive on making the spectacular play and yet will drop a routine grounder from time to time.  The Twins tell their pitchers to let the ball be hit and they tell their fielders to make routine plays look routine.  They have a history of exciting players like Kirby Puckett and Torii Hunter, but they’re much more concerned with converting routine plays into outs. 

This goes hand in hand with their pitching philosophy; make the opposition earn every base.  They don’t allow free bases on errors, and they don’t let runners move up extra bases with stupid mistakes.  Compare the Twins “free base” totals with the MLB average and you’ll see how their fundamental superiority adds up over time.  League average totals for walks, hit batters, and errors are 166, 15, and 30, respectively.  Let’s just say each is worth one base for simplicity.  That’s 211 free bases.  The Twins numbers are 106, 10, and 10, a total of 126, 85 fewer free bases, the equivalent of just over 21 free trips around the diamond.  This is a simplistic comparison, but it clearly shows the edge that a focus on fundamentals has given the Twins.  In business, we call these things core strengths.  The Twins core strength is that they absolutely give nothing away and dare you to take it from them.

But the Twins don’t stop there.  They take the same principles of discipline and focus up to the plate with them as well.  While their pitchers abhor walks, their hitters couldn’t be happier, or better, at earning them.  They’ve strolled to first 204 times, 2nd in MLB, while striking out only 268 times, 28th most in MLB (or 3rd best).  Their differential between walks taken and walks allowed is 98, more than two extra free passes every single night.  That advantage over the course of 162 games cannot be overstated.  And just as they don’t give free outs to teams defensively, they similarly loathe to surrender them on the basepaths. 

While their stolen base numbers (25 steals, 4 CS) are nothing exciting, that success rate is tops in MLB (86.2%).  So while they certainly aren’t the Running Rays, putting pressure on opposing batteries and causing mayhem, what they are is intelligent and opportunistic baserunners who will swipe bags when they see them available, but otherwise will allow their patient and potent teammates to move them along.  With the 3rd best batting average and 2nd best OBP in MLB, they have little reason to force the issue and run themselves out of innings.  

With their fundamental edge in all three categories, the Twins routinely put themselves in position to win games and force their opponents to make plays to beat them.  They rarely give away games and their ability to execute at each position and their willingness to rely on every single member of the roster is what has been the foundation for their tremendous success and consistency. 

All teams have peaks and valleys and both hot and cold streaks thr
oughout a season, but Minnesota’s consistent dominance of the fundamental areas of the game make it easier for them to pull out tough victories and allow them a competitive advantage every single night of the season.  This keeps them from the extended losing streaks that can kill a team’s season.  Rarely do they take themselves out of a game with mental mistakes, impatient at-bats, or lack of command on the mound.  It’s that day in day out focus that keeps them on a steady path to success.

Cubs Come Through When it Counts in Home Opener

Yesterday the Cubs beat the Brewers 9-5 in the Wrigley Field opener mostly on the strength of three home runs which plated seven of the nine scores for Chicago.  Much like last year and several recent seasons in Chicago, there is concern that the Cubs rely too heavily on the round trippers for their offensive output.  So far this year the Cubs have scored 19 of 27 runs via the longball and there’s concern that they won’t be able to produce when the fickle winds of Wrigley turn around.

It is a little disconcerting that the team seems to scuffle for several innings (or games) at a time, failing to make the little plays to score runs and then suddenly open the floodgates with outbursts like they did yesterday.  However, this season it appears the Cubs are coming up with more timely hits, even if they still tend to be big flies.

Last season, the team struggled mightily with runners on base and in scoring position, even failing to plate a single run in many bases loaded, no out situations.  That occurred again in the 1st inning of Sunday’s game against Cincinnati, when Ryan Theriot, Kosuke Fukudome, and Derrek Lee each reached to open the game against Mike Leake, a pitcher making his first pro appearance on any level.

With the bases loaded, no one out, and cleanup hitter Aramis Ramirez coming up against a kid who last threw a competitive pitch for Arizona State, the Cubs proceeded to pop up, strikeout, and fly out for a scoreless frame.   Of course I thought this was a harbinger of another long season of missed opportunities on the North Side, but yesterday’s output showed a different possibility.

I’m not just talking about the deluge of runs, which is a once a week commonplace in recent Cubs history.  It’s the situations in which the runs scored that are more important.  All nine of the runs came with two outs.  The team which I last summer dubbed the  “Rally Assassins” was suddenly more clutch than a stick shift, at least for a day.  Perhaps new hitting coach/proclaimed miracle worker Rudy Jaramillo is starting to have an impact on this lineup.

In the five run third, the Cubs had runners on second and third with two outs after a double steal on a strikeout.  This was a classic Cubs opportunity to blow a good chance.  However, Xavier Nady homered, Alfonso Soriano singled, and then Jeff Baker capped it with another homer.  The next inning the Cubs would hit safely four consecutive times with two outs to plate three more and they added another two-out tally in the fifth.  In all, 9 of their 13 hits came with two outs.

More than the home runs and the gala event of Opening Day, these situational successes should give Cubs fans hope that the slow start is fading and this Cubs team may have what it takes to get back to the top of the division.

Even after the 13 hits yesterday, the club is still hitting a dismal .223, good enough for a tie for 14th in the National League.  However, subsequent situational splits offer a glimmer of hope.  With runners on the Cubs improve, sort of, to .233 (11th in NL) and with runners in scoring position they clobber the ball (not really) at a .250 clip (9th in the NL).  Alright, none of those numbers are what you would call “good” or even “encouraging,” but this last one is.  With runners in scoring position and two outs, the Cubs are hitting .333 (2nd in NL) and that’s where games are won and lost. 

When pitchers are hanging by a thread, like Doug Davis was all day, a team must be able to provide the clutch hits that send him to the showers and open the bullpen gates.  Too often in the recent past, Cubs teams have let pitchers hang around and stay in the game by letting them off the hook with double plays, baserunning mistakes, and by giving away at bats. 

Perhaps yesterday is the early turning point for this team that can provide some momentum and confidence in those all-important situations.  As the saying goes, “two out knocks get you to heaven,” and with enough of them maybe this team will find the promised land of October baseball.

Chicago Cubs: Rally Assassins

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            The Chicago
Cubs have thus far been one of the bigger disappointments of this Major League
season.  They were expected to dominate
the NL Central this year on their way to a third consecutive division crown.  However, little has gone the Cubs way this
year and they’ve stumbled to a 31-31 record as of June 18 that has them in 4th
place in the Central, 4 games back. 

 

            Part of the
problem has been the team’s inability to field a complete and healthy squad
almost the entire year.  Aramis Ramirez
is still out with a dislocated shoulder, suffered way back on May 8.  He isn’t expected back until early July at
the soonest.  He’s been the team’s best
and most clutch hitter for the past several years and is a major catalyst that
they’ve sorely missed.  Derrek Lee has
missed time with various sicknesses and ailments, and Milton Bradley has been
either injured or incredibly unproductive. 
Even Carlos Zambrano missed a week when he was suspended for losing his
mind during a start a couple weeks ago. 
This team has barely seen its projected regular lineup all together this
season.

 

            Despite the
lengthy injury report, though, the Cubs real problem has been a complete lack
of timely hitting and the ability to create productive at bats in key
situations.  Anecdotally I can tell you
that this team seems to produce fewer runs from situations with less than two
outs and the bases loaded or runners in scoring position than any other in the
league.  Time and again they either
completely fail to put the ball in play or rap into tailor-made double plays to
end innings.  The Cubs aren’t rally
killers, they’re rally assassins.  They
can eliminate scoring opportunities with deadly precision and uncanny
consistency. 

 

            They are
hitting .227 with runners in scoring position, good enough for dead last in
MLB.  With the bases loaded they’re
hitting .250, but they’ve struck out 21 times in only 76 bases loaded at
bats.  They’ve hit into double plays with
the bases loaded more times (6) than they’ve hit sacrifice flies (5).  They’ve either struck out or grounded into
double plays in 35% of their bases loaded at bats.  That shows a complete team-wide inability or
refusal to take a good approach and simply produce productive at bats which
stems from their lack of discipline and inability to adjust.

 

Soriano refuses to take outside
pitches the other way and instead insists on striking out on breaking pitches
several inches outside on a regular basis. 
Soto has shown no ability to make adjustments as the league has caught
up to him in his second full year.  Lee has
not regained his ability to drive pitches that suddenly disappeared two years
ago.  Bradley has been his usual surly
self, but hasn’t produced anything to offset that attitude.  Only Fukudome has improved from last year,
when he performed well below expectations.

 

As a team, the Cubs are hitting a
putrid .244, 14th in the NL and 27th overall.  They have 64 HR, 9th in the NL and
19th in MLB.  Their SLG
(.394), OBP (.321), XBH (175), and Runs (254) rank 11th, 12th,
14th, and 15th in the NL respectively and 22nd,
23rd, 25th, and 28th in MLB.  This is a team that scored 855 runs in 2008,
2nd in MLB and the only NL team to score more than 800.  They’re featuring essentially the exact same
lineup.  Lee, Geovany Soto, Alfonso Soriano,
Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Ryan Theriot, and Mike Fontenot were all regulars
last year, only Bradley, expected to be an upgrade in right field, is new to
the lineup on an everyday basis. 

 

            The lineup
has provided equal opportunity futility from top (Soriano: .225 AVG, .291 OBP
in the leadoff spot) to bottom (last year’s Rookie of the Year Soto: .217 AVG,
3 HR, 16 RBI).  Even occasional bright
spots, like Lee’s recent hitting streak that has his average all the way up to
(yes, up to) .277 has been offset by the continued ineptitude of the other
hitters in the lineup. 

 

The Cubs are 6-7 in June and have
averaged just over three runs per game this month.  They should consider themselves lucky that
the pitching staff has performed well enough to allow them to win 6 of those
games.  They’ve allowed just over three
runs per game in June, too.  Three of
those wins were veritable onslaughts in which they scored 6 twice and 7 once.  In the other three wins they managed three
runs twice and two runs once with their pitchers providing outstanding
performances to carry the offense. 

 

Look even closer and you’ll see
that the staff did more than just pitch. 
In the 2-1 victory on June 5, Carlos Zambrano hit the eventual
game-winning homer for himself.  On June
7 and June 9, both wins, each Cubs starter (Randy Wells and Ted Lilly) had a
hit and a run scored.  Perhaps the big
changes that Lou Piniella has hinted at include implementing a lineup with his
starting pitchers batting in the 5-9 spots.

 

Throughout any year a pitching
staff must carry its lineup for a period and vice versa, but this year has been
a season-long failure for the Cubs offense and it’s forced the pitchers to work
with a razor-thin margin of error.  Randy
Wells, for example, has started seven times, averaged six innings per start and
has an excellent 2.55 ERA as a fill in for Rich Harden, yet he’s 0-3 and has
yet to record his first Major League win, though in nearly every start he’s
made a quality start and put his team in position to win.

 

Without an offense to support their
solid pitching, this Cubs team is going nowhere and with the talent and big names
throughout their lineup they can only be viewed thus far as a tremendous
failure.  A second-half turnaround could
put them back in contention in the mediocre NL Central, but nothing about this
team’s play suggests it will improve on the well-documented failures of the
previous two seasons.  It looks like next
year is still over the horizon for the faithful in Wrigleyville.

 

Petco Graveyard Can’t Hold Adrian Gonzalez

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            It’s no
secret that Adrian Gonzalez is blossoming into one of the brightest stars in
the game, though his 4th place position in the NL All-Star first
base balloting suggests that a few more should turn a watchful eye to San
Diego.  I’m not
going into the issue of whether he deserves to start in the All-Star Game,
though clearly he’s one of the National League’s most dominant players at any
position right now.  With Albert Pujols
on the host team and Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, and even Joey Votto playing at
first base, there’s essentially no bad vote at the position, and that’s without
mentioning the struggling Derrek Lee, a two-time All-Star and three-time Gold
Glove winner. 

 

I don’t see a more stacked position anywhere in baseball
than first base in the National League, and most of them still have their best
seasons ahead of them.  I want to talk
more about the games that do matter, and even though many may argue Padres
games don’t mean all that much due to the team’s dismal prospects, that simply highlights
how incredible it is that Gonzalez has been able to achieve such success this
year.  Not that it’s a total surprise to
those who’ve been paying attention.  For
three years running Gonzalez has improved both his RBI (82, 100, 119) and HR
(24, 30, 36) totals and this year he’s on pace to top his career bests again.  He’s become a dynamic talent and he just
turned 27 last month, so he may have another decade in the league ahead of him.

           

            The most
remarkable thing about his numbers is not that he can smash so many home runs
while playing half his games at the graveyard that is Petco
Park, though I do submit that that
is impressive.  The more noteworthy thing
to me is that he’s able to maintain such a torrid offensive pace with
essentially zero supporting characters around him.  San Diego is currently hitting a Major League
worst .236 as a team and the hitters that typically surround Gonzalez in the
lineup include Scott Hairston, David Eckstein, Kevin Kouzmanoff, and Brian
Giles.  While they’re all serviceable and
effective Major League players, they’re not exactly a latter day Murderer’s
Row.  The team has a total of 59 HR, with
22 of them by Gonzalez himself.  That’s
38% of the team’s home runs by one guy, far and away the best in the league.

 

Hairston is currently hitting .327
(though with too few at bats to qualify among league leaders), but Eckstein is
at .258, Kouzmanoff .224, and Giles is languishing behind Mr. Mendoza at
.194.  Clearly opposing pitchers have
more than enough reason to avoid Gonzalez and his .279/.422/.632 (AVG/OBP/SLG)
and they’ve employed a Bondsian strategy, walking Gonzalez a Major League
leading 49 times, five more than the oft-intentionally passed Albert Pujols
with whom Gonzalez’s numbers are beginning to be compared.

 

It would be premature to say that
Gonzalez has equaled Albert as the best hitter in the National League, and
given Pujols’ tremendous talent Gonzalez may never reach those heights, but
their numbers make for good comparisons this season.  Both are clearly the focal points of their
respective lineups.  Pujols is often
given credit for succeeding without tremendous support, but even with a rash of
injuries to his teammates Pujols has been able to rely on the likes of Ryan
Ludwick and Rick Ankiel who offer more protection than Gonzalez’s motley crew.  The Cardinals are hitting .253 as a team, 21st
best in the Majors.  Pujols also plays in
a slightly more hitter-friendly park and on a more competitive team overall.  This season, though, Gonzalez has more than
held his own in a number of categories.

 

 

AB

AVG

SLG

OPS

BB

HR

XBH

RBI

RUNS

Gonzalez

201

.279

.632

1.054

49

22

27

43

42

Pujols

200

.320

.655

1.095

44

18

31

51

44

 

While Albert still holds an edge in
nearly every category, just the fact that we can respectably compare Gonzalez’s
numbers to Pujols shows how great he’s been. 
We’ll see if he continues to capitalize on the small number of good
pitches he sees each week or if pitchers take an even more submissive approach
and decide to try their luck with his subpar supporting cast.

 

Adrian Gonzalez has been among the
very few things to cheer about in San Diego
this season and it would be good for him and the league if he gets a shot to
showcase his skills at the All-Star Game and perhaps even go toe-to-toe with
Pujols in the Home Run Derby.  He’s a
lock as the best player on a bad team that must send a representative, but he’s
no undeserving roster filler.  Adrian
Gonzalez has quietly excelled for three seasons in San
Diego, but with a phenomenal year like he’s putting together,
he won’t be able to avoid the spotlight any longer.  As San Diego
looks to rebuild their team and get back to the playoffs they’ve certainly got
a solid cornerstone for their foundation and one that should be around for many
years to come.

Keeping up with the Joneses, and the Markakises

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The Baltimore Orioles are languishing in last place in the
AL East, a position that’s become far too familiar for this franchise that has
such a proud history and tradition.  They’re
already eight games back of the surprising Blue Jays and they look like they’re
well on the way to another long, losing summer in beautiful Camden Yards.  However, the light may be starting to appear
at the end of the tunnel for this team. 
They have promising talent just over the horizon in the minor leagues,
including Baseball America’s
(and most everyone else’s) top overall prospect, catcher Matt Wieters. 

 

Orioles fans don’t just have to look at box scores from AAA
Norfolk to find hope, though.  They can
see the future of their franchise blossoming before their eyes at the Major
League level every night.  They have two
talented young outfielders that are turning in stellar seasons thus far and
appear to be turning the corner toward true stardom.  Adam Jones doesn’t even turn 24 until the
first day of August and Nick Markakis will be 25 for the entire season, but these
two have been putting up very impressive offensive numbers and because of their
team’s lack of success, they’ve been able to do so in relative obscurity.

 

Adam Jones not only shares a name with one of America’s most
notorious felons, errr football stars, he’s also in the Top 10 in the AL in eight
of nine major categories and he’s in the Top 5 in six.  Markakis isn’t just a second fiddle
either.  He’s rapping out hits and
scoring runs at an All-Star pace as well. 
Take a look at what they’ve posted so far this season, with AL
rankings in parenthesis. 

 

 

 

Jones

Markakis

AVG

.363 (4)

.349 (8)

OBP

.420 (7)

.429 (5)

SLG

.669 (3)

.579 (12)

OPS

1.090 (4)

1.008 (t-6)

Hits

45 (5)

44 (t-7)

2B

12 (t-5)

11 (t-10)

HR

8 (t-10)

6 (t-22)

RBI

25 (t-11)

30 (t-6)

Runs

35 (1)

33 (2)

 

 

  Jones and Markakis
lead all of MLB in runs scored even though the Orioles as a team have only
scored the ninth most runs overall. 
Their 68 runs account for 40% of the team’s runs and they also have a
third of the team’s hits and doubles.  It
remains to be seen whether either will get a sniff of an All-Star invitation,
but certainly there’s no more dynamic pair in one outfield this season. 

 

This doesn’t look like an early season fluke either.  Markakis is in his fourth full season and is
a career .303 hitter.  He averaged 20 HR,
38 doubles, and 87 RBI his first three years. 
He’s on pace to obliterate those numbers this year and he can only stay
under the radar for so long.  Jones meanwhile
played parts of two year with Seattle
before getting his first full season last year with Baltimore.  In 132 games he hit .270 with 21 doubles, seven
triples, and nine HR.  His speed is a
huge weapon both offensively and defensively, though he hasn’t yet developed
into much of a threat to steal on the bases. 
Adding that aspect will only make him more dangerous.  Regular at bats have given him a new comfort
level and allowed him to unleash his raw talent and physical tools.  We’ll see if he can maintain his torrid pace,
but it appears this is his breakout season. 
Both players are likely to see their slugging and power numbers slide a
little, but neither is a true power hitter, so as long as they’re getting hits
and scoring runs the Orioles will be more than happy with their production.

 

Jones and Markakis are two solid young pieces that could
become mainstays in the Baltimore outfield
for the next decade.  If Felix Pie can
ever deliver on the promise that made him a top prospect in the Cubs’ system,
the Orioles could put together one of the fastest and most dangerous young outfields
in a long time.  Brian Roberts should be
able to maintain his status as team leader for several more years and if
Wieters and other prospects develop as expected, this team could become a
contender quickly and quietly in the star-packed AL East. 

 

The Rays made a complete turnaround and magical run last
season based on only a couple key young players having tremendous seasons.  The Orioles need some pitching (currently 12th
in the AL and 27th in MLB with a 5.37 ERA) to go with their lineup,
but if they can develop or acquire 2 or 3 solid starters within a few years,
this young lineup will make enough noise to drastically improve both the win
total and the morale in Baltimore.

Wait, it’s illegal to NOT hit a batter?

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If Major League Baseball takes action against White Sox
pitcher Bobby Jenks for throwing behind the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler it will be
just another step in a long line of removing power from pitchers and giving
hitters one more reason to dig and crowd the plate.  Jenks admitted that he had intentionally
thrown behind Kinsler in Saturday night’s game to send a message that he didn’t
like Texas pitchers hitting his
teammates.  Kinsler was not hit and Jenks
proceeded to induce a pop out and finish the game.  Jenks was simply trying to convey that he’ll
defend his teammates and retaliate in kind when they’re disrespected.  This has been part of the game of baseball
since Abner Doubleday started drawing up the rules.  However, in recent years numerous crackdowns
have always sided with hitters and continue to weaken pitchers’ ability to
defend themselves and stick up for their teammates.

 

I am not in favor of headhunting or deliberately trying to
take a guy’s head off, but pitching inside is part of the game of baseball and
if pitchers are unable to do so hitters will become more and more comfortable
and pitchers will become more vulnerable. 
Ever since the lowering of the mound 40 years ago, pitchers have
consistently been forced to adapt to rules changes and an evolution of the game
that has been exclusively pro-offense. 
Among the evolutions are better bats, harder balls, steroids, protective
armor and smaller parks.  These changes,
though not legislated by MLB, have led to a constant increase in offensive
firepower with no offsets to aid the pitchers. 

 

Additionally, MLB has instituted rules that have hurt
pitchers even more.  Umpires, under the
orders of MLB, now routinely warn both dugouts after a single batter is hit that
any retaliation will result in automatic ejection for both the pitcher and
manager.  However, umpires do not enforce
these rules with any consistency, and often the only result is that pitchers
are hung out to dry, unable to pitch inside with authority, lest they be
ejected by an umpire with an itchy trigger finger.

 

The ejection is no deterrent to a pitcher or manager who
wants to protect his team.  Hitters are
regularly plunked following bench warnings as pitchers consider the respect of
their teammates more important than avoiding an ejection.  The real result is that pitchers must
avoid the inner half of the plate and hitters, secure in the knowledge that the
warning is in effect, crowd the plate and dive toward the outer half.  What’s worse, the bench warning rule puts
umpires in a terrible position to determine “intent” on any pitch that comes
close to a hitter.  I’ve seen pitchers
ejected automatically for hitting a batter with an 82 mph curveball.  Anyone who’s played the game at a level
beyond T-ball understands you don’t hit a guy with a curveball if you want to
send a message, but either umpires don’t understand the rule or they don’t
understand the game, either scenario is a bad thing for MLB.  Why not let the players sort things out like they always have?

 

In this instance, though, Jenks didn’t even hit
anybody.  He merely was trying to show
that he’s sick of his teammates being drilled. 
He wanted the Rangers to know that if they want to continue they can
anticipate an upper 90s fastball in the ribs.  This is the way the game should be
played.  There is no better deterrent to
reckless and dangerous actions than the fear of “getting yours.”  This is one reason I’m a staunch opponent of
the designated hitter.  If pitchers have
to face the music themselves every three innings, they’ll think twice about
dotting a guy’s head.  Since the DH isn’t
going anywhere, the next best target is a team’s best hitter.  If a pitcher doesn’t have to worry about his
own ribs getting smashed, he’ll definitely want to ensure that he doesn’t have
a clubhouse full of guys taking his medicine for him.  If MLB would allow the players to police
themselves, much the way NHL enforcers keep
star players from being cheapshotted, they’ll be able to keep the order.  Violators of the “code” are dealt with
accordingly.  These vain attempts to
control the game and ensure civility are clearly implemented by those who have
no understanding of how things work within the game and among teams.

 

If a hitter shows up a pitcher he should expect to have
things handled on the field.  If a
pitcher, however, decides to go rogue and headhunt, he’ll either have to answer
for it himself (NL) or hang his teammates out to dry (AL).  In either case, he’ll shape up quickly or his
teammates will ensure that he does.  This is how things were handled for decades
and it should be allowed to continue.  The idea that MLB needs to play the role of hall
monitor is silly.  An ejection or fine
means nothing to these guys.  Their
personal health and safety and their teammates’ respect will change their
behavior quickly. 

 

If MLB fines or suspends Jenks for NOT hitting a batter, it will be just the latest in a decades long
attempt to reign in a natural part of the game and will only serve to make
hitters that much more eager to get to the plate.  It’s another case of trying to “protect”
hitters, you know, the guys with helmets, elbow guards, and big clubs in their
hands.  The irony is that all this
legislation actually puts pitchers in more danger than anybody.  Line drives come off a bat at well over 100
mph toward a pitcher standing about 55 feet away after his follow through and
he’s not wearing a helmet or any of the ridiculous armor that Barry Bonds made
popular.  We’ve already seen numerous
guys nearly killed in such scenarios and the more MLB caters to hitters and removes
the possibility that they’ll be in any way inconvenienced in their attempt to
tear the cover off the ball; the more likely we are to see pitchers get
drilled, figuratively and literally.

 

If a pitcher throws at someone’s head simply because he doesn’t like a
guy or he is mad that he just gave up a 450-foot home run, he should be
disciplined, and the league should make an effort to protect players from
deliberate injury.  Fines and suspensions
are merited for brawls and deliberate attempts to injure.  However, to punish a pitcher for sticking up
for his team, and to remove the players’ ability to handle things themselves on
the field hurts the integrity of the game. 
Jenks’ intent wasn’t to injure.  He
meant to miss and he did so very effectively. 
He intended to let the Rangers know he didn’t like their behavior and
that there were consequences for disrespecting his guys.  Bud Selig needs to allow the game to take
care of itself.  It has worked for
decades and the unclear, artificial, inconsistent rules that MLB has tried to
enforce clearly do not.  We need to let things be taken care of between the lines, Biblical style; an eye for an eye, or a rib for a rib.