Friday, September 09, 2005

Preparing for the Astros Rotation

Our upcoming series against Houston could determine whether the Marlins or the Astros will be in the post-season. With the Astros currently scheduling Clemens, Pettitte and Oswalt for the weekend series against the Brewers, it looks like we may face some combination of Astacio, Backe, or Rodriguez in the first two games, and then Clemens and Pettitte on Wednesday and Thursday. However, I would not be surprised to see Garner juggle the rotation, give Oswalt an extra day of rest, and start him against the more potent Marlins lineup on Monday.

Whether we face two or three of the Astro's big three pitchers, any of which would be the staff ace on most other teams, we should have a different one approach to the game when facing Clemens, Pettitte and potentially Oswalt, and another approach when facing Astacio, Backe, and Rodriguez.

The first thing a hitter needs is a plan going to the plate. For the plan to work, the batter needs to know the matchup. This starts by knowing what kind of hitter his is. He needs to know what type of pitch he likes, and where he likes it, and just as importantly, where he doesn't. He needs to know whether he is better against righties or lefties, and whether he is comfortable with the pitcher. Unlike Jack McKeon's assumption, a righty-lefty and lefty-righty matchup is not always effective. Cabrera, Pierre, and Treanor all are putting up better numbers against “same-handers.” Delgado, as expected, puts up better numbers against right handers, but has performed incredibly well against Pettitte (20 for 55 with 5 Hrs). Likewise, Encarnacion, while preferring lefties, has done well against both Clemens (6 for 21) and Oswalt (4 for 12).

In addition to knowing how comfortable he is with the pitcher, the batter needs to know the pitcher's arsenal, and how effective each pitch in that arsenal is that day. He needs to know what the pitcher is likely to throw ahead in the count, behind in the counter, and what, if any, is his strike out pitch. There should be scouts watching the pitchers every move prior to the game, and relay what pitches are working, and note any indications of anything unusual in the delivery. Each inning, this information needs to be updated with the live performance from the prior inning, and the current inning's warm-up. The hitting instructor should be perhaps the most active of all the coaches, and be very communicative during a game, and yet not cross the line into inundation.

Finally, the batter need to know the home plate umpire and how they enforce the strike zone. Some umpires, such as Laz Diaz, will change the strike zone pitch-to-pitch and drive both the pitcher and batter into a frenzy. Also, unfortunately, some umpires are intimidated by or otherwise favor certain pitchers. Just as a pitcher may not have his best stuff one day, the same is true with the umpires. In those cases, the strike zone may have moved a couple inches, usually in the vertical, from the last time the batter saw him. The worst an umpire can be is inconsistent, which makes a batter have to expand the hitting zone regardless of all other circumstances.

When facing Astacio, Backe, and Rodriguez, and indeed most pitchers, unless the pitcher is having an exceptionally good day, the batters should be more patient and shrink the hitting zone, look for his pitch, and drive it. Under the McKeon-Robinson administration, the Marlins chronic lack of patience has turned the mediocre pitchers into Cy Young. The Marlins batters have been consistently flailing away at the pitcher's pitch, not driving the ball, swing at pitches that are in the weakest part of their zone. When the Marlins do get hits, they are far too often settling for weak singles that are not driving in runs. As a result, for almost the entire season, the Marlins have been the worst, or one of the worst three teams in all of MLB, in the ratio of their extra base hits to hits.

Against the top shelf pitchers, such as Clemens, Pettitte and Oswalt, and about 10 or 12 others pitchers in the NL, when they are having even an average day, the batter cannot wait for his pitch because there is very little chance of seeing it. When facing these pitchers, it is usually better to be more aggressive and expand the hitting zone.

The approach to the at bat is fluid, and can change not just pitcher to pitcher, but as quickly as pitch to pitch. This is one of several types of adjustments that the Marlins have failed to make. Even if it is Clemens on the mound, and the batter is ahead in the count, the batter can shrink the hitting zone for a few pitches. About the only thing more maddening than a first pitch ground into double play is when the Marlins do it on a 2-0 or 3-0, 3-1 count with a pitch that is outside the heart of the batter's zone. As alluded to above, if the pitcher is losing command, or showing signs of fatigue, as was the case against Patterson in the 4th and 5th innings in our last appearance in RFK, the hitting zone should again be tightened up.

Another adjustment that the Marlins fail to make, and which has cost them dearly, is the failure to adapt to the game situation when the game is close and late. Once again, the Marlins have been one of the worst teams in all of MLB in this situation. If Cabrera, Delgado, and at times, Encarnacion, are the winning or tying run, and nobody is in scoring position, they have gone to the plate without any patience. In those situations, since the can tie or win the game with one swing, they should be shrinking the hitting zone and waiting for their pitch, regardless of the pitcher or the count up until a two strike count.

Another adjustment, one which most batters do make even if doing so unconciously, is when a hitter is “in the zone” and nobody can get him out, regardless of the pitcher, he can shrink the hitting zone and wait on his pitch.

Perhaps the most common adjustment is when the batter is facing a two strike count. Then he needs to guard the plate, and, with certain umpires, a little bit more than the plate. This is usually done best by opening the stance a little bit and moving closer to the plate. This enables a short, quick, controlled swing that protects all the strike zone and is more likely to put the ball in play. Once again, the Marlins are among the worst teams when facing two strike counts.

Unfortunately, the Marlins have failed miserably all season at having any remotely competent approach to the games, and have done even worse at making in-game adjustments. While this may not show up in the team batting average, it does show in runs scored, scoring three or fewer runs in approximately half our games, and most importantly, the won-loss record. This is perhaps the primary reason the Marlins have not been able to get on an extended winning streak all season. Our post-season hopes depend largely upon whether they will start having the proper pre-game approach, and make the proper in-game adjustments, for the next three weeks.

8 comments:

tealup said...

If I had to keep all that in mind as a batter approaching the plate I'd have a migraine headache and strike out. But I am sure some players actually command much of this data. Kudos for those who can exceute this successfully.

MarlinAddict said...

There is a lot of information to know about a lot of pitchers. For any one pitcher, the information is still pretty limited. But gathering the information, digesting it, and then communicating it are all among the duties of the hitting instructor.

It's really not that difficult handling the information for a single pitcher. Batters should know themselves, and what they can hit and what they can't. Robinson hasn't done well getting Lowell, JP, and Alex to know what they can and can't hit, or even what kind of hitter they are. With a competent hitting instructor, you will learn that pretty quickly.

Against about 85% of the pitchers, you can expand your hitting zone in most circumstances, other than the 3rd strike. Then it comes down to what types of pitches the pitcher has, what's working for him, and then what he tends to throw ahead in the count, behind in the count, and for his strike-out pitch. It takes about 15-20 seconds of communication an inning.

There are other things that come into play as well, but again are pretty easy with most pitchers. For example, if there is a two strike count, and the pitcher has a 93 mph fastball, and 82 mph curve, and will throw anything on any count, split the difference and anticipate a 87-88 velocity. Most MLB batters will be able to still catch up to the fastball or stay back on the curve enough to make contact.

tealup said...

By the time a player makes it to the big leagues, he knows a lot about what he can and can't hit. He has a pretty good idea of his weaknesses and the coach's job it to instill confidence and help him make adjustments to minimize (if not overcome) his weak areas.

For some people study helps build confidence, for others the opposite is true. Three players come to mind who probably care nothing about the analytical approach to the batter's game: Vlad Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, and Miguel Cabrera (are they "naturals"?) Do the majority of players benefit from the analytical approach to the game? I don't know.

I like the story about Griffey Jr. who hit a dinger. When asked afterward what he hit, he replied "I hit a home run." I would be in that camp. Analysis for me too often leads to paralysis. When I play tennis, the more I pore over my opponent's serve velocity, topspin, backspin, tendency to play the net versus baseline, backhand cross court attack, tendency to double fault, and on and on, the worse I play. When I forget everything but "see the ball and hit the ball" I zone in and play. Is that ever fun!

Henry "Conductor" Gomez said...

You guys are probably aware of this but there's a really good Marlins message board at http://www.marlinbaseball.com

MarlinAddict said...

If you read the life stories of most HOF hitters, they can tell you what they hit.

Actually, Griffey, while being flip, is one of the guys who spends more time than most reviewing video of pitchers. Thome, when he came to the NL, got video and scouting reports on every NL pticher. His first year over here, he led the NL in HR.

But this isn't rocket science. It's foremost knowing the location of pitches at which you'll swing, and then what type of pitch and velocity is most likely coming, and reacting to the unexpected. Just knowing a few little things greatly reduces the likelihood of you facing the unexpected.

As a fan, sometimes a fun part of a game within the game is to see how reliably you can predict the pitch and location. When you start getting involved to the level of calling pitches, you'll probably surprise yourself with your accuracy. For most pitchers, a chimanzee has a 1/3 or 1/4 chance of predicting the pitch correctly as the number of pitches a pitcher has are limited. Most guys I compete with in the game are correct on the pitch about 2/3 to 3/4 of the time, and the location about 2/3, and that's without scouting. It also confirmed my own personal weakness. I almost never, probably less than 5% of the time, correctly predict change-up up in the zone. If I had my way, change-ups would have been ruled illegal about 30 years ago.

tealup said...

Videos is different than all the verbal stuff. I can relate to videos. I would watch a smooth tennis player for hours spellbound. Same with some pitchers I really like. There is some almost subconscious learning process going on.

My husband played in the minors and he likes to predict the "setting up" process of good pitchers. But he realizes his limits and is quick to piunce on the talking heads who try to sound like baseball psychics. He loves it when they are wrong.

Me, I just love watching the game! I can often see pitches but I care less about predicting them and doubt I ever will. I like seeing slow balls (ok change ups) and knuckle balls in particular, and I love looking at locations and movement in real time. I am thinking about spin as much as location and movement because spin is so critical in tennis... but I'm not into cataloguing pitches in an ever expanding list of names. Soon there will be a new name for every pitch thrown.....

OK I concede, I hope the fish are looking at some videos so they can get to those Houston hurlers!

MarlinAddict said...

Apparently nobody informed Hermida that Myers has a superb curve.

tealup said...

Or the superb curve is one ball he has diffulty seeing/hitting.