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Home » Baseball

Squared Up: Pitchers "hitting," Perez "ailing"

Submitted by on June 12, 2010 – 9:09 AM9 Comments

Welcome to Squared Up, a new featurette in which I address various baseball questions and debates of the week. I don't know yet how often I'll do it or what day it will usually run, but I know this: of all the "bunting" puns I considered for the column name, this is the least frightful.

I welcome reader mail to alert me to interesting stories and to get discussion rolling. You can send thoughts, links, and rants to bunting at tomatonation dot com, and just like on The Vine, if I publish your letter, you'll get loot.

I have a handful stories on my radar today, the first a piece I read on Rob Neyer's SweetSpot blog a couple of days ago about The Amazing Strasburg not running out a hit in his major-league debut. A reader asked what Neyer thought about it, given that Strasburg has probably hit for himself only a few times since high school, and whether all of baseball from Babe Ruth League on up should just switch to the DH and have done with it.

Neyer responded that he's "of two minds about this. I don't enjoy watching pitchers (trying to) hit, but I do enjoy this last lingering difference between the two leagues. So I'm generally content with the status quo. But as Craig Wright has written somewhere, if the National League is going to continue forcing pitchers to hit, it should be taken seriously." He went on to say that most pitchers "are fantastic athletes and were among the best hitters on their teams before turning professional," so it's not an issue of "can't."

I'm also of two minds about pitchers hitting. Well…one and a half. I fell in love with the game because a pitcher golfed one halfway to Connecticut, and pitchers batting means I get to hear my own last name on TV a lot, but as rationales go, that's…boutique, let's say. And you do have a handful of pitchers who hit .200-ish with a little power, so their line-up spots don't go to waste.

You also have Chien-Ming Wang breaking his foot running the bases during interleague play, and disappearing from the majors as a result, whether direct or indirect.

My take on pitchers batting hasn't changed much since Wang's injury two years ago, and once again, I think saying that Strasburg doesn't know what he's doing because he's always had a DH in the lineup to do it for him is examining the DH question from the wrong angle. The popular conception of pitchers as excessively and thoroughly frail, needing to be maintained in a near-childproofed environment, is relatively recent, and the DH didn't come about because of that idea; it came about because baseball overcorrected for the pitcher-dominated late '60s in trying to provide more offense. Pitchers didn't start sucking at the plate because of the DH — they already kind of sucked, because at that time in baseball, everyone kind of sucked. It's tough to bat .300 when Bob Gibson is standing out there on a ziggurat and punching you in the throat with his mind.

MLB felt like it was losing the room, so it lowered the mound and pulled in a few fences and gamed things to bring back offense, and the DH is part of that. I have no issue with it still playing a part in the game; I think it's cool that each league has its own "style" and strategies nowadays.

But I'd rather see the DH as the exception in organized baseball than the rule: unless or until a pitcher arrives in the AL, he has to try to hit, and he has to take BP like he means it. An injury like Wang's is a damn shame, but you can't think that bone wouldn't have given way eventually, like on a covering play or something. MLB isn't Little League. There isn't a mercy rule. Not everyone who gets to the show is necessarily supposed to stay there.

I didn't see the game or the play in question, having come down with a case of Stras-tigue by late March, but my issue is more with the fact that the kid didn't run it out. If I'm Strasburg, I'm doing everything as hard and as pro as I can in an attempt to justify the ridiculous hype attending my arrival — I'm running hard, I'm covering on bunts, I'm bringing Adam Dunn some Gatorade.

Or maybe, if I'm Strasburg, I've been given to understand that, as the second coming of Sandy Koufax, my job is to strike out opposing hitters — only, period. The tiny sample we have so far indicates that he does that job well, but that attitude will not allow him to be what saves the Nationals franchise. You've got to let your teammates know that you're there to help, not to do your own thing and then sit back and receive their thanks, so if that's what not running out that ball was about, that's not going to work. If Strasburg just read the ball poorly, well, that's a different conversation, but either way, treating him like a minor lama isn't going to get good results long-term.

Boy, can that guy throw hard, though. Whatever else happens, 14 Ks in your major-league debut is a keeper.

*****

MLB is "probing" Oliver Perez's assignment to the DL? Really? What's next, a congressional hearing on Liberace's sexuality? It's an open secret; what's to probe? (Hew, "probe.")

I can see other teams thinking it's bullshit — the implication here is that another team in the division ratted the Mets to the league office for clearing a roster spot under false pretenses, which is apparently what usually leads to an inquiry in a case like this. Hey, it is bullshit. Worse, it's bullshit typical of the Mets front office in that, instead of accepting that the Perez experiment has failed, doing the hard thing, and releasing him, they pants around with specious "knee tenderness" or whatever the hell.

I suppose the Mets could try harder to "make" Perez go to the minors, but he's allowed to say no, and according to a link on Mets Today earlier this week, it's not likely to help much. Perez just isn't going to hear it, whatever "it" might be, and the money is already spent. Meanwhile, in a city in Wisconsin, a team with far less budgetary wiggle room declared an even richer contract a sunk cost; Suppan didn't get it done, so the Brewers got him gone, and it had to have pained them, but you can keep throwing good time and rotation starts after bad money, or you can accept reality and start moving on. Suppan is Dave Duncan's problem in St. Louis now, but unless Duncan has a series of motivational audiotapes available for purchase by Dan Warthen, Perez's DL trip is just postponing the inevitable.

If Perez agrees to work with a psychologist, great — reassign him to the DL for anxiety disorder or something, get him going with some medication, whatever. No shame in that. But the issue is no longer just that Perez is a head case; he refuses to address the problem, whatever it is, and his contract states that the Mets can't make him address it, and then in turn there's the larger problem of the Mets organization consistently getting in its own way by failing to act decisively. Just wait until Beltran is ready to come back; I bet you a dollar right now that the team does something self-destructive and ridonk like demoting…I don't even know. Rod Barajas.

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9 Comments »

  • attica says:

    I wonder if having pitchers hit all through the minors would help them in a cross-training kind of way, and help them avoid injury. I do agree that the bubble-boy approach to pitchers as stands is kind of unseemly and (dare I say it) unmanly.

  • Ray says:

    As a Nationals prospect, he most certainly did hit for himself for much of this year. At least at the AAA level, pitchers on NL affiliates hit for themselves when facing another NL affiliate. I was at his final tuneup game here in Buffalo, and he went 1-for-2 with a run scored. He even picked up the RBI-driving hitter's bat and handed it to the batboy, which I thought was a nice move.

    If you're shutting out the opposition with that kind of stuff, I wouldn't complain about his running style.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    If you're shutting out the opposition with that kind of stuff, I wouldn't complain about his running style.

    I would, if he's not trying — or not paying attention to the play as it's unfolding. This is my point: it could have been nerves, it could have been inexperience, or it could have been "not my job." If it's that last thing, he should get his head right, because that team can't afford that kind of attitude.

  • Lisa says:

    John Kruk and I agree on this one and only point: If you're gonna be man enough to bring the heat, ya oughta be man enough to face the heat.

  • StillAnotherKate says:

    As a side note, Jorge Posada hit two grand slams this weekend. While I think it might say as much about Houston's pitching as it does about Jorge's work at the plate, it was still a pretty cool thing to watch.

    Love it when you talk baseball, Sars, so I am glad to see this new featurette. And I'll admit to an unseemly giggle at seeing "Squared Up". I love a pun.

  • Nathan says:

    Two notes: One, a lot of people think Strasburg was told to not run hard after batted balls, and I guess that I think doing the opposite of what your coach and manager tell you to is a bad way of showing team spirit, if I understand your point against the 'not my job' attitude.

    Two, everybody does the thing with the fake DL. I mean, I'm a Braves fan, we've sent more than our share of terrible relievers to the DL with the critical injury of 'inability to pitch,' and the Braves don't quite have the rep as the model franchise as they used to, but my fandom was born and lived through the time when the Braves were THE franchise, and Cox and Schuerholz were the ones doing much of that claiming fake injuries.

    This isn't to say that the Mets management isn't hilariously terrible. It is. This isn't to say that they handle tough situations with their players with even a modicum of grace, skill, or focus. They don't. But I'm not convinced that this is a very good example of the Mets showing either of those two attributes.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I guess that I think doing the opposite of what your coach and manager tell you to is a bad way of showing team spirit

    …Okay. Then I guess that *I* think his coach and manager are babying him with that, and setting a bad precedent to boot. If he's that frail, he doesn't belong in the majors yet, but if you went ahead and brought him up, let him do his job. The whole thing.

    This isn't to say that the Mets management isn't hilariously terrible. It is. This isn't to say that they handle tough situations with their players with even a modicum of grace, skill, or focus. They don't. But I'm not convinced that this is a very good example of the Mets showing either of those two attributes.

    The fact that "everybody does" it doesn't mean it isn't a signal example of Met management's ineffective approach to this sort of personnel challenge. The Yankees did it with Giambi, I'm fairly certain…and with Wang; in that case, it wasn't representative of Yankee management, which had its problems but which the faux-DL-ing didn't typify. For the Mets, it highlights the difficulty they seem to have in addressing and solving personnel problems with clarity and professionalism. For clubs for whom dithering is not a top-down issue in the organization, yes, it's business as usual, and in the abstract I don't really have a problem with it if it isn't blatant. For THIS club, in THIS case, it irritates me, because they know the answer, they just don't want to move forward with it.

  • Nathan says:

    That point about the Mets is spot-on and totally fair.

    As for Strasburg, I'm entirely happy to blame his coaches for this kind of overcaution, I just want to get the blame in the right spot. Now, of course, I might be totally wrong and he might be doing this on his own, in which case it's entirely on him. But it sounds like, per Ray's comment, that he probably was running things out in the minors, and it would be super-weird if he ran stuff out in the minors but decided he shouldn't once he's in the majors. It just smells like bad coaching, rather than bad decision-making on his part.

  • Todd K says:

    The latest word is that it doesn't look so serious, but I hope Clay Buchholz is not the Wang '10 model. And not just because I've been enjoying the novelty of Red Sox fans speaking affectionately of someone nicknamed "Bucky."

    I was busy Saturday, and I knew he had been injured, but it took me a news cycle or two to catch up that it was another fluky interleague baserunning deal. Cue my "…the hell?"

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