Thursday, August 04, 2005

Hitting and Pitching

Lately the only two reliable hitters on the Phillies have been Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard. Even Chase Utley has been in a bit of a funk over the last week or so, striking out 8 times in his last 33 at-bats. Everyone else appears to be uncomfortable at the plate and has the numbers to prove it.

Topping those who are struggling is Bobby Abreu. Most people want to blame his woes on the Home Run Derby, insisting he altered his stroke for that competition and can't rediscover it. But his problems go beyond that. Bobby looks as unsure of the strike zone as I have ever seen him. Not only is he striking out a lot, he isn’t drawing many walks. Abreu has always been among the league leaders in bases on balls including this season, but he has only two in his last ten games.

Pat Burrell has fallen into another one of his prolonged funks. To my eye he seems to be standing further off the plate than ever. If Pat is a guess hitter, and the presumption here is he is, then he is either outguessing himself frequently or hasn’t a clue what to look for. He is taking a lot of pitches lately, many of them for strikes.

As the season wears on Kenny Lofton appears to be wearing down as well. For the month of July Kenny hit .214. More often than not he is swinging late and popping up to the right side of the diamond. He cannot keep up with fast balls.

David Bell and Mike Lieberthal continue to struggle. Nothing new there. Bell is among the league leaders in grounding into double plays. After a brief period of production, Lieberthal’s average has continued its inexorable downward trajectory.

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Charlie Manuel may be considered something of a hitting guru, but the only thing he appears to know about big league pitching is that he couldn’t hit it.

Why would he remove Robinson Tejeda from last night’s game when the youngster had thrown four-hit ball over six innings while striking out six and allowing one earned run. Want more? He’d only thrown 79 pitches to that point, 62 of which were strikes. This is a kid with moxie as well as stamina. Why pull him for a pinch-hitter when the Phils were leading the game 3-1? I doubt Tejeda told the manager he was out of gas; he just doesn’t seem to know fear.

Manuel is so locked into using set-up men and relievers in a predictable pattern he can’t bring himself to stick with his starter even when things are going well.

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The Raphael Palmeiro case goes from bad to worse with each passing leak and revelation. Not only will the Orioles first baseman likely face charges of perjury from the United States Congress, he has all but lost what little sympathy may have been out there for him.

When the news first broke a few calm and compassionate observers publicly granted him some benefit of the doubt, assuming he would never be so arrogant and reckless to knowing use banned substances while forcefully claiming otherwise.

Few, if any, of those people are coming to his defense now. His chances of making the Hall of Fame have dimmed to practically nil in just forty-eight hours, at least where the current generation of voters are concerned. He may be voted in some day by a committee of veterans who played with and admired him, but his life will remain a sorrowful one no matter what the eventual outcome.

Palmeiro’s predicament will also likely have repercussions far beyond his own fall from grace. Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds should all feel the heat from further scrutiny.

[Addendum: Add Joe Morgan to the growing list of reporters and TV analysts who are piling on now that it is safe to do so. Asked why he didn't speak out years earlier when he heard the ongoing rumors about steroid use, the newly outraged Morgan replied: "It wasn't my job to speak out because I would have been another reporter at that moment, speculating.... But in hindsight, the only thing I wish I would have done is approach the commissioner's office sooner, but I didn't know how they would react." Very courageous, Joe.]


Anonymous said...

to offer a counterpoint, manuel stuck with pailla too long the night before, keeping him in for 123 pitches (he had walked 6). he probably overcompensated with the kid. tejeda's the kind of guy i want on my team. him and urbina seem like mean SOBs when they're on the mound.

Jason Weitzel said...

It's such a shame about Tejeda. He hasn't gone over six all year (I think) and he was working on the best game of his life.

Jason Weitzel said...

Yup. Six innings tied his longest. Six Ks is a season high, and NO WALKS! What a shame.

Tom Goodman said...

gr: The situation that night before was quite different. Padilla had thrown 44 more pitches and many more for balls. Manuel simply cannot make that sort of distinction.

George S said...

"Manuel is so locked into using set-up men and relievers in a predictable pattern he can’t bring himself to stick with his starter even when things are going well."

I would agree with that sentiment. And it's obvious to me that CM seems to trust and heavily favor veterans too much and not trust the rookies or younger players enough. If Lidle or Lieber had been pitching, CM most likely would have left them in if they said they still had gas in the tank. Not so with Myers or Tejeda.
He had a hard time committing to Utley, turning the 2B job into an unnecessary distraction in spring training (nothing against Placido, but he should have been traded before the season started ot put at 3B). Injury was the only way he was going to give Howard a chance, and the first time Howard was called up he still didn't play him much. I would like to see more of Fultz in tough spots instead always seeing Cormier. See what he can do.

Veterans deserve respect, and I wouldn't expect a good veteran player to lose his spot because of a minor slump. But veterans also understand that they have to eventually start producing or lose their job, especially if the team is contending.

Pitchers like Myers and Tejeda can go more than 6 innings and they WANT TO. Why turn them into 6-inning starters by always taking the ball out of their hands? And as we are seeing, letting players like Utley face both LH and RH pitching makes him better because he is the type of player who always wants to work on his weaknesses. I think the same of Howard.
My fear is that if the Phillies actually hang in the race and it comes down to the last 8-10 games, CM will go exclusively with the veteran pitchers (incl Myers), and those aren't necessarily the Phillies best pitchers.

"(Burrell)is taking a lot of pitches lately, many of them for strikes."

If you check, you will see that the Phillies strike out an alarmingly high % of the time looking, not swinging (5-6 last night against mediocre pitchers). In fact, there are ABs where the hitter never swings at all.
It's important to have plate discipline, to not swing at bad pitches, and to try to get ahead in the count and sit on the pitch you want. But that has turned against the Phillies.
1) Opposing pitchers are not falling behind because they know most Phillies hitters are automatically looking at the first couple of pitches (unless the previous 3 batters had all walked). They throw them right down the pike to get ahead in the count.
2) You need a good knowledge of the strike zone. Burrell, for one, seems to take a lot of pitches that are right down the middle of the strike zone. Does he think they're not strikes? And someone needs to tell some of the other hitters that the strike zone is NOT from the belt to the batting helmet.
3) Most Phillies hitters are purely defensive at the plate, and it often appears that they do not have any plan of what they want to do or know what kind of pitch to expect in a given situation. They simply seem to react to the pitch when thrown. That results in lots of checked swings, which the Phillies seem to do a lot more frequently than their opponents.

You might expect this against good pitchers with real nasty stuff, but not against the middle relievers, fifth starters and journeymen pitchers.

Jason Weitzel said...

George, you said it. I couldn't believe I was seeing that type of approach against Glendon Rusch and the middle of that pen. They should tag those guys hard.

Tom Goodman said...

"In fact there are ABs where the hitter never swings at all."

When batters do that it drives me wild, especially if the pitcher isn't!! I was going to write that Burrell has been doing that a lot, but I didn't have the statistical evidence to support it; rather, I only had my memory to rely on. But I would swear he has had several at-bats lately where he never swings or swings at one pitch. Interestingly, I did write a week or so ago that Ryan Howard has been striking out looking much more than swinging and that was a positive in his case, i.e. not overswinging for the fences like most power hitters. His excuse is that he is just learning. Chase Utley has been taking a lot of strikes, too, lately. This is a recent development with him and harder to understand.