Monday, June 25, 2007

On-the-job Training

One of the basic strategies that teams use in baseball is that of the opposite side advantage. Basically, players, managers and fans understand that a if a pitcher and a batter share the same "handedness", the pitcher has the advantage. But if they are opposite, for instance a southpaw pitcher facing a right-handed batter, the batter has the advantage.

Coming into yesterday's game, Kevin Slowey has been defying that logic. Slowey is right-handed, and has been semi-successful versus left-handers, who have a .286 average with an 826 OPS. But right-handed hitters were lighting him up, batting .333 with a 1063(!) OPS. Slower is making the average right-handed batter look like Magglio Ordonez.

That's from a pretty small sample size, but you can expect those numbers to look even worse today. Both home runs that Slowey gave up and every RBI hit yesterday was by a right-handed batter. Watching the at-bats, one starts to understand why.

Yesterday, Slowey was incredibly successful in getting his fastball to paint the outside edge of home plate versus left-handers and right-handers. He has a second, slightly slower fastball with some movement that one would think would be especially handy against the right-handers, since it moves towards them. He used it all night to start outside of the strike zone and then move back to the outside edge of the plate, getting a called strike.

But after once through the order, the right-handed batters looked for that pitch, and began fouling it off (three of Slowey's four strikeouts came in the first seven outs he got). Ideally, Slowey would use the aforementioned pitch to bust right-handed batters inside, or throw some breaking pitches to upset a hitters timing.

But right now, Slower is having trouble doing either one. The pitches inside aren't far enough inside, and are getting pulled into the left field bleachers. The offspeed stuff is either missing the plate by so much that batters watch it for a ball or catch so much of the plate that it's being pulled into the left field bleachers. Which leaves the outside fastball, which is nice until he gets a little tired, and his control wavers and it finds enough plate to be pulled into...well, you get the idea.

He's going to need to make an adjustment, like learning to pitch inside a bit better, or disgusing the offspeed stuff a bit better, or working the strike zone up and down instead of just side to side. In fact, it looked like discovered that last tactic about midway through the fifth inning, allowing him to get through the inning without more damage being done.

It isn't hopeless, but he's going to need to learn on the job, and he's going to need to learn on the job quickly, because this team isn't the Pirates or the Royals or even the '98 Twins. This team needs Jason Bartlett to ride out a sophomore slump and Jason Kubel to refind his confidence and Slowey and Scott Baker and Boof Bonser to be productive first year pitchers. which might be fine if they weren't also trying to win 90-plus games.

That is the tightrope this organization walks, and I suspect you couldn't find five teams in the league that walk it better, and maybe not two teams that have walked it successfully as long. And it sounds corny, but they walk it together - the players, the coaches, the farm teams and the management - working on development and relying on patience.

But mostly, they need to rely on players like Slowey learning very, very quickly. And completing his on-the-job training.


Hey, if you didn't check it out yesterday, over at GameDay's Writers Blog, we're having a bit of a contest. You might remember The Bloggers Minute that WCCO did the last couple of years. The idea was to let a blogger sound off about something in a minute, which turns out is about 200 words.

We're taking turns over there, with me going first yesterday. A reader joined us in the commment section, and we should have one more posted each day this week. I'd also like to challenge the other Twins bloggers out there to take a stab at it and let me know and I'll be happy to link to it as the week goes on. It really is kind of fun (and challenging) to try and make a point and support it in 200 words or less. Good luck!


Rodrigo said...
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Cory said...

I agree with what Rodrigo said. It all comes down to personalized t-shirts.