Saturday, September 03, 2005

Dusty's approach doesn't hit home

I was reading a post over at Bleed Cubbie Blue by Al Yellon that caught my attention. Al said "finally, there are signs that perhaps, just perhaps Dusty Baker gets it."

"We have to cut these walks down," Baker said. "We have to hold runners a little better. We have to increase our on-base percentage via walks. I'm not a 'walk' man per se, to go up there looking for walks. But at the same time, if it's 3-1 and you're swinging at something in the dirt or over your head when you should've walked. Also big is situational hitting, driving runners in. There's a few things we can work on."

Given what's happened this year, I have to wonder myself if perhaps, just perhaps, the old Dustbag might be starting to get it. It's hard to say. That quote is a big departure for him.

It should be obvious to any manager that team OBP (particularly via the walk) and batting with RISP have been the two most crucial issues for the Cubs offense this year. But as we've learned, you can never assume that something is obvious to Dusty. (Obviously Korey and/or Neifi should never bat leadoff, obviously Todd Hollandsworth isn't good, obviously you don't leave Chad Fox out there to die, obviously LaTroy Hawkins isn't a good closer...) It's unfortunate that when Dusty states the obvious, it's actually a step in the right direction.

And although its nice to see that Dusty is at least focused on the right things, I'm not entirely confident that the Cubs change their ways (or woes) with Baker at the helm. The Cubs problems go beyond the talent on the roster or lack thereof. A big part of the problem has been how players are used in the line-up and how they are taught to approach hitting.

Get busy swinging or get busy dying

Here's a few other quotes to remind us of who we're dealing with.
"It's called hitting, and it ain't called walking. Do you ever see the top 10 walking? You see top 10 batting average. A lot of those top 10 do walk. But the name of the game is to hit."
Actually, the name of the game is to score.
"Who's been the champions the last seven, eight years? ...Have you ever heard the Yankees talk about on-base percentage and walks? Walks help. But you ain't going to walk across the plate. You're going to hit across the plate. That's the school I come from."

And of course there is his classic line. He's never going to live this one down (and he doesn't deserve to).
"I think walks are overrated unless you can run... If you get a walk and put the pitcher in a stretch, that helps. But the guy who walks and can't run, most of the time they're clogging up the bases for somebody who can run."
--Dusty Baker, Cubs manager (Chicago Daily Herald)
Ahh...that one is priceless...clogging up the bases..
When you look at the numbers, it's clear that his approach to hitting is flawed. No mater how well you hit, if you don't get on base via the walk, you won't score as many runs as you should. The cubs leading the NL in hitting, (which I find pretty amazing actually, given the terrible outfield production.) They are 1st in average, 1st in hits, 1st in Doubles, 1st in Total Bases, 2nd in home runs, and 2nd in Slugging. Given those numbers, you would think the Cubs would be a slam dunk for them to be at least in the top three in opb and runs scored...but they aren't. The Cubs rank 6th in Runs Scored, and 9th in OBP. That doesn't even seem mathematically possible. It's not easy to do. You have to bat horribly with runners in scoring position, have totally dysfunctional lineup construction, and a miserably low walk rate, which is exactly what the Cubs have done, thanks in large part to one Dusty F Baker.

They are last in the league in walks (or very close to it, as of yesterday they were ahead of Barry Bonds-less SF by only 2) If this season has taught us anything, it is that walks are underrated, not overrated. And the impatient approach to hitting keeps them from not only getting on base, but from driving runners in. Cubs hitters feel like they have to drive the batters in by swinging, ("You're going to hit across the plate") instead of waiting for a pitch they can hit, or drawing a walk and letting the next guy drive you in when he will likely get a better pitch to hit. Aggressive hitting is great, but not all the time. It has it's time and place. The problem is, the Cubs hitters have no idea where or when that is.
To be fair, Dusty has proven effective at coaching his players on how to hit the ball, and the cubs are a good hitting team. That's what's so frustrating. He doesn't help them take smarter at bats. For the cubs to be successful next year, they need to begin putting more of a premium on plate discipline, which would mean that Dusty will have to adapt his philosophy. I hope he can do it, because it doesn't look like he's going anywhere anytime soon.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with the quote, "I'm not a walk man, but..." is that it reveals an astonishing lack of comprehension of a situational approach to hitting. Of course a leadoff man should try to walk, of course a batter should try to walk in other situations. Dusty just doesn't get it.


10:22 AM  

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