The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Harold Reynolds Unwraps the Mysteries of Baseball

The Marlins won last night against the Dodgers, evening the series at one game apiece. You probably knew that already.

If you were at the game last night, you may have missed “Baseball Tonight” while you rode home from the stadium. If you did, you missed Harold Reynolds’ earth-shattering announcement that he has figured out the keys to beating Roger Clemens. Even if you didn’t hear Harold’s analysis live, you were probably aware that it happened, because there was, immediately, a palpable buzz throughout the baseball world as soon as Harold revealed his news: The key to beating Roger Clemens is three-fold – one, hit his fastball; two, bunt; three, steal.

For obvious reasons, I won’t get into reasons two and three very much. They’re just silly remarks and don’t warrant any commentary. However, Harold’s epiphany about hitting the fastball is truly amazing. I wasn’t able to find Harold’s career totals against Clemens, but I’m sure that if Harold had this knowledge while he was still a player, he would have hit .500 or .600 against the Rocket. We will probably start to see a lot of hitters do that against Clemens now that they’ve been tipped off to this fastball thing.

As I sat on my couch listening to Reynolds’ dissertation last night, I was sure that I could hear a collective “how did I miss that for the last twenty years?” from scouts across the country. I, myself, was thinking the same exact thing. I’ve been watching Roger Clemens for a long time and it never occurred to me that hitting his fastball would be a key to success.

Announcers throughout baseball regularly refer to hitters as “good fastball hitters.” This always makes me laugh. The notion that particular hitters are “good fastball hitters” seems to imply that other hitters are not good fastball hitters. I find this truly hard to believe. There are probably less than a literal handful of players (not counting pitchers) on major league rosters today who are not “good fastball hitters.” Those who are not good fastball hitters more likely have a hard time making it out of Little League than of sneaking their way onto a major league roster.

Obviously, not all major league hitters are good hitters, at least not by major league or professional standards. This is not, at least not very frequently, because they lack the ability to put the bat on the ball. Go out to the stadium early, the next time you have a chance, and count how many outright swings and misses you see in batting practice; if you see one, I will be surprised, and you could probably watch a full week’s worth of batting practice before you see another. Instead, the difficulty in making contact with the ball stems from the fact that pitchers, like Roger Clemens, not only throw fastballs, but they also throw breaking pitches and other off-speed pitches that make it difficult for a hitter to make contact. A batter must recognize the pitch, swing, and make contact with the ball in a fraction of a second. Simple changes in velocity can make that sequence of events nearly impossible to complete. Major league pitchers, however, throw the added complication of breaking balls, pinpoint location, a variety of arm angles, and an arsenal of other acts of deception to make hitting difficult.

To me, saying that someone is a “good fastball hitter” is almost an insult because it sounds as if the hitter is not skilled at identifying or hitting other pitches. If that pitcher facing such a hitter is stupid enough to actually throw a fastball to a “good fastball hitter” he will have to deal with the consequences.

Sadly, we are subjected to such inane commentary on baseball tonight because Harold Reynolds, John Kruk, Jeff Brantley, and crew were at one time major league baseball players, so they obviously know more about the game than the rest of us. I think I’m going to have to start reading more and watching less ESPN. It’s no longer entertaining, and it’s quite often just inaccurate or biased, and more often than not the “programming” is just a clever promotion for another ESPN product (The Magazine, the website, Fantasy Games, another network, upcoming game broadcasts…). I’m going to go be sick now.


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