Yesterday morning, in the Daily News, John Harper wrote about how former VP of Player Development Tony Bernazard’s emphasis on going the opposite way last season was detrimental to the Mets’ success.
Hitting coach Howard Johnson,
who has now changed the philosophy to try and make the Mets more of a
power-hitting ballclub again, Sunday confirmed what I’d been told by
sources in the organization.
“Yes,” said HoJo on the question of Bernazard setting the hitting
philosophy. “That was a big thing in our organization. It was a big
part of the organization’s philosophy, starting in the minor leagues.”
Sources say Bernazard, who oversaw minor-league development, was so
insistent on players hitting the ball to the opposite field that minor
leaguers were scolded for pulling the ball, sometimes even when they
got a hit.
Last paragraph first. For developing players, process is often more important than results. If a young player is consistently trying to yank curveballs, sure, it’ll produce some hits, but it’ll also produce a lot of softly rolled-over ground balls to middle infielders. So, just because a player got a hit, a gentle reminder (at least by baseball standards) about process and approach is not necessarily, by itself, misguided.
However, making an established MLB star, like, oh say David Wright, emphasize the opposite field at the expense of his natural pull power, is just silly.
To this end, Ted Berg almost breaks his own arm patting himself on the back for pointing out last summer that David Wright was going the opposite way more often in 2009, the worst season, at least by HR, of Wright’s professional career. Berg suggested that the Mets immediately cease and desist their oppo-heavy approach.
At the Hardball Times, John Walsh checks the numbers with a quick and impressive study to find that the Mets went the other way more than all but three other MLB teams in 2009 and that of the five batters with 150+ balls in play in ’08 and ’09, four of the five went the other way more often in ’09. The only Mets hitter who pulled the ball more often in ’09 with enough contact in each year to qualify was Luis Castillo, who was awful (.245/.355/.305) and out of shape in ’08 in which his bat was so slow, it felt like he could barely pull a pitch in a beer-league softball game. As Mets fans know he improved to .302/.387/.346 in ’09. This improvement had something to do with better conditioning and something to do with a 60 point BABIP improvement. Lets leave Castillo, a slap-hitter by nature, aside. Even so, it’s clear that Mets hitters were doing something differently, and it wasn’t good.
Over at Amazin’ Avenue, James K picks up on the theme and writes,
The importance of “going to the opposite field” is one of those empty
bromides that doesn’t really make any sense but allows “baseball
people” to feel smarter than fans and other outsiders to the game…
I don’t buy this either. Many successful MLB hitters rely on pulling the ball (see, Utley, Chase). Others use the whole field. Very few, like almost none, rely on going the other way exclusively. It’s all about knowing the right time and situation. Going to the opposite field is an important piece of most players’ offensive games, it just can’t be the only, or even, primary piece. I love AA, but this misses the mark a little bit to fit James’ insider/outsider worldview.
The Minor Implications
I simply don’t have the time to create a database of every piece of contact by a Met farmhand last year to determine whether the organization as a whole began pulling the ball more post-Bernazard or whether players went the other way more often early in the season as compared with previous years. If we have any database geniuses around here, this would be the time to speak up. However, we do have some anecdotal evidence that certain Mets prospects pulled the ball more later in the season.
I did the research for Kirk Nieuwenhuis last September, and determined in part that his huge finish to the season with St. Lucie was due to an improved ability to pull the ball. Baseball America wrote about this as well.
Lets take a look at Ike Davis, with some help from the spray charts of the wonderful minorleaguesplits.com. In Brooklyn in 2008, focusing on his green hit dots, he did most of his damage either right back up the middle to dead center, or by pulling the ball into right field. In St. Lucie to begin 2009, his production was more spread throughout the OF. However, all but one of his homers were either hit to dead center, or pulled to basically straight away right. By the end of the year, at AA Binghamton, Davis’s green dots are highly concentrated in right field, as are all but one of his HR. Is this a normal development pattern or does it reflect a decreased emphasis throughout 2009 on going the other way for the Mets top prospects?
Anyway, count this as one more reason to be pleased Tony Bernazard is no longer setting instructional policy in the minor league system.
Failboat from Aaroncook.com because it’s funny. Top 41 hopefully returns later today.