Tuesdays with Brownie: Let's talk about pitchers hitting
(A weekly look at the players, teams, trends, up-shoots and downspouts shaping the 2015 season. This week: On the Waino-DH logic, Mookie’s month and the man the Angels evicted:)
If we’re going to protect pitchers from anything, it should be the people who are trying to protect them from everything.
Hell, just build a sandbag bunker out there, roll in an Andy Gump, leave them enough sunflower seeds and jerky for a few hours, nobody gets hurt.
We can’t have them throwing more than 100 pitches, can’t have them work more than once in five days, can’t have them making eye contact on their days to pitch. And now they can’t hit either, because, you know, Adam Wainwright, who actually was fine until long after the ball left his bat. He wasn’t injured while hitting. He was injured while jogging with a helmet on.
Not that it matters how he was taken for the season from the St. Louis Cardinals. He was playing baseball. Sometimes baseball stuff happens. That it occurred somewhere near the batter’s box will be toe-hold enough for the feverish among us to march against the National League way of doing things, which means pitchers hit, pitchers cover first base, pitchers shag fly balls pregame, pitchers sneeze, pitchers trip and fall, pitchers gore themselves with hunting knives. But, mostly, pitchers hit.
Never mind that, leading to Wainwright’s jogging injury, there were 500-and-some pitchers’ at-bats that ended the way most do: three sad swings and one slog to the dugout.
But, we like to overreact. Man, do we love to overreact.
The debate is no different today than it was a few days ago, before Wainwright, before Max Scherzer, before anything Bartolo Colon may have done that sorta vaguely looks like a grown man swinging a bat. (Hey, Colon’s out-hitting Chase Utley and Shin-Soo Choo.)
There is a reasonable conversation to be had concerning half the league playing one way and the other half guarding against pitchers jogging with helmets on. You know the one. Started 42 years ago? Became a little more complicated with interleague play? Complicated more with interleague play every single day?
Personally, I don’t hate either system, but it’s probably time for one and not two. The union isn’t likely to give up on the designated hitter, a job that generally pays better than a fifth outfielder, so, sure, bring the DH to the National League. The owners are doing fine; they can afford it. And the World Series will be a fair contest again.
But let’s not posterize Adam Wainwright over it. The man showed up on his day to work, played baseball and limped away, precisely as Ryan Howard did once. Change the rule because it makes more sense today, because the game has changed leading to today, and not because we have a face to put with a debate that hasn’t changed at all.
The struggle of youth
Baseball is hard, and worse, it is moody, and we bring this up because Mookie Betts is going to be something like a very good player and still he is today a .218 hitter (including Monday night's big hit) after more than three weeks as center fielder and leadoff hitter for the Boston Red Sox.
This is about being 22 and sorting through the daily trials of being the everyday anything, much less the everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter for the Red Sox. But, look around, Mookie: David Ortiz is batting .200, Mike Napoli .169. The supposed offensive juggernaut has been just OK – thanks, Hanley Ramirez – and if this is the worst of it, the Red Sox will not have a problem scoring runs.
Besides, given a rotation that was supposed to be average at best and instead has been atrocious, hardly anyone has gotten around to wondering if Mookie Betts will be all right. He will be.
Josh Hamilton arrived in Arlington on Monday afternoon covered in beard and flannel, looking every bit the man who likes his life again, which doesn’t mean he can stay on a baseball field and hit again. But, as Hamilton talked about taking care of his daughters, righting his path, finding the game again, I kept thinking, “This is the guy the Angels didn’t want. This guy, the one who screwed up for a day or two or three this winter, who gathered himself and went back to work and looked after his daughters, who wanted nothing more than to play baseball and make things right.”
It’s not perfect. It won’t ever be. It also was no less of a risk 2½ years ago than it was Monday.
“Going into this season, I hadn’t been the player that they wanted me to be,” Hamilton said Monday. “I know I hadn’t been. But I worked my butt off to be that guy, this year, going into the season for the Angels. They just didn’t want that to happen for some reason. It doesn’t hurt my feelings, it doesn’t make me mad or anything like that. But I prepared. [Arte Moreno] knew what the deal was when he signed me. Hands down. He knew what he was getting. He knew what the risks were. He knew all those things.”
Can you steal first base?
Billy Hamilton is, so far, not the hitter Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock were. He probably won’t be, either, but we’ll leave that to Billy. And while Hamilton’s chief skill is his speed, and his 13 steals in the Reds’ first 18 games put him near a pace for Henderson’s 130 in 1982 and Brock’s 118 in 1974, what would be remarkable is for Hamilton to challenge them with what presumably would be so many fewer opportunities.
Henderson’s on-base percentage in 1982, the year he stole 130 bases in 172 attempts, was .398. Brock’s, when he stole those 118 in 151 tries, was .368. Hamilton has a .306 on-base percentage, .298 over parts of three seasons. But he’s stolen his 13 in 14 attempts, way ahead of last year’s 56-steal, 23-caught ratio. So maybe he won’t amass the times on base to stay with the modern-day record holders, but quality over quantity is working.
It seems no matter how many outfielders the Dodgers dump, they’ve always got too many. Matt Kemp is in San Diego. Yasiel Puig is on the disabled list. And on Monday night there still wasn’t room for Alex Guerrero, who, in 22 at-bats, has five home runs, two doubles, 13 RBI and a .500 batting average. His on-base percentage is also .500 because there’s no sense taking a pitch when you’re just gonna hit it over the wall anyway.
Guerrero, who also plays the infield, has started four games this season, all at third base in place of Juan Uribe. Four. Because, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Joc Pederson, Scott Van Slyke and Puig. Of them, only Crawford has come out slow. The Dodgers lead the National League in home runs and OPS, so they can sit on Guerrero, hope he stays hot on seven or eight at-bats a week, and deal with it later.
Still, that’s a lot on the bench for a team that sooner or later is going to need some pitching help.
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