Monday, April 2, 2018

BASEBALL'S BACK SPECIAL

Credibility strikes out

By Jim Szantor

What do Scott Coolbaugh, Tim Hyers and Dave Hudgens have in common?  They are all hitting coaches for various 2018 major-league teams.  What are their lifetime batting averages?  That would be .215, .217 and .143 respectively.

Now, what do Ty Van Burkleo, James Rowson, Darren Bush, Anthony Iapoce, Don Long, Duane Espy, John Mallee and Pat Roessler have in common?  They, too, are the hitting coaches for various 2018 major-league teams?  What else do they have in common?  None of them have ever batted in a major-league game.

Is it any wonder that strikeouts are way up, game times are getting longer every season, and last year's total attendance dipped below 73 million for the first time since 2002?  According to Scott Miller, an MLB columnist, 31 percent of all plate appearances last season ended without the batter putting the ball in play.

I don't think that was the case when the likes of Don Baylor, Rod Carew, Rocky Colavito, Joe DiMaggio, Kirk Gibson, Reggie Jackson, Harvey Kuenn, Eddie Murray, Tony Oliva, Dave Parker, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Willie Stargell and Billy Williams held those positions, which, the record will show, they did. 

Now the Astros may well repeat this year at World Series champions.  But if they do, and are near the top of the heap in batting statistics, it may well be in spite of hitting coach Dave Hudgens and not because of him--all due respect.  Jose Altuve of the Astros, at age 27, has already won three batting titles.   If he goes into a rare slump, how much weight is he going to give to the words of a guy who has never faced one pitch in a major-league batting box?  

Oh, I forgot--this new breed of hitting coach spend s hours watching video and taking notes.  Wonderful.  Joe DiMaggio not only didn't have the advantage of video reports, but he faced pitchers who were throwing off a higher mound, and batting helmets, batting gloves and body armor were unheard of.  And his annual home-run total was greater than his strikeout total.  That sounds like science fiction today.

They have all those things--helmets, gloves, armor--in today's game.  And pitchers have thrown off a lower mound since 1969.  That's why today's game is so great.  Right.  It's still the greatest game in the world, but despite the "bigger, stronger players" you're always hearing about, something is missing:  Action.  At its present rate, baseball could replace soccer as the world's most unwatchable sport.  And, believe me, it hurts a lot to say that.

Seventeen Oddities from the 2017 Season
  1. It was the first time a team started an All-Garcia outfield--Avisail in right, Leury in center and Willy in left (White Sox).
  2. A third-strike pitch stuck to Yadier Molina's chest protector, allowing a runner to take first base while the Cardinals catcher scurried around looking for it.
  3. Starling Marte, after being picked off base twice in a span of three innings, hits a come-from-behind home run versus Atlanta.
  4. It was the first time a team that won the World Series the year before placed no one from that roster in the next year's All-Star Game (Cubs).
  5. The Pirates send down the first Lithuanian major leaguer (Dovydas Neverauskas) to make room for the first African (Gift Ngoepe).
  6. It was the first time a pitcher started a game for three different teams in a 15-day period (Jaime Garcia).
  7. On May 22, the Independent league Wichita Wingnuts, managed by Pete Rose Jr., beat the Texas AirHogs, managed by Billy Martin Jr.
  8. It was the first time a pitcher lost a no-hitter on a walk-off home run (Rich Hill).
  9. For the second time in a month, fans at a ballpark are serenaded by a loud (false) alarm and commanded by a message on the scoreboard to evacuate--first in Atlanta, then Philadelphia.
  10. It was the first time a player hit a grand-slam home run for two different teams in a span of five days (Curtis Granderson).
  11. Nick Williams, who homered on a first-pitch slider from Tyler Webb when they last faced each other in Triple-A in June, nails Webb's first pitch-slider for a grand slam in the Phillies' win over the Brewers.
  12. It was the first time a team hit home runs in each of the first seven innings of a game (Twins).
  13. The Rangers' Jason Grilli loses on a walk-off hit in a third straight appearance at Kauffman Stadium--for three different teams.
  14. It was the first time an eighth place hitter in the lineup had four extra-base hits (Paul DeJong).
  15. Dustin Pedroia's Red Sox-record streak of 114 games without an error at second base ends when he misplays a grounder hit by Darwin Barney, the co-holder of that same MLB single-season record at 141.
  16. It was the first time a pitcher struck out at least one batter in 45 consecutive relief appearances (Corey Knebel). 
  17. Making his first career start after 108 relief appearances, Mike Blazek of the Brewers serves up six home runs to the Nationals, including record-tying barrages of four in a row and five in one inning.
Thanks to Athlon Sports and the Elias Sports Bureau for these fascinating factoids.


Home-run weather

Traditional baseball wisdom says that pitchers are "ahead of the hitters" when the season starts in the chilly early spring, while on the hot days of summer, scoring--and home runs--soar.  There is a real, scientific reason for that phenomenon, says PopularScience.com:  Struck baseballs fly farther on the hot, humid days of summer.  Heat causes gases to expand, which reduces air density, or the number of molecules packed into one space.  As a result, baseballs face less resistance as they fly through the air on a hot day.

"For a ball hit at the typical home run speed and trajectory, a 10 degree [Fahrenheit] change in temperature is worth about a little over 3 feet in distance," says physics professor Alan Nathan.  Altitude and humidity also affect the flight of a baseball.  Humid air holds more water vapor, which displaces heavier gases, like nitrogen and oxygen.  The resulting reduction in air density allows batters to knock ’em out of the park more easily. 

 Air density is also lower at higher altitudes, which is why Coors Field, the mile-high home of the Colorado Rockies, is known as a hitter’s heaven and a pitcher’s worst nightmare.  Nathan says wind can have the most pronounced effect of all:  Even a 5 mph wind blowing toward the outfield can carry a fly ball an extra 20 feet--the difference between an out and a dinger.
--The Week