Right before Hensley Meulens was hired, I wondered aloud if hitting coaches mattered a whole lot. I’m still not sure about that one. But when the new guy makes a player like Bengie Molina say this…
"For all my career, I've been very aggressive," Molina said. "But, yes, I want to work on taking some more pitches. The more pitches you see, the better you should be. Hopefully it works."
…hey, at least it’s a little encouraging. Yeah, "I want to take more pitches," is right up there with "Best shape of his life!" when it comes to spring clichés, but there’s also that famous, unfairly scrutinized data point:
- Bowker in 2007: 41 walks in 587 plate appearances.
- Bowker in 2008: 26 walks in 452 plate appearances.
- Bowker after working with Meulens in 2009: 78 walks in 523 plate appearances.
John Bowker wanted to improve his patience. He worked with Meulens. Bowker improved his patience. But while Meulens is batting 1.000 in warm ‘n’ fuzzy OBP anecdotes, it’s with a sample size of one. I still don’t know what to think.
When I want players to be more patient – and I think I speak for most of the internet baseball nerd consortium on this – I’m not just hoping they’ll take more pitches. The idea isn’t to accumulate the highest percentage of pitches seen outside of the strike zone, it’s to a) get better pitches to hit, and b) not help the pitcher by swinging at garbage. By doing a. and b., the walks will come naturally. Outside of a few speedsters and utility guys, no one is actively trying to get a walk in every at-bat. It seems as if this is closer to Meulens’s philosophy than is something silly like "get ‘em early in the count." So I’m cautiously optimistic about the effects he might have.
But something else I’d like the Giants to do, from the front office on down, is to seek out evidence when forming an opinion. Realize that the human brain is fallible. When the brain says, "Fred Lewis takes too many pitches," try to figure out if there is anything that can support that claim other than a loose feeling. Because the premise isn’t ridiculous – if a hitter isn’t doing anything with the pitches he’s forcing pitchers to throw in the strike zone, he isn’t fulfilling his potential. But Lewis is swinging at plenty of pitches in the strike zone. His Z-Swing % – defined by FanGraphs as "percentage of pitches a batter swings at inside the strike zone" – is near the league average at 69.6%. When a pitcher throws a strike to Fred Lewis, Lewis is swinging just as often as the next guy.
I’m not trying to be tricky by substituting the word "evidence" for "stats." I just want to get rid of feelings and hunches. Last year, the monster under the bed was poorly executed bunt attempts and other Little Things, and that was a totally bogus and made-up problem. The Giants were wasting time trying to find the Magic Wyvern-Repelling Laser Gun in case they were attacked by wyverns, but they were doing it when the place was on fire.
More patience is good, so I hope for good things from Meulens and his fresh approach. It would also be great if the Giants stopped paying attention to unsupported opinions. Maybe a combination of the two would lead to better execution, better player evaluation, and an offense that can score more than 700 runs.
Better players wouldn’t hurt either, but let’s not get crazy.