My favorite thing to create for theScore is the My Approach series – which is odd, since I have an interview still waiting to be transcribed! Mostly, it offers an opportunity for me to learn – learn about the players and learn about the game at its highest level.
There were plenty of insights gleaned from the subjects of My Approach. Preparation varies from player to player as some spend long hours in the video room while others trust their swing and their ability. It’s a part of the great dichotomy that makes baseball great.
Enjoy some of my favorite quotes and moments from the 2013 season, with links to all interviews at the bottom of the post. Thanks for supporting theScore in 2013 and have a happy New Year!
Jose Bautista is not your average baseball player. His journey from well-travelled utility guy to elite power hitter took a lot of hard work and perseverance. Part of this adaptation includes putting in work in the video room – becoming a student of the game, learning opposing pitcher’s tendencies in addition to the strike zone.
He describes eliminating options when facing CC Sabathia, chopping pitches out of his mind depending on the count.
When you have stats which are that pronounced, it’s not guessing – it’s expecting what might come your way. Against him, my approach was beware of fastball/curveball first pitch, fastball/change up in between and fastball/changeup/slider with two strikes, if I got there. And that’s exactly how he pitched me.
Jose prefaced this quote with all manner of CC Sabathia factoid, citing his numbers and pitch usages in specific counts. To say it was impressive would undersell the casual manner in which he recalled his prep work from weeks earlier.
Not every player can survive with this approach, cramming their mind with statistical minutia, but it absolutely works for Jose Bautista. He was more than happy to unload an avalanche of stats and factoids when asked, engaging and excitedly discussing his work for longer than he needed.
Strikeouts are a fact of life for a power hitter. In fact, strikeouts are a fact of life for everyone in baseball these days (the league-wide strikeout rate crept up once again. One in five plate appearances in 2013 ended in a strikeout.) This doesn’t mean there is no “stigma” associated with striking out, as many still view strikeouts as a great sin, the worst kind of out.
In the case of Carlos Gonzalez, the “many” are actually “his mom.”
I mean, ah, [two beats] I’m gonna strikeout a lot, like I always tell everybody. I tell my mom “if you don’t want me to strikeout I just have to quit baseball and not play any more.” It’s part of the game and I’m never afraid to swing the bat, I’m going to take some hacks. You can always be more patient and wait for the right pitch to cut the strikeouts. You make more contact and good things are going to happen, you get more hits, more anything. It depends on the situation, you want to put the ball in play. The little things that the game dictates, you have to take advantage.
Injury limited Carlos Gonzalez to just 110 games played in 2013 but he was well on his way to his best offensive season, posting a 149 wRC+ across 436 plate appearances. That was the highest mark of his career, even while striking out more than ever before.
Evan Gattis put together quite the 2013, adding some unexpected power from behind the plate when his Atlanta Braves needed it most. After Brian McCann returned to action, Gattis slumped and failed to put up the same numbers he did early in the season.
The Braves enter 2014 with Gattis penciled in as their number one catcher, a testament to the team’s belief in his ability to make adjustments and take advantage of his prodigious power.
An adjustment Gattis made during a game in Toronto really caught my eye. The White Bear showed a willingness to take chances and trust his own judgment in a situation calling out for him to exploit.
“I know he throws like 45% sliders, so after the first at bat I tried to take that away from him. I slid up in the box, kind of dared him to throw it to me. He busted me inside with a fastball for a ball, then tried again for a strike. He tried to go away with that slider and then we got’em.
Gattis got him alright, turning on the challenge fastball Jays pitcher Ramon Ortiz attempting sneaking over the inside half. Later in the season, Gatt “got” Cole Hamels for the longest home run of the year according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker.
This Trout kid had a pretty good 2013, huh? The 22-year old phenom followed up a record-setting 2012 rookie season with even better numbers in 2013. He was more patient and he made more contact. His ability to control and understand the strike zone is uncanny, not easily explained in his own words.
Luckily, there are guys like Mark Buehrle. The veteran pitcher simply and elegantly described Mike Trout’s plate approach with great economy of language.
“If the pitch looks like a ball, he won’t swing at all. If it’s a strike, he melees on it.”
2013 was a season to remember for Dustin Pedroia. He was part of a World Series champion for the second time in his career. While his offense wasn’t what we expect, marginally improving on his 2012 season with a 116 OPS+. His defense and durability allowed Boston’s second baseman to post more than 6 WAR, not to mention during in some spectacular defense during the Sox run to the World Series. He also scored five runs and managed five hits during the World Series.
Below his quote on hitting with two strikes is an example of Pedroia practicing what he preaches – fighting off a tough two-strike pitch to push across a run with a bouncer through the hole.
I view two strikes as though you’re playing with the house’s money. They’ve already got you in a hole, if you see some more pitches or grind out an at bat or walk or get a hit: that’s a bonus. It’s hard to do but I try to put the pressure on the pitcher because he’s the one who’s supposed to strike you out when you get to 0-2 or two strikes.
Speaking with Pedroia was a real pleasure, as his intense on-field demeanor and gamer persona obscures a thoughtful (if self-depreciating) student of the game. As he’s quick to point out, he’s not the biggest guy but nobody should accuse him of lacking talent.