No manager or coach can tell you something that you can do that will work at any particular at bat. Runners on, a tie game, 9th inning– the pitcher might simply, on that particular occasion, out-smart the hitter. He may have excellent control. He might be able to place that hard fastball low and inside and over the plate: ground ball double-play, game over.
The Blue Jays, for about two weeks now, have looked a lot like the Blue Jays of 2008: excellent pitching, terrible offense. Halliday just pitched seven shut-out innings and the Blue Jays lost, 1-0, to a relatively weak team, Atlanta. Vernon Wells– one of the stars, reputably, of the Blue Jays offense, has gone 5 for 28 in the last week. In those seven games he has walked twice and doesn’t have a single RBI. You can’t fault him for a single at bat– shit happens. But Wells has a lot of stretches where he is worse than ineffective: he is a net drag on the offense. He doesn’t walk: he hits into a double play. He comes up to bat with Hill or Scutaro on base in a close game and produces nothing but outs. He comes to bat early in the game with nothing on the line and hits a single. He is having a terrible month.
Adam Lind is 5 for 27. Scutaro 5 for 26. Rolen 4 for 21.
One thing you learn from baseball is that anecdotal evidence is meaningless. For most of his career with the Blue Jays, Wells averages about .300 with 25 homeruns. At the end of 2009, I suspect he will once again end up with about 25 homeruns and an average around .290 – .310. That means in July or August or September, he will pick up the pace and have a hot week or two, and Blue Jays fans will line-up for Vernon Wells bobble-head day.
Conversely, someone gets a lot of hits– like David Ortiz used to– and the fans begin to think he has some special gift for hitting in the “clutch”. In fact, he just hits well. He gets lots of hits. You seem to remember him always getting a hit when it matters because you are more likely to remember when it matters, but if you check, you will find that good hitters simply get lots of hits. At the end of the year, you will find that they are all pretty close to their career averages.
The manager can’t give any hitter a secret that will guarantee a hit at any particular at bat, and I doubt that either the manager or the hitting coach can have a deep effect on a player’s ultimate ability to hit a ball. The ability to get a hit, in my opinion, is almost entirely a function of the physical skills of the player, and those skills don’t change quickly over a player’s career. They peak at about age 28 and start declining slowly thereafter. (That’s why a player who dramatically improves his performance after the age of 30 should be suspected of cheating.)
The Blue Jays have lost five games in a row because too many of their hitters are slumping at the same time. The Blue Jays are neither as good as their first month or as bad as the last week. I suspect that, once again, they will begin to average out as a fairly good team, with good pitching and defense and a middling offense.
The offensive production of a team is entirely a function of the number of players who are hitting well. The Blue Jays started this season with a dramatic improvement in their offense over last year. The only changes to the line-up were the return of Aaron Hill– who might be the real deal– and the addition of Marco Scutaro as the regular short-stop. Rod Barajas and Scott Rolen hit well over their career averages, for a while. Inevitably, they will revert back to something like what they did last year and the year before. Lyle Overbay, as always, looks like someone who should be hitting a lot more than he does. Over this dismal past week, he hit .350. Fabulous, except that he only walked twice, didn’t hit a single home run, and drove in only 3. If Wells and Rios and Rolen are not driving in runs, Overbay is not picking up the slack.
In short, do the Blue Jays really have an improved offense in 2009? Or did a number of players simply have a good month at the same time? Are they really the 2008 Jays in disguise?
The Blue Jays offense should be better this year with Hill back in the line-up, and, marginally, with Barajas instead of Gregg Zaun behind the plate. Lind will perform better. Rios is a mystery: he could hit 30 homeruns and bat .300 or he could hit 15 homeruns and bat .230. Travis Snider clearly was not ready for major league pitching, but he will be. He probably won’t be a big factor this season.
What I worry about is that you can’t win the East Division or the Wild Card with a team largely comprised of players like Wells, Overbay, Rolen, and Rios, all taking turns slumping, and not being particularly dominating when they aren’t, and certainly not with players like Bautista and Millar using up valuable at bats.
Who would you think would be the highest paid Blue Jay? The one who performs the best? How good is management at predicting, when they offer a player a contract, how well he will perform?
It might surprise you to know that Scott Rolen earns twice as much as Vernon Wells and about five times as much as Aaron Hill. Or that B.J. Ryan earns almost as much as Roy Halliday. Or that Aaron Hill, earns half of what Vernon Wells gets paid. Or that Lyle Overbay earns way more than Vernon Wells.