Two Frustrating Thoughts (and Matt Stairs)
Sure, it might be a little bit irritating next year when there just aren’t enough at-bats to go around for Stairs, Justin Huber, Billy Butler, Mike Sweeney, and any other slow-footed first base-type slugger the Royals may have on the roster. However, The Wonder Hamster’s career-long penchant for avoiding outs is one skill that hasn’t faded in his late 30s; he’s leading the club in on-base percentage at .374. His power, although not what it once was, is still respectable, as his isolated power figure is .181. Oh, and if I had to pay one currently-active player in baseball for his “clubhouse presence” and “veteran leadership,” I’d widdle the field down to Stairs and Brian Anderson, only to leave Jamie Moyer-lite on the side of the road.
Basically, nothing about Matt Stairs sucks (or will suck in the near future), and the Royals could’ve made far worse use of a million bucks. As long as Bell doesn’t do anything really, really, stupid, the long-term chances of the organization won’t be hindered by this one bit.
However, the “saving grace” of watching guys like Neifi Perez, Brent Mayne, and Ken Harvey kill the Royals’ chances in the late 1990s was knowing that those players were maximizing their abilities, and that a higher plane of skill wasn’t there to begin with. Sure, that isn’t the kind of saving grace anybody should like, but I think it’s easier to root for a Joe McEwing-type than a player who clearly has a ton of God-given baseball talent, but only flashes that talent once every blue moon.
I’m talking about Angel Berroa of course, a player who is damned close to becoming The Official Whipping Boy of KRB. Berroa’s "contributed" to the Royals’ chances by hitting .263, posting a .665 OPS, an on-base percentage of .300, and making the ninth-most outs of any player in the American League with 398. All that when combined with the knowledge that Berroa’s regressed for the second year in a row when his production should be leveling off would make any self-respecting baseball fan wonder why I’d label Berroa as having "a ton of God-given baseball talent" and be justified in the thought.
The fact of the matter is that Berroa -- at times varied and far in-between -- has been simply electric on the field, flashing incredible home run distances for his size, hard-hit liners to the gaps, above-average speed, and an incredible throwing arm and amazing range at shortstop. The trouble is that he can’t seem to get out of his own way, especially from an offensive standpoint. The fact that his plate discipline is downright terrible is frustrating enough, but to make matters worse, this Kansas City Star article by Bob Dutton shows that Angel has the "You can’t walk off the island" hitting mindset:
Berroa ended a streak of 173 consecutive plate appearances without an unintentional walk Friday night by coaxing one in the third inning from Detroit reliever Franklyn German.
It’s not likely to become a trend. Berroa has no intention of reining in his aggressive hitting approach.
"That’s me," he said. "You’re never going to see me walk a lot. Because there are times, if I’m trying to get a walk, I’ll get good pitches and not swing. That’s not good."
Welcome to the mind of a hitter who never goes to the plate with even a semblance of a plan, thinking that NOT swinging the bat 100 percent of the time is a horrible, horrible thing. Since the beginning of the 2004 season, club officials have been trying to express to him that swinging at sliders in the dirt is bad, but Berroa’s obviously refused to listen. He’s also totally oblivious to just how horrible of a season (and career) he’s having, evidenced by his fear of letting hittable pitches go by.
Buddy Bell’s take on Berroa’s swing-happy ways wasn’t particularly encouraging either:
"I love plate discipline and on-base percentage," manager Buddy Bell said, "but I just think if you stay aggressive — if you’re always ready to hit — then you’ll get on base. You’ll recognize pitches that aren’t strikes and learn to take those pitches.
"You don’t want anyone, but especially Angel, to go up there predetermined that you’re going to wait to see so many pitches. You’ve got to stay aggressive. I’m not worried about Angel. He’s going to be fine."
Bell might not be worried, but I am. Not only about Berroa, but Buddy as well. When the Royals went searching for a manager, one criteria I placed on the new and then-unknown skipper was having a cohesion with Allard Baird on all things baseball-related. It appears they only went halfway. In other words, Bell may "love" plate discipline and on-base percentage -- two things Baird has placed an emphasis on -- but he clearly doesn’t understand either. And how much can a person love something he doesn’t understand?
Plate discipline is a skill, and it has absolutely nothing to do with planning to see any number of pitches before a plate appearance. The best hitters in baseball typically draw a lot of walks, but it isn’t because they go to the plate determined to see four, five, or six pitches. On the contrary, the most disciplined hitters of this era -- Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Barry Bonds, and Albert Pujols come to mind -- run deep counts not only because they refuse to swing at pitches out of the strike zone, but also because they refuse to swing at a pitch they can‘t do anything with, like a well-thrown curveball on the outside corner. More than anything, those players have great pitch recognition skills and a great deal of mental discipline at home plate.
Plate discipline is a skill that players either have or don’t have, much like players either have or don’t have home run power. Berroa clearly doesn’t have that skill, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Baird tries to dump him and his bloated salary on somebody this winter. Andres Blanco -- Berroa’s likely successor if his switch to second base isn't viewed as permanent -- can’t hit either, but at least he’ll draw a walk every now and then. And at this point, I’d kill to see the shortstop of the Kansas City Royals show signs of intelligence at home plate.
"But at the same time, you don’t just want to give up the ship. And that, quite frankly, is why Terrence is playing. He’s been our best player for the last month. He gives us a better chance to win.
To his credit, Long has somehow avoided sucking this month, hitting .308/.357/.462 in 39 September at-bats. Still, anybody who thinks that T-Long gives a team "a better chance to win" than Chip Ambres, Matt Diaz, or Aaron Guiel has lost all grip on reality.
Sure, the ads are more than a little bit hokey and beneath her angelic aura, but none of that seems to matter when Carrie smiles.
Beauty, thy name is Underwood.