Patience at the Plate… Poison to the Game

The headline is a little hyperbolic, but with Gavin tackling potential pitching changes, I wanted to piggy back with my own frustrations with the game of baseball. Particularly those on offense.

Growing up with the game, baseball players are beaten with phrases and ideologies that aren’t written in any rule book. The plethora of unwritten rules are what make the game great. For instance, don’t watch your homerun (in other words, don’t show boat) or Brian McCann will have something to say.

Don’t flip your bat and run everything out, especially routine ground balls. We praise those who will sacrifice their body to save a run and those who are aggressive on the base path (see 2014 Kansas City Royals), but we also praise those who are patient at the plate… and as a baseball fan, this drives me crazy.

Now, I’m not going to argue that patience at the plate is a general problem across the league. There are players out there that thrive on the pressure of two strikes (Nelson Cruz) but there are those who fall apart as soon as they’re in a hole (Chris Davis). Some players need to see a pitch or two before they are ready to swing and others need to wait for “their pitch.”

Before I continue about “patience” and my ill feeling towards it, I need to clarify: I don’t believe players should chase after bad pitches, obviously, nor do I believe a player should swing at a first pitch curveball (another unwritten rule). But if Chris Davis, or Bryce Harper, or Justin Upton or any other crush-capable batsman continue to watch belt-high first pitch fastballs, then the offense of baseball is going to continue to suffer.

For one, it’s no secret that the strike zone opens up with each strike (unwritten rule). If you’re down 0-2 or 1-2, you better slap at everything and anything that so much as flirts with the outside corner of the zone.

Joe Lemire of Grantland found that the “best pitch for a pitcher is strike two, and the most important pitch is thrown on 1-1 counts.” If this is the case, then why would a batter willingly give up strike one?

The counter-argument would be that getting ahead of the count forces the pitcher to throw a better pitch for you to hit. This is true. 2-0 and 3-1 are called hitter counts for a reason. When a pitcher falls behind they are forced to throw something down the middle as to avoid walking you. But again, I reiterate, I’m not arguing that batter’s should swing at just anything.

The game is slowing down and offense is suffering because of dominant pitching, but part of that dominance comes from players’ acquiescence to the notion of patience. Too many times have I seen an entire lineup come up to plate and watch a first pitch fastball soar past them for strike one. For many batters, this is the best pitch they see in an entire at-bat and they are letting the opportunity pass them by… and for what? The notion of patience? Years of bad habit? Nerves? That’s for rookies.

Baseball is an extremely difficult game, probably the most difficult, and because of this, otherwise awful statistics and performance are heralded as great. Getting a hit thirty percent of the time will get into the Hall of Fame. Maybe this is why hitters aren’t trying harder. Maybe they are simply settling for mediocrity, knowing it’s enough to keep their job.

I don’t necessarily believe this, but there are players out there going against the grain and the truth is, they make the game more fun to watch. Regardless of my allegiance to Baltimore, Adam Jones is my favorite player for the fact that he will swing at the first pitch that looks good. Sometimes that pitch breaks and drops out of the strike zone, but damn does it look good. He’s somewhat notorious for never walking, but I love that about him as well. In his eight year career he’s averaged .280, 21 homers and 72 RBI’s. He’s an all-star, and he doesn’t seem to care one bit about patience.

Who knows, maybe I could be wrong. Maybe hitters need to be more patient or maybe modern pitching is simply too dominant for any change to a hitter’s approach to mean anything.

But getting a little more aggressive wouldn’t hurt, not if Adam Jones is representative of anything. As a fan of Baltimore, watching him take advantage of a first pitch fastball, I am excited. As a fan of the game in general, I’d like to see more of this across the league.

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