5.01.2005

The Mechanics of Hitting

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Harold Reynolds: In the latest installment of our ongoing discussion on hitting, Joe and I are going to get into the whole on-base percentage craze, and discuss what it means — as a hitter — to walk.

Joe Morgan: It's very telling that the people talking about on-base percentage are the people who have never played the game because as a hitter, taking a walk isn't always a good thing. There are times when you need to move a runner over to get out of a double play or you need a sacrifice fly, and in times like that a team would much prefer a productive out.

HR: That's true, Joe. Unless the bases are juiced — sorry for using that term — a walk will never result in an RBI, which is the most important thing to do as a ballplayer.

JM: As a hitter, it can be very tiring to take a walk. You end up standing at the plate longer, and you can really wear yourself out. I know of several players who have had neck problems from having their head turned at the plate for so long. That's what Babe Ruth died of, which is something a lot of people don't know.

HR: And as an at-bat goes on with the batter taking pitches and working himself into a walk, that player in the on-deck circle is left standing there as well, which can wear down his arms before he even steps in the box.

JM: Absolutely. Fortunately we never had the problem with the Reds, because we were aggressive hitters that knew how to move runners over and make things happen with the bat. But having to wait around can make you lose your focus, and your chances of knocking in that runner who's now on first actually go DOWN because of fatigue. I doubt we could get numbers to track this, but I wouldn't be surprised to see an increase of double-plays after a walk. Certainly more than you would see after a sac-fly or a bunt.

HR: The key to a productive at-bat is aggressiveness. Make a pitcher know that if he makes a mistake you'll make him pay rather than just hang out in hopes of a free pass.

JM: We both know that there's nothing more expensive than free.

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