Same Old Situation
Hey, everybody! Hope you've been enjoying the weblog! I would be posting more, but I'm real busy working on my new baseball show - The Baseball Bunch on Saturday mornings! Check your local listings! - and with all the great posts by BBTN regulars and guest stars, I've been busy reading all this great stuff! I think it's great that all you fans out there are really enjoying what we're doing, because we enjoy doing it! Thanks!
I wanted to talk about the Mets, and Willie Randolph in particular. Now, lots of folks in the off-season were wondering how the Mets would do this year. They threw a lot of money at Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez, they had some old aging players like Tom Glavine and Mike Piazza, and there was some question about whether they'd be any good. Well, it's almost time for the All-Star Game - don't forget to vote! - and the Mets are only 6 games back in what's probably the strongest division, top to bottom, in all of baseball. And I give all the credit in the world to new manager Willie Randolph. He's brought some of that Yankee mystique with him to Flushing, and it shows. He's gotten great years out of Pedro and Cliff Floyd, a breakout season from David Wright, and even some surprise production from other places - who knew about Victor Diaz before this year? And he's doing this with Carlos Beltran at 75%, no production from Piazza, a struggling Doug Mienkiewicz, and a spotty bullpen. If the season ends right now, he's my Manager of the Year.
Of course, in New York City, no one's happy. Folks are talking about this or that. Why does he play Kaz Matsui so much? Why is David Wright batting in the bottom third of the order? And why is Jose Reyes hitting leadoff? That last question is what I want to talk about, specifically this quote I heard from Willie about hitting at the top of the order - “Just because he gets on base doesn’t mean he’s doing the right thing.”
I was a top of the order hitter for most of my years in the majors, so I know what it's like. Your job, as a lead-off hitter, is to put pressure on the opposing team. You do that with clutch hits, with stolen bases, with foul balls. That's a lot of pressure to put on one guy's shoulders, to be responsible for putting pressure on the opposing team and upsetting their rhythms. It takes a special player - a Rickey Henderson, an Alex Cole, an Endy Chavez - to pull that off. And a key to this is what I like to call SITUATIONAL HITTING. You have to hit to the situation. Just like some pitchers pitch to the score, hitters have to hit to the score, and also the number of outs in the inning. It's fine to just get a walk when you're leading off the game, but when you're down 3 runs with 2 outs in the 9th inning and a runner on 2nd, what good is a walk then? You have to hit to the situation.
If you're in that 2 out situation, you want to get a base hit to drive that runner home to keep the pressure on. If you're down 1 run in the 9th with one out or more, you want to get an extra-base hit so you can get in scoring position for your big boppers. If you're leading off the 9th, you bunt for a base hit and try to steal 2nd, and maybe 3rd. If your pitcher is on base, you want to take as many pitches as possible so the pitcher can catch his breath, and step out between every pitch. If you're up with runners on and a small lead early in the game, you want to move those runners over for the heart of the order. If you walk, you walk, but that's a last resort. After all, there's a reason you go up to the plate with a bat in your hand.
Sometimes getting on base isn't enough. Sometimes even getting a hit isn't enough. That's what SITUATIONAL HITTING is all about. It's tough to expect a young kid like Reyes to figure all this out so early in his career. Heck, some of these thing I'm still learning, and I've been out of the game for over 10 years! It's to Willie Randolph's credit, though, that he's willing to take his lumps with Reyes as he's learning his position in the batting order in the middle of a penant race. Lots of managers, they would either demote Reyes in the batting order, or demote Reyes to the minors, saying he can't play in the major leagues until he learns to be more selective at the plate. But that's what's ironic about needing to learn - you need to play to get experience, and you need experience to get to play. Willie realizes that the best place for a kid to get experience is at the Major League level, regardless of the results. That's a true sign of leadership, and no doubt it's something that Yankee skipper Joe Torre taught him.
Sometimes, struggling is often better for a player than success. Look at how Willie's handling young phenom David Wright - he's one of the Mets' best run producers, but he's keeping Wright in the bottom third of the order so he doesn't let the success make him cocky. Managers have to hit to the situation, too. Keeping him in pressure-free situations, even when the team struggles to score runs consistently, is a small, subtle move that'll pay off huge when Wright matures. And the same goes for Jose Reyes. Struggling now will mean less struggling later. The more Reyes plays, the more experience he'll get, and with Willie Randolph showing him the ropes, there's no telling where Reyes, and the Mets, could end up.