On his blog The Dog Ate Daron’s Homework, Diamondbacks broadcaster Daron Sutton announced that in tomorrow’s first spring training game, Conor Jackson would hit clean up. Earlier in the off-season, there was talk of Eric Byrnes being the cleanup hitter, and indeed that may still be his role, especially against left-handed hitters. But as long as the subject of lineups has been mentioned, first by Diamondhacks and now by Daron, I might as well weigh-in with my thoughts.
One would have figured at least to start, that if Byrnes wasn’t in the four-hole, Chad Tracy would be there. After all, he led the team in RBIs and was second to Byrnes in homers. He struck out a lot last year, but claims that that was because he was not making an adjustment to the pitchers who have adjusted to him. We did notice that toward the end of the season, Tracy’s strikeout rate did slow down. So maybe he’s working out the adjustment. We’ll see a spring training progresses. Again, he is likely to see some time there — spring training lineups are quite fluid — but manager Bob Melvin has indicated that he would like to bat Tracy third.
Conor Jackson is an interesting selection. Jackson has the patience at the plate but not the speed on the base paths that would make him a good table setter. He and Byrnes tied for second in RBIs among the Diamondbacks last year. And they were both just one behind Chad Tracy in a race that was not decided until the ninth inning of the final game. He likes the pressure of the cleanup spot, something that the numbers suggest Byrnes is not all that comfortable with. Jackson also understands that a double with runners in scoring position will be fine; one does not always need a homer. There is some concern at that Tracy who, after 2005, was expected to be the team’s homer leader, might try too hard for the four-bagger if he’s hitting cleanup.
If it turns out that Conor Jackson is the man for the cleanup role, where should the Diamondbacks slot Eric Byrnes and why? I think, for early spring training at least, he should hit second. His lifetime stats show that he has his highest batting average in the second spot. But that would be just to get him going. In about two weeks, I’d start giving him at-bats in the fifth position. And I’d tell him now, if he hasn’t been told already, that the five-hole is really where he should be.
Rather than thinking of the lineup as having three parts, I like to think of it as having two: 1 — 4, and 5 — 8, with the pitcher who can slap a single or at least bunt, or a pinch-hitter, linking the two halves during a rally. That makes the five-hole a transition spot for which Byrnes’ combination of talents is well suited. He has the pop in his bat that can drive in a runner ahead of him and the speed afoot that can make him a table-setter for the second half of the order. This is especially useful for a team like the Diamondbacks, who have a fairly even lineup.
for the D’Backs was yesterday. And my photo supplier furnished this John Miller/AP shot of a certain someone hard at work:
<SMILE> Seeing this first thing in the morning is a great way to start the day!
And did David Wallace of The Arizona Republic just discover the next action movie star?
Here’s why I can say that so categorically: the Arizona Diamondbacks announced their promotional schedule several days ago. The team is giving away something at all its Saturday and Sunday games this year. On the schedule are 6 bobblehead days, including giveaways honoring rookie Carlos Quentin and broadcaster Mark Grace. There is a kids replica jersey T-shirt giveaway day for rookie Chris Young. There is a Baxter kids replica jersey T-shirt giveaway day. Baxter is the team’s mascot. Rookie Stephen Drew rates two giveaways: a figurine (not to be confused with a bobblehead), and a growth chart. Sophomore Conor Jackson also rates two giveaways: a bobblehead and a figurine.
Byrnes may appear on the trading cards they are planning to give away on July 14, if he’s still there. But there is no separate mention of him on the Diamondbacks press release announcing the promotional schedule.
Promotions honoring three rookies, a broadcaster, and a mascot, but nothing for a fan favorite, who led the team in home runs and stolen bases last year–what does that say to you? I know what it says to me. It says that the front office has known all along that they would trade Byrnes during this season. And they’ve known it since at least the day they had to put in the orders for the items that they will give away this season.
This is a repeat of what I saw in Oakland in 2005. In September 2004, I bought the last Byrnes/22 T-shirt from the store at the Coliseum. In June of 2005, when I went to a game, I did not see any Byrnes shirts being sold in any of the sales booths around the stadium. Byrnes was gone six weeks later, and despite the claim of the A’s front office that they were not trying to trade him, trade rumors were rampant during the off-season after 2004, and everybody knew early in the year that they were trying to get rid of him.
The Diamondbacks need to assure themselves of Scott Hairston’s readiness to handle left field, and perhaps to a lesser extent, of Jeff DaVanon’s full rehab from last year’s surgeries. A good spring training by Hairston and a good medical report on DaVanon, and then it’s just a matter of time. For all we know, other teams have inquired about Byrnes already.
Let’s hope those other teams are teams who would want him as an everyday player and who have a good chance to win. Then next year, after Barry Bonds retires, Eric can sign on with his hometown team.
Great to see this, especially since, after one day where the temp went up to 83 degrees in Oakland, it’s dropped faster than a Brandon Webb sinkerball.
Thanks to M. Spencer Green/AP who took these pix. And a tip of my outdated but still great-looking and fitting D’Backs road cap to a certain reader who sent them along just as I was finishing a tedious day of slogging through the endnotes of my latest article.
On The Dog Ate Daron’s Homework, the blog of new Arizona Diamondbacks broadcaster Daron Sutton, there are two articles, each of which feature snippets of Daron’s interviews with Eric Byrnes and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe.
You’ll also be treated to some fine photographs, including one of Eric in his Licey Tigres uniform, back in the pre-long-hair days. (Young, sweet, innocent. Just another All-American boy with big dreams).
Why these two in particular? Read the articles and find out!
Daron is definitely getting his Diamondbacks career off on the right foot, as far as DTLFL is concerned. He’s shown he knows who the great interview on the team is. ;+)
May this year be your best yet, personally and professionally. May the baseball gods give you lots of goodies this year, including a grand slam, your 100th career homer, the chance to play in the post-season, and before December is out, a lucrative, multi-year contract with a team (preferably the Giants) that wants you as an everyday player. You’re due for all of these good things and more!
Diamondhacks turned me on to a page filled with career statistics for you. It is admittedly incomplete, but it gives a fair idea of your career at the plate. I’ve been pondering this list for three or four days while I’ve been considering what would be a successful season for you this year.
It’s been a struggle to tease out some patterns; consistency has been a bugaboo for you throughout your major league career. But even that has a good point: except in a few circumstances, you haven’t been completely, consistently mediocre or bad. It’s just that your flashes of brilliance have been just that: flashes. So the issue for you is to figure out what’s going on when you’re really good, so that you can continue doing whatever that is throughout the course of the long season.
With that in mind, I’m going to pose a few questions, which I think you should answer to yourself for yourself. If you can find the answers, you will easily meet or exceed the benchmarks DTLFL will lay out later.
My first questions concern the differential between your batting averages in the first and second halves of the year. You are notorious for being the guy who leads the major leagues in decline in OPS in the second half of the season. The stats page lists your first half batting average as .285, but your second half average is .234. I’d like to see you bat .285 or better in the second half of the year. (Your stats for last season, which I took from the MLB.com stats page, are .292 for the first half of the season, which they call before the All-Star break, and .243 after the All-Star break). If the 50-point decline in batting average were just for your rookie year, I could think that it was just that the pitchers had figured the new guy out. But the fact that you consistently decline sharply in batting average after the All-Star break raises the question of your stamina over the course of a long season.
You certainly look fit. But is there something about your conditioning program or nutrition that needs reworking? When Barry Zito gave an interview to Dave Fleming at KNBR the day he was introduced as a Giant, Fleming suggested that some "stat heads" thought that Zito was starting to decline. Zito said he was aware that his velocity had declined, but it was probably because he did too much throwing in the off-season and not enough conditioning work on his core. His core weakened during the course of the season, and consequently, his velocity declined. Is something similar happening to you? Are you weakening during the course of the long season with the result that your batting average declines? Is there something you can do during spring training, and throughout the season, that will keep you strong? Also, are you adequately hydrated, especially during those last three hot months?
My next questions concern your inconsistency from month to month. Your career stats show that May is your best month. You’ve averaged .315 over your career in the second month of the season. But the stat sheet says that in April, you average .264, and in June, .276. That tendency to have dramatic shifts from month to month was exaggerated in 2006. Last April, you hit .237. But in May, you hit a phenomenal .364! Then In June, you hit .238, followed by a very nice .295 in July, only to follow that up with .239 in August. Who takes over your body in May, and can we keep him around for the entire season? We’ll even take whoever possessed you last July. Or is it that the real you is the hitter of last May and July, and someone else takes over during the other months?
Seriously, when you’re good, you’re really good. Some guys have a hot streak that will take them from .230 to .260 or .280. But your performances in May indicate you have an ability to hit over .300 for a sustained period of time. This, even though you have an annoyingly large differential between your batting averages against left-handed and right-handed pitchers. In May, you face both, but it doesn’t seem to matter; you bash them both. What are you thinking, feeling and doing in the month of May that has been so consistently successful? Have you really thought about this? I don’t think it is solely a question of stamina here, at least not from April to May. (I’d point to stamina first thing to account for your consistently lousy September/October stats). Your performance in May, followed by your June swoon, makes me think of Wile E. Coyote, who runs off the cliff and through the air until he realizes that he is off the cliff. That’s when he falls. Could something like that be happening to you? Are you cruising in May, and then in June something inside you says, "I’m not supposed to be able to do this." And then you crash? Coyote and Road Runner offer a valuable lesson here. The Road Runner always runs through the air to make it to the next piece of solid ground; he’s concentrating on running. Coyote manages to do something others don’t expect him to be able to do, i.e. run in the air, as long as he’s focused on chasing the Road Runner. He falls when his mind goes off his goal and gets caught up in the vagaries of the situation at hand.
You can do it; you have done it. If you are a lifetime .315 hitter in May, and hit .364 last May, you can hit north of .300 for the entire year. You have the skill and you have the work ethic. And if you have a stamina problem, that can be resolved. Just remember throughout the year that you can be a .300 hitter, and not just against left-handed pitching. Don’t let anyone tell you different, including yourself. And during those times when your hitting cools off, as happens to all hitters from time to time throughout the long season, focus on what you were thinking, feeling, and doing when you were hitting better. Do you watch video of yourself? Sometimes, small changes in mechanics creep in over time. Video can help you keep track of that.
Now… about that differential between left-handed and right-handed pitching. Some differential is common; that’s why managers play percentages. But it is a shame to see a differential as large as yours. It drags down your overall batting average. The great hitters minimize the differential. Again, I suggest you look to your performances in May for an answer to that as well.
Last but not least, especially since you are expected to bat cleanup this year, there is the matter of your clutch stats or lack thereof. Despite the fact that, last year, you set a new personal best for RBI, and that was good enough to tie for second place in RBI on the team, you still have a lot of room for improvement. According to the lifetime stat sheet, you are generally at your best in relatively low pressure situations where there may not be an RBI opportunity except for a solo home run. For example, you bat .308 when a team has a margin of four runs, but only .243, when the margin is two runs. You bat .288 when leading off an inning, .280 when you are batting leadoff, .281 when you’re batting second, and .274 when you’re batting eighth. In the cleanup role, you only hit .205 lifetime, which means you are not batting your listed weight. Batting fifth, you average .246, and batting sixth, you are at .203. You also hit .203 in extra-inning situations. With a full count, or the bases loaded, or a runner at third, or as a pinch-hitter, you are a .200 hitter. With a two-strike count, you’re batting .186. You bat .279 with none out, a full 21 points higher than your average with two outs. The night that always stands out in my mind in this regard is May 31 of last year, when you hit two homers against the Mets at Shea. Both of those homers were solo shots. In your two times up that game with runners in scoring position, you struck out. There are techniques for hitting in certain situations that you can learn if you haven’t already, such as shortening your swing with two strikes. Your hitting instructor can help you with these techniques.
As for the mental side of the game, there are two possibilities here, either of which may be in play at any given point in time. The first is that you are too aggressive in some of these RBI situations. This is where learning how to be a contact hitter is important, even for a power hitter. I remember a game in the Diamondbacks first series with Milwaukee last year, when Carlos Lee came up to bat with the game on the line. He only needed a single to win the game, and that’s just what he got: a ground ball to center. You don’t have to hit a home run every time. A flexible approach will add points to your batting average and RBIs to your run totals.
The second possibility is that you are not aggressive enough, some times. Are you trying not to make an out, as opposed to trying to get a hit? I get that feeling about you when I see you bat with the bases loaded. What are you thinking and feeling in the less-pressured situations where you hit better, as opposed to what you are thinking and feeling when the heat is on? You look more relaxed out there, in general, than you did when you were struggling in Baltimore, but are you really more relaxed, at least in the clutch situations? I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating, don’t try to prove who you are out there, just be who you are. The Diamondbacks need a cleanup hitter this year, and you are the guy with pop in his bat and a veteran’s knowledge of the game. You have the physical tools to do the job. And you have from time to time delivered with exciting results. Enjoy the situation rather than feeling pressured, and you’ll to rise to the occasion more often.