ALDS Takeaways, Part 5: How Does Anyone Hit Anything These Days?
Image courtesy of © Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY SportsThree games should hardly form the basis of a team’s offseason mentality, but this five-part series will explore five takeaways from the ALDS series that seem both clearer and more important now than they did a week ago. Here are links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.
I talked to Andy Barkett, who spent the last two years as the Red Sox’s assistant hitting coach and got ample looks at the Yankees, about the experience not only of trying to hit that group, but of trying to instruct hitters in an age of overwhelmingly useful information.
“There’s a huge part of hitting that has to be just, ‘You know what, screw that guy, he’s trying to take food off my table,’” Barkett said. “Just because, you’re fighting this fear of 100 miles per hour [at your head] and you’re having to find your aggressiveness despite that.”
Barkett said the unique challenge in today’s environment is that hitters have to incorporate information that is essentially cerebral, objective, and somewhat complex into a process that is necessarily reactive, emotional, and subliminal.
“I can tell a guy, ‘Ok, go up there and look for this pitch in this quadrant and try to hit it to right-center with [an optimal] launch angle,’ but he also has to be loose and just seeing the ball, and the two aren’t always compatible,” Barkett said. “You can’t be overanxious. I think guys go up there with their mechanics and the pitcher’s repertoire in their heads and they get in trouble, but it’s not as simple as just programming that in before they go up there, because they’re not computers. They’re human beings.”
That was the most painfully evident truth about the Twins during the Division Series. They were human beings, and they seemed to be facing perfect baseball robots. Going forward, their challenge in maintaining the excellent offensive production they enjoyed for most of the season will lie in identifying what got out of whack during these three contests. All season, they were a highly organized, engineered offense, churning out hard-hit balls in the Statcast launch-angle sweet spot at the highest rate in baseball, but the structures and systems that allowed them to accomplish that weren’t flexible enough to permit them to convert long at-bats into hard-hit balls, or even walks, at the rate they needed.
The book is out on a lot of the Twins’ best hitters, now. Cruz is relatively impervious to the march of time, let alone to the progress of pitching evolution, but as Garver, Kepler, Polanco, Sanó, and even Arraez established themselves this year, teams got smarter about how to position their defenses and where and how to pitch them. Without losing their natural, primal aggressiveness or their sterling feel for the barrel, those hitters will have to add layers of mental preparation and physical adaptability to their games in order to carry their success forward, and certainly to have more of it if and when they return to the playoff stage.
Widen the lens, and that’s the whole story of the winter, spring, and summer ahead for the Twins. They’ve demonstrated tremendous competence. They’ve jumped the league, asserted their ability to dominate, and pushed their way to the cutting edge of the game’s analytical advancement in certain arenas. Now, the organization—from Derek Falvey down to the 26th man on the Opening Day roster—will have to prove that it can adjust to the league’s adjustments, re-innovate to counter opponents’ innovations, and build upon success without becoming its victim.
Here are links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 & Part 4 of this series. Or comment below after you register.
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