Just last night, it struck me that I’ve done four stories in less than a week involving players who have hired their own coaches and/or personal trainers to make some pretty radical shifts in the direction of their overall game and approach to it.
Blake Beavan is the latest I’ve written about and you can read the story in today’s print edition about how he spent a month working with University of Texas pitching coach/guru Skip Johnson in order to generate a more downward plane on his offerings. You all remember Doug Fister and how his downward angle on pitches from a 6-foot-8 height made it extremely difficult for hitters to make solid contact and do much more than pound balls into the ground.
Well, that’s what the 6-foot-7 Beavan is aiming for. He and Johnson worked three days a week — with Beavan sleeping over at minor leaguer Chane Ruffin’s place — at the Austin, TX campus of the U of T altering the pitcher’s delivery. The idea is for Beavan to create more downward angle and then to repeat his delivery so that it becomes consistent and enables him to disguise what’s coming. In the past, Beavan struggled to repeat the same mechanics when he switched from a fastball to a breaking ball. That’s a no-no in pitching — especially in the majors — because the hitters today are so smart and skilled that they will easily pick up on any slight change. So, if you know Beavan does things differently when he throws his breaking ball, you can just sit back and wait for it. Ditto on the fastball. And since Beavan’s fastball wasn’t generating any downward plane, the hitters who sensed it was coming would hit it a long, long way if it flattened out on him.
So, anyhow, that’s what Beavan has taken it upon himself to try to change. You have to admire the thought process, though the execution is a whole lot tougher to pull off than I’m making it sound. A pitcher altering his mechanics is no easy thing to pull off at the MLB level. It takes weeks and weeks of repetition to gain the confidence to use the tweaks in a game and then months, sometimes years, afterwards to hone it to perfection.
It may seem, sometimes, as if we’re constantly writing about players making tweaks and serious changes. Fact is, we are. This is a constant part of life at the higher levels of baseball, where raw talent alone is rarely enough to get you by forever. The players are just too sophisticated in how they attack opponents these days, studying traits and tendencies well in advance and now having high-speed computers as well as ample video to help them out.
The “classroom” part of MLB is the stuff fans never see. The stuff off the field. It’s a constant battle — part of an ongoing, never-ending war — to emerge on top of all comers. But just because we can’t always see it doesn’t mean we can afford to ignore it.
There is too much money at stake for players not to do this extra work, put in the preparation. Frankly, any player who isn’t constantly trying to stay ahead of “enemies” trying to get the better of him is an idiot.
We saw last year just how quickly Dustin Ackley, everybody’s flavor-of-the-week in 2011, went from hero to zero once opposing pitchers figured him out a bit and exploited his weaknesses. Now, he has to adapt.
So, as camp has progressed, we’ve done our best to tell you what some Mariners are planning in order to try to improve. As always, it’s the process we’re interested in at this stage. The results come later. And as we all should know by now, a process alone in baseball is no guarantee of results.More