Thursday morning I asked Jeff Francoeur if he was familiar with the term “regression to the mean.” Frenchy got a big grin and said, “Oh, yeah.” So I asked him how he prevents that. He had a good year last year, how does he repeat it?
Just keep doing what he did last year. It sounds bad to say you don’t want to get better, but you can screw up what you have by trying to get something better. In 2008, Francoeur hit .293, 19 home runs and drove in 105 runs. He decided he was going to be even better the next year. Francoeur bulked up, put on weight and hit .239, 11 home runs and drove in 71.
“Perfect is the enemy of good” is one of my favorite baseball sayings. You’re going good, but you want to be perfect and suddenly, you’re not going good any more. Francoeur said you’ve got to know who you are as a player and maybe even more importantly — who you aren’t.
Francoeur said the same thing about Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer. They both had good years last year and they shouldn’t alter their approach in an effort to be better. Because perfect is the enemy of good. And if you’re good long enough — you’re great.
After Doug Sisson pointed out how other pitching staffs are getting quicker with their deliveries to the plate, I decided to ask the new Royals pitching coach what the Royals pitchers were doing. Dave Eiland said that getting the staff to be quicker to the plate was one of his main goals when he took over the staff, but he expanded on what Sisson told me:
The Royals are speeding up their delivery times, but haven’t totally abandoned the slide step — although Eiland doesn’t like that terminology. Ask a pitcher to “slide step” and he’ll slide his front foot just above the mound, his arm will be late because the foot gets down sooner and the ball will stay high in the zone. The delivery is out of synch. Dave pointed out that it’s a bad trade when you stop a steal, but give up a double to the gap.
Instead, the Royals use the term “quick step.” Do what you normally do, just do it quicker. Their also varying the time they hold the ball in the set position and disrupting the runner with throws over to first. But it’s all tradeoff; too much attention to the runner and something bad will happen at home plate. Ignore the runner and he’ll be standing on second.
Eiland did agree that the game is changing. Even Boston and New York are starting to run — and a whole lot of pitchers are having to adjust.
I know some people (and that include some editors) picture spring training as a non-stop party. They imagine players out on the town after the game, a blonde on each arm, ordering drinks for the house. Well, maybe, but not often. As Mike Moustakas pointed out, careers are on the line here. And you better be pretty sure of yourself to show up hung over. Moose wouldn’t say it never happens, but dragging your way through a full morning of drills and a 1:05 ball game is not a great way to make the team.
And then there’s social media.
Every ballplayer is acutely aware that every fan has a cell phone and those cell phones have cameras. If a girl in a bar wants to have a picture taken with a player, that picture can be on the internet before the player makes it home from the bar. Try explaining that to your wife. Moustakas pointed out that even sipping a beer after a long day’s work in the sun has its dangers: if someone takes a picture and posts it, you better get a base hit the next day. Otherwise, someone will talk about how your drinking is affecting your playing.
So, remember, it’s not one big party down here. (So, do you think my editor bought it?)
All kidding aside
It’s a really full schedule here in Surprise. Usually the clubhouse opens at 7:30 AM and closes to the media at 9:15. Players are supposed to be dressed by 9:30 and on the field to stretch at 10:00. Here’s Wednesday’s schedule after the 10:00 Team Stretch:
10:15 Base running
10:30 Team Fundamental (Pickoffs/Rundowns)
10:45 Batting Practice
11:45 Extra Hitting/Lunch
12:40 Report to Stadium
There’s not a lot of standing around. If you want to talk to somebody, you better be walking because they’re on their way to the next scheduled activity. We should all appreciate that Doug Sisson came out early and made time to do the base running videos. I might have to buy him one of the beers ballplayers rarely drink.
It’s a sacrifice
I watched a sacrifice bunting drill and noticed the right-handed hitters weren’t squaring around when they bunted. Squaring around is bringing the back foot up parallel to the front foot and facing the pitcher. The Royals are dropping the back foot, moving it further away from the plate — like a runner getting ready to sprint by pushing off.
I asked if that was the point. Does it put the bunter in a better position to run? I was told it does, but that’s not the reason the Royals do it this way. Dropping the back foot also lowers the head toward the zone and keeps the bat head higher than the hands. Squaring around (the traditional method) takes the head up and away from the zone and allows the bat head to drop—and that results in the bunt being fouled back.
Proper execution will always be an issue, but if the plan fails it won’t be because it wasn’t thought out.
As Star beat writer Bob Dutton has already pointed out, left-handed relief pitcher Tim Collins has made an adjustment. Last season he stood with his back almost directly to home plate when he was in the stretch position. That led to a kind of corkscrew gyration in his delivery. This season he’s set up in a more normal, straight-on position. Collins said that’s simplified his delivery. If there are less parts in a pitching (or hitting) motion, less can go wrong and the motion is easier to repeat.
Collins is throwing more strikes out of the new pitching motion and still has good stuff; a win-win adjustment.
Scoring from second. This consisted of making a good turn at third; hitting the inside corner of the bag with either foot, using it to push off towards home and dipping the shoulder toward the mound which allows a tighter turn and keeps the runner from curving way out on the grass.