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Feature
 
 
No Joy in Mudville

Johnson
on 07/26/2001

 

Yes Casey is mighty, yes, he is feared, and yes, he took a mighty hack. In the end, though, Mighty Casey had struck out.

"Oh! somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright, The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light. And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout; But there is no joy in Mudville-mighty Casey has Struck Out."

These are the immortal words of Ernest Thayer in his time-honored poem, "Casey At The Bat." Every child that knows baseball has read this poem. Every child that has grown up playing baseball in the sandlot can tell you the fate of "Mighty Casey." This poem may have been prophetic. There may be more than finances to the motive for the Brewers to switch their single A baseball affiliation from Mudville to High Desert. The Brewers already have too many Casey's on their roster the way it is.

This year's Milwaukee Brewers team swings so much lumber that they should adopt Babe the Blue Ox as their mascot. The Brewers as a team have struck out 848 times. They are well on the way to shatter the all time record for team strikeouts. The next closest team to the Brewers in terms of strikeouts is San Diego. They have struck out 805 times this year. They are also on pace to break the record as well, but they will never hold that record. By the time they break it, the Brewers will have a firm grip on history.

Who are the main culprits? We can start with Jeromy Burnitz. He has struck out 95 times in 93 games. He is on pace to strike out 154 times this year. 154 strikeouts in a season is pretty offensive, but not if you consider Jose Hernandez, who has struck out 111 times in 95 games. That total equates to an 180 strikeout clip. He isn't even the worst on the team, though. That honor goes to Richie Sexson. He has fanned 118 times in 96 games. If the season were to play out with him on the same pace, he will have K'ed 191 times, and will have broken another record. He will have become the all time strikeout king. Bobby Bonds set the current mark of 189 whiffs with the San Francisco Giants in the 1970 season.

What is so wrong with striking out so often? After all, the all time strikeout king, Reggie Jackson, is in the hall of Fame. The big difference is that Reggie never played for a TEAM who whiffed at such an alarming rate. One or two free swingers will not sink the ship. The problem with the Brewers is that everyone wants a piece of the action. It seems as though the players want to leave a legacy. They want to be able to tell their grandchildren that, "I played a major role in our team breaking that record." Every so often you will hear a narrow minded announcer utter the phrase, "Strikeouts aren't that bad, that way you don't hit into as many double plays." True, but you don't advance many runners from second to third, either. You often hear of pitchers handing out an intentional walk to set up a double play, but you never hear of a batter taking an intentional strikeout to avoid a double play. There is a reason why pitching prospects are rated more on their walk/strikeout ratio than on their earned run average. If you are striking people out, there is less of a chance for errors and everyone stays put. Also, putting the ball into play gives the runner a chance to break up the double play, or the batter to beat out the throw. Plus, there is always the off chance that the ball will fall in for a hit. In almost any case, a weak grounder to the shortstop is more beneficial to the team than a strikeout.

What do the Brewers do to fix this mess? The answer lies in the other half of the pitcher's walk/strikeout ratio; the base on balls. Ironically, the best way not to strike out is to take pitches. The immortal Ted Williams frequently said that under no circumstances should a batter swing at the first pitch. The idea is twofold, to see what the pitcher is throwing, and to make him throw strikes. After the first pitch, you are looking for a good pitch to hit. There are two kinds of strikes. There are pitchers pitches, and there are mistakes. Pitcher's pitches are the off-speed pitch low and away, the fastball low and in. In other words, pitches that don't get hit hard very often. Mistakes are the hanging curves, the off -speed pitch upstairs, and the pitches that, 'get too much of the plate.' Ted William's philosophy was simple. Take the first pitch, look for a mistake, don't swing at pitches outside the strike zone, and become defensive when he had two strikes on him. What that means is that if you don't have two strikes, you don't have to swing just because a pitch is a strike. You can wait for a better one. Also, when you have two strikes, you can not longer guess on which pitch the pitcher will throw. It seems simple, but ask hitting coach Rod Carew if any of the Brewers understand it.

What the Brewers are doing instead is they almost always swing at the first pitch, and when they get two strikes, they swing at everything. During the recently completed eleven game loosing streak, the Brewers had a stretch of eight games where they walked only four times. That means that either the pitchers have impeccable control, or the Brewers are swinging at everything. The opinion of Rod Carew is that his guys are swinging at everything, and trying for home runs with every swing.

If the Brewers were to follow Ted William's advice, walks should follow. The more a team walks, to more runners they have on base. The more that putting the ball into play becomes important. It is important for the Brewers to remember that even in the year that he struck out 189 times, Bobby Bonds had a .375 on base percentage. The leader for the brewers is Jeromy Burnitz with a .355 obp. The team has only a .316 obp. That means that there hasn't been many people on base to worry about double plays, or runs for that matter. Maybe it is time for the Brewers to read the poem, "Casey At The Bat," again. This time, have them pay attention to the results. Yes Casey is mighty, yes, he is feared, and yes, he took a mighty hack. In the end, though, Mighty Casey had struck out.

 




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No Joy in Mudville
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