The only thing Mariners manager Eric Wedge hates more than the offense sleeping through Felix Day is when his batters walk. He would rather see a hardly-hit out than a base on balls.
You’ll best find Wedge’s feelings on the matter here. The argument being: extra-base hits are more important and beneficial than walks. It’s why Ryan Langerhans was sent down even though his on-base percentage was very VERY good (with respect to his batting average, which was very VERY bad). On the one hand, I guess I can understand that. On the other hand: I’d rather have the guy on base instead of out.
Let’s face it, all Major League batters are going to make significantly more outs than they are able to get on base. That’s just the nature of the beast. A good baseball player still makes an out 60% of the time. An average baseball player will make an out around 65% of the time. Strung out over 500 or so plate appearances, those outs really add up. Why WOULDN’T you want to trade some of those outs for walks?
My guess is: there’s a risk/reward thing at play. For a guy like Jack Cust, one would expect him to hit a good chunk of home runs and doubles (since’s he’s a big, fat Designated Hitter who was brought here for
one reason two reasons: home runs & doubles). If he’s, instead, walking too much, that is taking chances away that might otherwise have been attributed to improving his slugging percentage. You’d rather have him take the RISK of swinging away in order to recoup the REWARD of awesomeness.
The obvious problem with that is, essentially, you’re asking your batter to hack away at pitches that might not be ideal for said awesomeness. After all, Jack Cust can’t FORCE the pitcher to pitch inside the strike zone. Touché. Nevertheless, I find it hard to believe there aren’t a few more hittable pitches mixed in that he’s just taking for strikes because he’s ahead in the count and expecting the walk.
So, in the case of Cust, I can see the argument a little bit. By walking more, he’s improving his on-base percentage; but he’s also hurting his slugging percentage. And, since Cust was brought here with the intentions of slugging the ball, this is not good.
Where the argument falls flat with me is in the case of Chone Figgins.
A Cust walk is not the same as a Figgins walk. The two are completely different players; Figgins was brought in to get on base, steal bases, score, and generally make life miserable for opposing pitchers with his antics on the base paths. Figgins, as you’re all probably well aware, can hardly hit the ball out of the infield as it is. For Figgins, a walk is the exact same thing as a hit, because he’s never going to give you much more than a single anyway!
We just need Figgins on base; we don’t care how he does it! We don’t care if he’s batting .120, as long as his on-base percentage is .320!
And yet, this philosophy Wedge has installed – where hitters are encouraged to be as aggressive as possible – is counter-productive to what Figgins can ultimately bring to the table.
We don’t WANT Figgins to be aggressive! We want him taking pitches, fouling off pitches, getting deep into counts, and ultimately hearing the umpire call out, “Ball Four!”
The more Figgins is aggressive, the more he grounds out right to an infielder (or the more he pops up to an infielder, or the more he strikes out swinging). He’s not going to hit the ball hard, so he’s less likely to find holes; and he’s not going to hit it too soft, because everyone plays him close because they know he can’t hit the ball hard. Furthermore, the outfielders are right on top of the infield because – HEY, broken record, we get it!
While I commend Wedge on all of the seeming good he’s done for this ballclub – this ballclub that’s not very different from 2010’s 101-loss squad – I don’t agree with his blanket Aggressiveness campaign for all the players. Some, like Figgins, are better served being who they are: a walking machine. The walks will turn into him getting better pitches, which will hopefully turn into hits; but that’s not necessarily important. Just as long as he gets on base.