How Much Shuffling Is Too Much Shuffling?

The Mariners’ offense is pretty inept.  STOP THE PRESSES, I get it.  But they appear to be more inept than normal lately, because the pitching in the month of June – for the most part – has been rock solid.  Kicking away those games in Washington, losing again last night, falling below .500, and getting passed by the Angels in the standings have put a huge damper on what’s been an otherwise delightful season, given our expectations.

People say that baseball is mostly a mental game (they try to quantify that with some kind of percentage, but I just don’t see the point).  I’ve never really understood this, but maybe that’s because I was never much of a baseball player.  It would seem to me, regardless of where you are in the lineup, your job is to get hits and push runners home.  Your placement in the batting order isn’t necessarily a reflection of what’s expected of you so much as an assessment of what you’ve accomplished up to this point in your career.  Ichiro bats first because, thus far in his tenure in the Major Leagues, he’s been good at getting on base.  Jack Wilson bats towards the bottom because he’s not quite so good.  But, that doesn’t mean his job is any different than Ichiro’s; he’s still expected to get on base and help the team score.

Therefore, the “pressure” a player may feel by batting in the top four or five spots is based on nothing more than what others in the game of baseball have traditionally done in those spots.  Yes, there’s more expected of you if you’re batting cleanup, but that’s only because you’ve shown in the past that you’ve been able to do what it takes to get the job done.

So, my question is:  why does someone who was once an awesome hitter toward the bottom of the order start to struggle now that he’s been placed higher in that same lineup?  I mean, after all, other teams have seen what you did before; they know what you’re capable of.  If you were still down there, being awesome, they’d pitch to you the same way they are now.

It goes back to that mental thing.  Players rarely, if ever, admit that the pressure starts to get to them, but how else do you explain it?

Perhaps “pressure” isn’t the right word.  Perhaps it has more to do with a comfort level.  “Knowing your role” as they like to say.  We talk about it all the time when it comes to bullpens, but that makes sense because they don’t play every day.  Different guys are used in different situations; and yeah, you have to be ready at a moment’s notice no matter what, but it’s got to be nice to know that if your team has a lead, there’s a set order of guys used.  You can better prepare yourself mentally for your job as the later innings approach.

I would think, to a degree, the same would apply to position players.  Everyday players know that they’re going to play most every day.  Platoon guys can look ahead to who’s the starting pitcher for the other team and know they’ll most likely be in there on those days.  In that sense, I would say Eric Wedge has done a very good job.  His communication skills have been lauded far and wide this season, and his consistency with his convictions has been top notch.

Except, of course, when it comes to writing out the lineups.  Aside from Ichiro, spots 2 through 9 have been shuffled on a near-constant basis.  The other day was notable for the beat writers because it was the first time (all year?) in at least a very long time that Wedge has used the same lineup two days in a row.  If you buy all this mental mumbo jumbo, then you’d have to conclude that this practice can be quite damaging to a player.  Again, I don’t get it; my thought on the matter boils down to:  Just Hit The Ball, Stupid.  But, I’m not a baseball player, so what do I know?

What I WILL argue, however, is:  What’s the point of all this shuffling anyway?  If it means so much to the players (who, again, will never admit it), then why don’t you just leave the lineup alone for a while?  Is it REALLY going to “jumpstart” someone like Peguero or Halman by moving them all around in the lineup?  Unlikely!  So, just pick a spot and put them there.  Feel free to adjust your lineup depending on whether or not a righty or a lefty is starting, but after that STOP MOVING PEOPLE AROUND.

This is your offense, Eric Wedge.  For better or for worse.  Until we’re able to infuse it with fresh talent, these guys are who you’ve got.  So quit jerking everyone around and settle on a starting nine already!  Shuffling them all up and down the lineup isn’t going to make them better hitters.  It’s just going to give them complexes.  I’d rather have the players comfortable, so some of this mental torment can be lifted and we can see what they can really do.

Here’s a hint:  not much.

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