Don’t the Coaches Notice These Things?
September 10, 2005–It’s a lament uttered by every fan. Tonight, it was my turn. Orioles vs. Mariners, top of the 9th, two out, runner on second, Eric Byrnes at the plate. Sound familiar? It’s a reprise of last night, but for two notable exceptions: It was the first trip to the plate for Byrnes, who was a late-inning defensive replacement. And the Orioles were up 5-3, instead of down 3-2. But the result was essentially the same as the night before: Byrnes made the Orioles’ last out of the game. Only tonight, it was a K instead of a 4-3.
Oh, the wonders of the behind-the-pitcher camera angle full-screen on my computer, even if it is a little pixelated! As soon as Byrnes stepped into the box, I said, "Byrnesie, you’re too far away from the plate." I’ve said this before, but tonight it seemed even more obvious. So the Mariners exploited it, like everybody does. They threw Byrnesie pitches away. He’s learned to lay off the low and away junk headed out toward the on deck circle that was the bane of his existence before the All Star break. But pitchers can still throw Byrnes a strike that’s away, or a borderline pitch that the ump might call a strike. He’ll swing, but he’s too far away to hit it well. The misses, fouls and weak outs make him more anxious to get a hit. When Byrnes is anxious, he makes the big mistake of enlarging the strike zone. Tonight’s swinging strike three was a shoulder-high fast BALL.
Byrnes needs to move in two inches. (Tonight, he could have moved in three inches). Then the outside strikes would be within his reach. I’ve noticed he’s got a good eye for inside balls and doesn’t swing at them. If he were to stand closer to the plate and pitchers then tried to jam him with a strike inside, he could pull his hands in and muscle the ball out. I’ve seen him do it. But he doesn’t do it very often because pitchers know they can get him out by throwing the away stuff. If he were to move in and tag those outside pitches instead of lunging for them and missing or hitting weakly, pitchers would have to start coming inside more. If the inside pitch misses over the plate, Byrnesie has something he can knock into the next county. There’s the difference between being a struggling hitter and being the feared power hitter the Orioles need and we Byrnes fans know he can be. They say that baseball is a game of inches. Right now, Eric Byrnes is standing two to three inches too far away from the plate.
Don’t the coaches notice these things? Maybe sometimes they don’t. There are only a few coaches handling a lot of players. At this time of the year, when the rosters are expanded, coaches are looking at, and thinking about, more variables and more people, especially if the team is out of playoff contention, as the Orioles are. Or maybe a coach doesn’t notice one thing about a player because he’s focused on another. If hitting instructor Terry Crowley is concentrating on teaching Byrnes how to bunt or how to hit to the opposite field, worthy pursuits indeed, he might be missing the distance issue. This is no criticism of Crowley. There’s only so much one person can see at a time.
There are personal chefs, personal shoppers and personal trainers. Perhaps baseball teams need personal scouts: people responsible for watching only one player’s performance and reporting what is happening, good and bad, to the appropriate coach. I will happily serve in that capacity for Eric Byrnes. Note to Terry Crowley: Please look at Byrnes’ feet. He’s standing too far away from the plate.
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