GREAT NEWS ITEM: Eric Byrnes has signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks!!!!
"Eric brings a lot of energy to the field and the clubhouse every day and I know our fans are going to enjoy the enthusiasm with which he plays the game," said senior vice president and general manager Josh Byrnes. "With the additions of Byrnes, [Orlando] Hudson and [Johnny] Estrada, we feel that we have strengthened ourselves in the middle of the field."
I am at least twice as ecstatic—how do you really measure these things?– as I was devastated when the O’s non-tendered him. This signing is special because Eric had choices; an earlier MLB.com article quoted his agent, Michael Sasson, as saying that Byrnes had gotten at least 5 offers. Before that was published, I had heard privately from another fan that a lot of teams were interested. Eric was able to choose the situation he thought was best for him. Choices and chances: they are the things we need to make a success of this life.
Another thing we sometimes need are folks to express confidence in us when it looks like the chips are down. Byrnesie got those expressions of confidence in the form of the multiple offers. The D’Backs, who tried to get him after 2004, maintained their interest despite abysmal, aberrant 2005. Thank you, Arizona!!!
I would love to get into this wonderful news more, but today is not the day because of work obligations. (Yeah, even at night!) I’ll just say for the moment that 2006 is now looking up BIG TIME, Peak Oil, nuclear weapons, and possble flooding in the North Bay–it’s been raining cats, dogs, and fish in the S.F. Bay Area lately–notwithstanding.
More about the great news of the Byrnes signing later!!!
Kéllia “wearing purple and teal today” Ramares
"Turning 50 gives me more yesterdays than tomorrows." – Pres. Bill Clinton
I used to say that you know you’re getting old when the sons of guys you used to root for as a kid are now in the majors. But, after reading the MLB.com column about those in the baseball family who passed on in 2005, I really started feeling old. I saw some of those guys play, umpire, manage, or announce; I know I even had some of their baseball cards. (Yeah, I was one of those girls who had baseball cards).
Among the familiar names on the list:
Elrod Hendricks, 64 – I saw him up close in August ’05 when the Orioles came to the Coliseum to play the A’s. He looked solid and fit, with a ram-rod-straight bearing.
Vic Power, 71 – I honestly don’t remember seeing him play. But I remember having his baseball card.
Bill King, 78 – This famous Bay Area announcer died of a pulmonary embolism after hip replacement surgery. So his passing was a shock. One is not supposed to die from hip replacement. His colleagues in the A’s broadcast booth had been looking forward to his resuming work in the 2006 season.
Pat Kelly, 61 – Outfielder with 5 different teams.
Donn Clendenon, 70 – A pain in the derriere to my beloved Mets when he was a Pirate, he later helped the Mets win their first World Championship in ’69.
Gene Mauch, 79 – One of the managerial fixtures of my youth.
**** Dietz, 63 – A catcher. He played some for the Giants, so his death got a big write up in the S.F. Chronicle.
Earl Wilson, 70 – The No. 3 starter for the World Champion ’68 Detroit Tigers. (I was rooting for them, even when they were down 1-3 to Bob Gibson’s St. Louis Cardinals).
**** Radatz, 67 – Had a fine, if short (7 years) career as a relief pitcher.
Nick Colosi (no age given) – Well-known umpire. (When you know the umpires’ names does that mean they have been too controversial, or you are too much of a baseball geek?)
Nelson Briles, 61 – Although he also pitched for the Cardinals and the Rangers, I remember "Nellie" as another pain in the derriere to the Mets when he pitched for the Pirates.
Don Blasingame, 73 – A National League second baseman I vaguely remember as a Mets’ opponent.
May they all find their Field of Dreams on the other side.
Kéllia Ramares, 50
(Listen to KPFA.org or, in Northern and Central California, 94.1 FM on Friday, Dec. 30th at 6:30 pm Pacfic Tme for a special program by Kéllia Ramares on nuclear weapons).
[In light of MLBlogs.com highlighting this space for its holiday posts, and in light of my realization that of all the articles I have written about Eric Byrnes, there are three that matter most: "Some Answers for Eric," "Eric Byrnes - Making Sense of 2005," and "More Answers for Eric," I am doing some reorganization of this blog to put these articles closer to the top for easier reading. Then I am going back to editing my nuclear weapons radio program. Yeah, peace on earth and all that good stuff!]
A Happy Winter Solstice to my Pagan cohorts at mlblogs.com and to those who see the lengthening of the days as meaning spring training cannot be far behind.
I am one of the KPFA News Department utility players who helps keep the place running this time of year. So you likely won’t be hearing much from me from now until just after New Year. My neighborhood has also been suffering blackouts; I was writing to Red Sox Chick about Johnny Damon last night when it happened again and my comment went poof. So over the next few weeks, I’ll write my baseball stuff offline and put it all up after the New Year. Perhaps the electrical problems will be fixed by then. (‘Til Peak Oil grabs us all by the throat, that is!)
Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year and indeed that is the way it will feel today for me. I awoke to the news I had been dreading for days; that Eric Byrnes was non-tendered by the Orioles.
Intellectually, I am not surprised. If you look at the way things have been going this offseason, you know that all teams are jettisoning players who struggled. And 2005 was Byrnes’ abysmal, aberrant year.
But emotionally, I’m devastated. I am finding it hard to type and hard to breathe. I am only grateful to have first gotten the news from Daryl of Daryl’s Place. This Orioles season ticket holder has provided me the photos with which I have illustrated my articles on answers for Byrnes’ hitting woes.
And while I am here, thanks again to Red Sox Chick for her photos of Byrnesie, one of which I used in my To Eric Byrnes article. Hers are in the field rather than at the plate, which is why I haven’t used a lot of them. But they are great, too.
Anyway, I digress.
I think the worst of it for me was that Daryl said Eric was the only one of the Orioles last group of arbitration-eligible players who was non-tendered. They even signed the weak-hitting David Newhan to a one year deal on the 19th, in lieu of arbitration. Newhan fell from an even loftier 2004 batting average (.311 to Byrnes’ .283) to an even more dismal low (.202 to Byrnes’ .226). (Well, I guess some guys who struggle do get contracts). The Orioles gave up on Eric, and rather quickly; he joined them on July 30th; I think they wrote him off in early September.
Mind you, I don’t begrudge Newhan his contract. He was a reliable glove and I certainly commiserated with the struggle he had last year. But in light of signing Newhan, I can’t see why they non-tendered Byrnesie, who had better numbers. Newhan and Byrnes should have either been both signed or both let go. But the Orioles gave Newhan a one-year deal and have signed Jeff Conine; manager Sam Perlozzo says he will play some first base, DH and left field. (It looks like Javy Lopez is history, doesn’t it?)
Somebody, please take Eric Byrnes! You won’t regret it. The hitting issues are fixable! Surely I cannot be the only one to see that!
Byrnesie, don’t give up! I know that, publicly, you will be stoic. You will acknowledge the reality of the bad year and talk about how baseball is a business. But it’s got to hurt, deeply. Still, don’t give up. That would be the easy thing to do now because you have other choices. You are articulate. You could walk away from this and land a job in radio or TV tomorrow. You probably have money to spare and could disappear for a year doing whatever you please. But I am begging you not to do that. Bounce back, even if it means a trip back to the minors, or a year in another country. Bounce back, not just for fans like me, but for yourself most of all. You love to play baseball. You are in great shape and you still have years left. Don’t let it end this way.
I know that earlier this offseason, you were expecting to be tendered. It has to be a shock to be the only one of the remaining group not to be. Another move must feel like the last thing you need. But as David Ortiz and others know, sometimes these things work out well for the player. May it be that way for you. It may be only fortune cookie wisdom, but what I once saw on a fortune cookie rings true: The greatest pleasure is in doing something others say you cannot do. Show those who have given up on you what a mistake they’ve made!
I feel short of breath; I’m fighting back tears and my hands are trembling. This is indeed the longest night of the year. The way I feel right now, we might as well have another blackout in the Adams Point neighborhood of Oakland today. It’s been raining for days and it’s very cloudy now. How appropriate, given how I feel at the moment. But as we Pagans know, Winter Solstice means the light is coming back.
I still believe in Eric Byrnes.
This is the fourth part of a long article, segmented for online reading convenience, on Eric Byrnes’ batting difficulties, and the mental aspect of solving these problems. This one and the 5th part are the heart of what I was trying to say when I first wrote the article, so I have moved them to the top of the blog. What I say here about Byrnes would also work for other players and can be translated into other walks of life. So please read on:
Some Answers for Eric — The Mental Game
All physical activity begins on a mental level. Therefore, Byrnes should first examine his mental approach to batting.
What does Byrnes think about when he’s at the plate? Any thoughts like, "I hope I get a hit," or "I’ve gotta get a hit" are a waste of mental energy. At the plate, there need be only mindfulness of any instructions the third base coach is relaying, the hitting situation and what kind of stuff the pitcher has that day. It is critical to be in the moment, not trying to prove anything to anyone, not even to oneself.
Johnny Damon made a good point in 2004. One has to be an "idiot" out there, not over-thinking, but rather letting the brain make the necessary split-second calculations and letting the body execute the brain’s decision, trusting the years of physical training and game-playing experience that have honed the skills to the major-league level. Byrnes does this routinely in the field, whether it’s an ordinary catch or one of those spectacular dives into the gap. The same process has to be applied to hitting.
But away from the game itself, there should be time to think and to ask questions: What are the root causes of the inconsistency? Do they stem from personality traits or physical execution, or both? What can be done to achieve more consistent high performance?
During the last series at 2005 at Fenway between Baltimore and Boston, Jerry "Remdawg" Remy, announcer for the Red Sox, came up with a stat that showed Byrnes had THE LOWEST batting average in the American League for away games. (And then Byrnes struck out). The thought of Eric Byrnes being the league’s worst at anything he does in baseball is simply mind-boggling to me. Byrnes needs to ask himself: Why was away so different from home? While he’s at it, he should ask himself: Why is there a significant disparity between batting averages against right-handed pitchers and left-handed pitchers? The disparities are especially frustrating when, as we can see from stats in the next paragraph, he can hit righties for power.
Sometimes, the way stats are interpreted is more important than the stats themselves. Byrnes needs to ignore the propaganda about what he cannot do.
How many times have we heard that Byrnes cannot hit right-handed pitchers? He can, and he does. But the way his stats are interpreted, and the repetition and publicity given to that interpretation, give a false impression that can ruin Byrnes’ approach to hitting, if he has internalized this propaganda even unconsciously. Here’s an example from the 2004 edition of his MLB web page:
[H]is career high batting average was aided by a .344 (54 for 157) mark against left handed pitching, the third best mark against southpaws in the American League… hit seven of his 20 home runs against left handed pitching and 16 of his 38 career home runs have come against southpaws…
Do the math. If seven of his 20 home runs in 2004 came against southpaws, then Byrnes hit 13 homers off righties. If 16 of his (‘til that point) 38 career homers came against southpaws, then Byrnes hit 22 homers off righties. While it’s true that he hits left-handers significantly better for average than he hits right-handers, part of that goes with the percentages; Byrnes is a right-handed hitter. But even in abysmal, aberrant 2005, when he hit .189 in his 15 games with the Rockies, 8 of the 10 hits he got during that time were off right-handers!
This is what I mean by saying he’s got the tools. Ninety-nine and 44/100s percent of the guys reading this could not do what Byrnes has already done. But when someone keeps hearing "You can’t," some rather negative tendencies develop: subtle changes in mental approach or mechanics that validate the negative judgment, or over-effort to prove the negative judgment wrong that backfires. Byrnes can hit right-handed pitchers. He has hit right-handed pitchers. He just hasn’t done it with the consistency he, his organization, and his fans would like to see. So he needs to focus on achieving consistency in doing what he can and has already done! Which means, first of all, remembering that he has already done it.
Byrnes needs to learn that relaxing does not mean he’s giving less than his all.
Byrnes always give 100% and we all know that. But with that being the case, more effort does not solve his difficulties because it is impossible to give more than 100%. When Byrnes tries to amp up his effort even more, he runs into the law of diminishing returns. His frustration level increases, which leads to bad decisions, such as enlarging the strike zone to swing at balls. (More on that in the "More Answers for Eric" article).
I was watching a game in which one of the Orioles announcers said Byrnes looked like he was trying to squeeze sawdust out of the bat handle. Not good. The announcers also talked about him being wound up real tight. Not good. Byrnes needs to relax more at the plate; he needs to discern what his 100% effort is and not seek to go beyond that. If his 100% effort is not yielding positive results, the answer is a different approach, not an attempt to redouble his effort at what is not working.
Byrnes needs to learn the limits of effort as a practice tool.
"I’m working, that’s the only thing I really can do at this point. Obviously it hasn’t been the type of year I expected to have. To this point it’s been pretty much a disappointment. At the same time it’s not from lack of effort or lack of working because I come out here to prepare myself every day." –Eric Byrnes
As I watched Byrnesie slog through 2005, I kept seeing the same stance, which meant the same approach to hitting. We all know the saying "If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. " But if you try, try again, and you still don’t succeed, you need a different approach. Time and effort are not enough. Pitchers have found his weaknesses and have learned to exploit them. He has to adjust to that, not just try harder at the same ol’ thing that is no longer working well. Or to put in the way an opera workshop director I studied with 10 years ago put it, "Practice does not make perfect; practice makes permanent."
Eric, don’t let your wonderful work ethic end up grooving your weaknesses. Use practice as an opportunity to experiment. There is a line between "If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!" and "If you keep doing the same thing but expect a different result, you’re insane." Byrnesie, I know you are not insane.
Byrnes should develop an identity as a certain type of hitter.
I have seen Byrnes bat all over the lineup except 3rd. That has to create confusion as to hitting approach and what to practice, especially for a guy like Byrnes who can and has done everything from bunt for a single to hit home runs. Knowing that he belongs in a particular hole in the lineup will help because each hole has a certain archetype that creates a focus for practice.
Having a hitting identity does not throw the idea of situational hitting out the window. Certain situations require adjustments, e.g., say it’s the 9th inning, and the team is down by 2 runs. The guy leading off the 9th is the powerful clean-up batter who is one of the top homer hitters in the league. But in that situation, a solo shot won’t help. Slugger would do better for his team in that situation to get on base as the archetypal lead-off hitter is expected to do.
But even though adjustments have to be made during some situations, there are certain archetypes attached to each lineup hole. I think Lee Mazilli had the right instincts about Byrnes being a 2 hitter. His speed confers the makings of a great 2 hitter, who can play hit and run, leg out infield hits and steal bases. He also has some power, which comes in handy if the guys in the bottom third of the order start a rally. It’s a matter now of becoming a high average hitter, like 2’s should be. Again the issue is consistency. Being sure of who he is as a hitter will help direct his practice.
Byrnes needs to develop and maintain certainty.
This is the hardest thing for a hitter to do because the very best of them fail over 60% of the time. The 2005 season has recently ended. The last time a batter finished a season above .400 was in 1941, when Ted Williams hit .406. Baseball is full of .500 pitchers and .500 ball clubs; they are the definition of mediocrity. Baseball has never had someone hit .500 for a season. The utterly worst won-loss record in the majors in 2005, the Royals’ .346, is a splendid average for a hitter. Yet the best hitters have to go to the plate each time with the certainty that they can and will hit safely, that they know what to do to hit safely, even if they were out the last time, the last three times, or the last 30 times. It’s part of how hitters break slumps. It’s part of how they come through in the clutch, like St. Louis’ Albert Pujols did in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS.
The key to certainty is to have the mentality of Pujols’ great opponent in that moment, the fearsome Astros closer Brad Lidge. When a great closer blows a save, he puts it behind him; tomorrow is another day. The Dodgers’ Eric Gagne saved 84 straight. Blowing No. 85 didn’t send him into a tailspin. The Yankees’ Mariano Rivera blew the save in the clinching game of the 2001 World Series. The Diamondbacks won the game and the championship. But we still know Rivera’s a great closer, one of the best there ever was; he’s put that defeat behind him and saved many other games since then.
A great hitter needs that great closer’s mental toughness. Yet a hitter has a more difficult job maintaining certainty because being out over 60% of the time is the norm for the best of them and each failure can chip away at certainty. And rather than one failure a day, e.g. a blown save, there is a failure per unsuccessful plate appearance in a game.
But sometimes the certainty is there, even in the midst of struggle. Certainty is part of what is called "peak performance" or "being in The Zone." And Byrnes has been there. He should look at film of himself on Aug. 31, 2005, when he went 2-4 with 2 RBI, 2 R including a homer off a curve ball thrown by a right-handed pitcher in an away game. The stats say that breaking stuff, right-handers and away games are all trouble spots for Byrnes But not that AB. He had had good days at the plate before. In fact, he went 3-5 with a homer on July 31st. But I saw something special on August 31st. I knew every time Byrnes was going to swing. His eyes just lit up. The outs were well hit. That day I saw the certainty of Eric Byrnes, major league hitter. And I left for work after that game in a great mood, sure that his slump was over. But he got a single the next day and then it was downhill again. There were times in September when I felt as if he would not get a hit for the rest of the season, and as I looked at his face, I wondered if he felt that way, too. The certainty was gone. Where did it go? What does he have to do to get it back to stay?
This is the last part of a long article, segmented for online reading convenience, on Eric Byrnes’ batting difficulties, and the mental aspect of solving these problems. This is one of the two most important ones in this series, so I am moving it up front. The others are "Getting Eric Byrnes Back on Track" "Stats: The Ups and Downs of Eric Byrnes" and "Why Does Eric Byrnes Matter?" (And I should have clarified earlier that this last one is NOT an article about why Eric Byrnes matters to me, though there are probably a few elements in there that would fit such an article. I occasionally get a "Why Eric Byrnes?" question from someone. My favorite response is "Why NOT Eric Byrnes?" But maybe I’ll elaborate in a "Why Eric Byrnes matters to me" type article later, if there is nothing better to do. And I’m in trouble if there is nothing better to do.
Making Sense of 2005
With the "abysmal, aberrant year" in the past, one can look at it as a history lesson. We all know that philosopher George Santayana said something about those who could not remember the past being condemned to repeat it. (Though if you Google his name you’ll get all sorts of variations on the quote). Byrnes has to learn from 2005 to avoid repeating it.
The trick here is for him to learn from the past while simultaneously letting go of the pain it caused. I trust Byrnes to be able to do this because he has a basically optimistic personality.
"…Three teams and four managers when I’ve played with the same team my whole career. The thing is, though, is I will never use that as an excuse. If anything, the most difficult time for me to play probably should have been Oakland because I expected to be an everyday guy, and then right off the bat I was platooning." -–Eric Byrnes
Byrnes needs to understand the difference between an explanation and an excuse.
An explanation is a description of a reality one must confront. An excuse is an attempt to escape confronting the reality. Byrnes’ comment suggests he seems to be afraid of looking at all that happened to him this year because he do not want to appear to be seeking excuses for his uncharacteristically dismal performance. Is fear of being seen as an excuse-maker preventing him from learning how to better handle the difficulties he faced in 2005?
Byrnes should recognize that so much happened to him and around him in 2005 that it HAD to affect his performance.
We all like to assume that professionals of any sort will not let negative circumstances affect their performance. We certainly would not want to have a surgeon distracted by family problems to operate on us, or a lawyer consumed by law firm politics to represent us in a trial. But the truth of the matter is that we are all human, and that means that our performance is at times affected by our circumstances.
Consider a well-known example in golf for a moment. Many people could not understand Phil Mickelson’s rough 2003. Then we heard that his wife, Amy, had had a very difficult childbirth and that she and the baby had been in trouble for months afterward. When Amy and the baby got well, Lefty’s golf improved and he became the 2004 Master’s Champion.
Eric Byrnes would not be making excuses to acknowledge that negative things happened to him and around him to a degree unlike any other time in his professional career if he also observes what effects these negative things had on his play, and looks for ways to mitigate the effects of negative circumstances on his ability to accomplish his goals. He doesn’t even have to say anything to anyone as he goes about this. He can just do this for himself. Silence will avoid accusations of excuse-making.
Byrnes needs to be honest with himself about his feelings concerning each of the many events, whether they were matters that concerned him directly, or they were problems teammates were having. He should ask himself how each event, or combination of events, affected his performance. From there he should be able to work out ways to deal with those issues should they arise again. Indeed, problems such as trade talk, fired managers, and troubled teammates are all conditions that are common to the game so he might see them again. (Though I hope not all in one season, as he saw them in 2005). He will be better able to handle them next time if he looks squarely at what happened in 2005 without fear of being accused of making excuses. One cannot solve a problem before acknowledging it exists.
Being able to not let negative circumstances affect performance is like consistency. Some people seem to come by the trait naturally, but it is also a honed skill. To again draw on a golf example, Tiger Woods learned mental toughness from his parents.
Above all, Eric Byrnes must never feel ashamed of having been affected by so much negativity. It just shows he’s human. Now he needs to learn how to not let such matters affect him so much.
OK, That’s all I have to say on the mental game. Gee, I like to "go long" so much, you would think that I should be a bigger football fan than baseball fan!
If all goes to schedule, my thoughts on the physical aspects of Eric Byrnes’ quest to become the reliable hitter and, therefore, the everyday player he wants to be, should be along in about a week.
This is the article on Eric Byrnes’ batting stance that I have been promising/threatening for some time now. It isn’t anywhere near as long as the first article on the mental aspects of solving the batting problems he experienced in the 2005 season, so I am leaving it as one post. The illustrative photos were taken at Camden Yards by Daryl of Daryl’s Place.
As I said in the other articles: If you don’t like Eric Byrnes, now is definitely the time to leave. In fact, if you don’t like Eric Byrnes, you’ve wandered into the wrong blog.
If you know Eric Byrnes, please tell him this is here. And if you ARE Eric Byrnes, hello, thanks for stopping by, please read this, keep an open mind, and give the suggestions a try. Something(s) might work. You don’t come across as the type of person who would sit in front of a computer or anything else for long, so read it in bits and come back a bunch of times. Peace on earth might be a pipe dream, but your batting .300 is not.
Time for a Change
As I chose photos for this article, I had a golf show on in the background. They were talking about how Tiger Woods, the best golfer in the world, got a new instructor and changed his swing to make it more reliable. It took about a year and a half for the new swing to really take hold, but it really started showing results for him in 2005.
Think about that. Tiger Woods is the best golfer in the world. If he retired now, he would have one of the best careers that sport has ever seen. Yet he is still making changes to improve! And he finds the prospect of improving exciting.
Eric Byrnes will never go down in baseball history as one of the best to ever play the game, the way Tiger Woods will go down in golf history. But Eric has that same heart to improve. That’s part of what makes him an exciting and endearing baseball player, especially in this era of what "My Friend, The Yankees Fan" calls "overpaid pu$$ies."
Tiger Woods, and other golfers, have an advantage over Eric Byrnes, and other baseball players, in making changes to improve. Though golfers have certain qualifications they must meet to make their respective tours, as players of an individual sport, they can work on skill improvement without worrying that a team will bench or discard them while they are working on the changes because they no longer fit into a GM or team owner’s business plan.
The person who commented on my article, "Eric Byrnes – Making Sense of 2005", said, "I hate to see the game give up on him before he has the chance to show that he can make the adjustments needed to continue playing sucessfully for many more years to come. " I, too, can only hope that Byrnesie gets the time he needs to make the changes that can bring him the results I know he is capable of producing: 200 hits, of which at least 30 are homers, 50 are doubles and 10 are triples; 35+ stolen bases, 100+ runs scored, 90+ RBI, and 2 BBs for every K, over at least 150 games as a reliable, even feared, No. 2 hitter.
About that pitch low and away…
Most of the pitches thrown to Byrnes are low and away. (Pitchers who get that outside strike up a bit to Byrnes—say upper thigh to just above the belt—often find that they need a new baseball). Away to a right-handed hitter is the natural direction for a right-handed pitcher’s delivery, so it’s relatively easy for them to do this. Righties are the vast majority of pitchers, as they are the vast majority of everyone else in the world. They do what comes naturally to them; Byrnes has had trouble with it. Thus has come the propaganda that he can’t hit righties. But, as I mentioned in the article “Some Answers for Eric,” his hitting 7 of 20 homers off lefties in 2004 means that he hit 13 of 20 homers off right-handed pitchers. So let’s just ditch the propaganda that he can’t hit righties. It is the location of the pitch, not the handedness of the pitcher that is the difficulty. Once he learns to handle the low and away pitch, regardless of whether a righty or the southpaw is throwing it–and left-handers can throw in that quadrant of the strike zone, too—pitchers are going to have to start varying their locations more to him. That will cause fits for pitchers not named Mariano Rivera–and maybe Rivera, too, on one of those rare days when he’s not automatic– because mistakes will be made. Pitchers who throw mistakes to Eric Byrnes will then need a new baseball.
From what I can see, Byrnes’ biggest batting problem is that he is lunging after pitches low and away. Lunging creates weak swings that either miss or don’t get the ball out of the infield. Lunging also leaves him prone to a back injury. In the photo at left, Byrneslooks like he’s lunging. What I do like about it are the bent knees and the level follow-through of the bat. But he’s splayed all over the batter’s box.
Here’s some good news: Byrnes is developing a sharper batter’s eye. In the second half of 2005, he swung less frequently at low and away balls, i.e. the worm-killers that were heading toward the on-deck circle. But some low and away pitches are strikes, or close enough to the plate that the umpire might call them strikes, and, especially with a two-strike count, Byrnes has to either protect the plate or attempt to hit safely. He can better accomplish these goals by changing his batting stance to eliminate the tendency to lunge.
Extreme Makeover — Stance Edition
"There are admirable potentialities in every human being. Believe in your strength and your youth. Learn to repeat endlessly to yourself, ‘It all depends on me.’" Andre Gide (1869 – 1951)
To hit the low and away strike well, Byrnes needs to make sure he is standing close enough to the plate to cover the outer part of the plate sufficiently. This way he’s closer to that outside strike, and thus, less likely to lunge. Moving a little closer in will change his perception of inside pitches a little bit. But Byrnes has shown a good batter’s eye for the inside ball. I trust him to not swing at very many of those.
Daryl’s photos, such as the one on the left, suggest that Byrnes is OK vis-à-vis distance from the outer part of the plate. But I have seen him a number of times on MLB.TV standing apparently too far away. This is why I wrote the article “Don’t the Coaches Notice These Things?” Why does Byrnes seem to be a little too far away from the outer part of the plate to me sometimes? Maybe it’s the camera angle. Maybe it’s an inconsistency in his stance for which he has to watch out. Baseball is a game of inches. A difference of an inch or two closer to the plate, if needed, can help eliminate the lunging and can thus make the difference between safe or out.
Byrnes needs to step into the away strike more. I think this is the most important part of his being able to hit the low and away strike. He tends to step straight out, or turned slightly to his left.
Another way of expressing this concept is to “go with the pitch.” This is especially important when swinging at that strike low and away. No need to try to pull everything. It takes a lot of extra energy to pull a pitch that’s low and away…energy better spent hitting it hard to the opposite field. There are hits to be had for Byrnes on the right side of the diamond. I have seen him hit safely to right. The question is whether this is an accident or bit of luck or whether it’s deliberate. Opposite-field hitting needs to be a deliberate part of Byrnes’ game plan. It will make him less predictable to fielders–as Wee Willie Keeler used to say, “Hit ‘em where they ain’t”—and pitchers, who, right now, figure the low and away pitch to be the easy way to get Byrnes out. (And they’re usually correct).
In order to step into a pitch the proper way, Byrnes needs to keep his back foot placed solidly on the ground, so as to give his front foot the opportunity to step in at an angle that is toward an away strike or straight ahead or slightly left to pull a strike that’s middle-in.
If the back foot commits early, i.e. before the front foot, he ends up wrong-footed and off-balance. Notice in the photo at the left how Eric’s back leg is buckled, with the back foot starting to turn over on the edge. The front foot looks more solidly planted than the back foot. Not Good. (This photo is also an example of the hips turned out slightly to the left, not a good position for pitches coming in low and away).
The Oakland announcers noticed the wrongfooting on August 15, 2005, when he first came back home to the Bay Area as a member of the Orioles. I was there, watching as well as listening, and I can tell you the announcers were right. Of course, other O’s were stuck in similar positions for a while, as Barry Zito was throwing some knee-buckling curveballs. But Byrnesie especially was looking pretty bad that night.
Closing up his stance a bit would help. The object of the game of swinging is an effective transfer of weight, and thus, energy, from back leg to front leg. By effective, I mean that the strength of the legs is transferred into the swing, giving the swing more power than it would have if it depended on just the strength of the upper body alone. The wider the stance to begin with, the harder it is to make the energy transfer, which occurs via the motion of stepping into the pitch; if you’re too wide to begin with, there isn’t much room to create the motion that accomplishes the energy transfer. Actually, you’ve seen the too-wide stance in some of the earlier photos. But so many of Daryl’s photos illustrate this too-wide stance so well that I’ve added a couple more here:
I would suggest that Byrnes start practicing with his feet no further apart than the width of his shoulders. That may not be the optimal position for him, but if it is not, he can find the optimal position from there.
Eric, do not swing out of your shoes. “Swing out of your shoes” is my description of those times when he ends up on the sides of his feet. Some folks call it “corkscrewing.”
Now that I have seen it up close in the photos, I find it downright scary. Byrnes has been very, very lucky not to twist or break an ankle the way he’s ended up on the sides of his feet. When he is swinging out of his shoes, he is trying too hard. In other words, he shouldn’t try to swing for the fence. He’s strong; if he makes solid contact, he’ll get his share of jacks, more so if he can put his whole body, especially the legs, into the swing without ending up on the sides of his feet in the process.
Speaking of home runs, Byrnes needs to stop trying to loft the ball. He is a natural line drive hitter. He needs to stay that way. There be doubles and triples in line drives up the gaps and down the lines, and more than a few of those liners can go over the fence. Line drive homers count just as much as fly ball homers do. And a line-drive single is always better than a flyout or a popup.
In the abysmal, aberrant 2005, I saw him swing under a lot of pitches and have too much uppercut in his follow-through. Yeah, he launched a few over the fence that way, but the number of fly balls over the wall wasn’t worth the trade-off in pop-ups and weak flyouts. All that twisting the back and high follow-through is more golf than baseball. Like everyone else, Byrnes will hit fly balls on occasion; the pitch has something to do with that. It’s the effort to loft the ball that is problematic. Going with the pitch AND not trying to loft it is the difference between a single to right or right center and an infield popup.
Some additional strategies:
Deliberately fouling off pitches would be helpful. I don’t know to what extent Byrnes can do that, or if he has even considered adding that skill to his toolbox. Ted Williams, who knew a thing or two about hitting, found it useful. He wanted to hit his pitch, but he knew he couldn’t stand at home plate with the bat on his shoulder just waiting for pitchers to serve it up. So he tried to foul off the strikes he did not like and tried to outwait the pitcher. Byrnes should try to do likewise.
Do not enlarge the strike zone! This is another Ted Williams skill that Byrnes and all hitters should cultivate. I notice that when Byrnes gets anxious to hit safely, he enlarges the strike zone. This means he swings (and often misses) at balls. This is especially true of high fastballs. Byrnes has learned to not swing at very many of those low and away balls that were the bane of his existence in the first half of 2005, but then pitchers started getting him out with high stuff. The way to make them throw you a pitch you can hit is to force them to throw you strikes. Real strikes.
Developing a reputation for not enlarging the strike zone is also a great way to get the umpires on your side when it comes to checked swings and taking borderline pitches. We all know how it is with umpires and borderline pitches: Umps tend to make the call in favor of the veteran over the rookie, the star over the average player, and the guy who has established more certainty over location on a given night than the guy who is just hoping for a good call.
I remember a time late last season when I saw Byrnes take Ball 4, only the ump called it Strike 3. Byrnes was stunned, as was I, and the guys in the Orioles dugout, led by Mgr. Sam Perlozzo, were righteously most displeased. It was the kind of call that I don’t think would have been made if Byrnes had developed the rep of not enlarging the strike zone.
Byrnes needs to value walking more. My Eric Byrnes Pitch Count Reports show that he doesn’t do well overall in plate appearances of 6 pitches or longer. Pitchers seem to have him where they want him when he’s got three balls, normally a hitter’s count. They can throw him something off the plate, or down the middle, but high, and he’ll go for it. He needs more patience. Sometimes I can just see how anxious he is to get a hit. If I can see it, surely the pitcher can. Yet a walk can advance a baserunner from first. It can drive in a run if the bases are loaded. (Byrnes has done that). Walking is expected of a 2 hitter and helps the OBP. And you can’t steal second until you’ve gotten to first. Not to mention that walks really mess with a pitcher’s head (and his ERA), especially when the batter who is walked is leading off an inning.
Cut the K-rations, Byrnesie! Byrnes strikes out about twice as often as he walks. And here’s what I thought was in interesting stat: In 2004, his best year in the majors to date, he had a combined total of 108 extra-base hits and walks. He had 111 Ks. In 2005, which may have been his worst year since T-ball, Byrnes had a combined total of 69 extra-base hits and walks, and 71 Ks. That’s a kind of consistency I wish he didn’t have. Avoiding the lunge, deliberately fouling off pitches, and being willing to walk more should lower the strikeout totals.
This is another updated version of an essay I first published on Online Journal on December 13, 2003 and again on this blog on August 8, 2005. Unfortunately, as I said in August, it’s still relevant.
I was very pleased to not hear God Bless America when I attended the final game of the 2003 American League Division Series in Oakland between the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland Athletics. When we got through the 7th inning stretch without the narrow religious and political slant of God Bless America, I thought, "Finally! Major League Baseball has stopped this patriotic drivel that has insinuated itself into the 7th inning stretch since 9-11." I always felt that singing God Bless America at the ballpark was a completely inappropriate way to remember the victims of 9-11. Citizens of over 30 nations died in the attacks, most of them workers and visitors at the World Trade Center. How quickly we’ve forgotten that.
I think people who believe in divinity—and I do; in fact, I’m a polytheist—should want the Divine Essence to bless all humanity.
My relief was short-lived. God Bless America turned up again later in the post season. I turned down the volume every time. When I edited this essay on August 7, 2005, I turned down the volume again. The folks at Ameriquest Stadium in Arlington, Texas have decided to "honor America and the men and women in the armed forces" by having someone sing God Bless America. The Baltimore broadcast to which I was listening picked it up.
Want to honor our men and women in the armed forces, MLB? Have MLB Productions create a glitzy PSA calling for an end to the illegal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Let’s have our troops home, reunited with their families and enjoying days at the ballpark. Offer admission discounts to members of the military. But give God Bless America its unconditional release.
America’s pastime has become an international sport. Major League Baseball has a team in Canada; there are several minor league teams there as well. MLB seasons have been opened in Japan. MLB.com follows winter ball’s Caribbean Cup. MLB is now highly touting a World Baseball Classic. (That something can be called a "classic" even before the first time it’s ever done is another issue althogether). I wonder what international players and fans really think when they hear the game interrupted for someone else’s patriotic hymn? I was born in New York City and I know what I think: "I’d rather hear a beer commercial." And I don’t even like beer!
The Chicago White Sox won the 2005 World Series. They are skippered by Ozzie Guillen, a proud Venezuelan who took the Championship Trophy to Venezuela, so that his countrymen and women could see it. The White Sox pitcher who started the clinching game of the Series was another Venezuelan, Freddie Garcia. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez congratulated Guillen on the team’s victory. But a few weeks prior to the World Series, Pat Robertson, alleged man of the cloth, was calling for Chavez’ assassination. Why should any Venezuelan in baseball, or any American, or anyone else whose morality says calling for assassinations is wrong, want to "honor America" by standing up for, removing one’s cap for, singing or even listening to this political jingoism at a ballgame? I am so glad we don’t do it in Oakland, and if I ever visit a stadium where it is done, I’ll make sure to go the bathroom during the 7th inning stretch, even if Nature isn’t calling.
Our politicians have promised us for years that there will be other terrorist attacks on our soil. The "assurance," if you can call it that, that there will be another terrorist attack on US soil was issued by the members of the former 9/11 Commission, now the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, on Dec. 5, 2005. If another attack occurs, will MLB invent a 4th inning stretch to sing My Country ‘Tis of Thee? (That’s the melody to God Save the Queen, by the way). How about not letting anyone leave the ballpark at the end of the game until we’ve sung America the Beautiful? Ludicrous, right? Singing God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch is ludicrous, too.
Let’s not sing anything in the 7th inning and move Take Me Out to the Ball Game to its logical place: just before the game. Then, let’s drop the national anthem and just play ball. The anthem came in during WW II, which means baseball had many great seasons without it.
I wonder how many "ballpark patriots" do something patriotic when it takes a bit more effort than going along with the herd at the park. Just to name one patriotic act, election figures would suggest that well fewer than half the eligible citizens in any stadium on any given day are registered to vote and actually do vote. So let’s ditch the cheap, "emotions-on-the sleeve" flag-waving and focus on the game. The only flag I want to see waving at the stadium is a pennant.
And while you are at it, MLB, please change the format of the Futures Game to something other than U.S. vs. the World. A lot of the current problems on the planet can be tied to the attitude of U.S. vs. the World.
Exactly a year ago today, Dec. 7, 2004, Eric Byrnes gave CBS a phone interview from which he was quoted the next day in a CBS News story about steroids in baseball. I just found the remarks. They are worth repeating.
Byrnes said, "The biggest thing is that the public knows it’s not as prominent as media and some outside sources are making it out to be.
"Do I think it’s right? No, absolutely not. In every walk of life, in every profession for hundreds of years, people have been looking to get an advantage. The kids, who are the most important part of this thing, need to know that this isn’t OK."
Thanks, Byrnesie. Thanks to you and all players who do not take steroids.
Comments to come soon on hot stove doings, salaries and Eric Byrnes’ batting stance. Some time next week, I hope. I’ve had some schedule disruptions that I will explain as relevant in later posts.
I will be on the mezzanine at the KPFA Crafts and Music Fair at 8th and Brannan in San Francisco on Sat. and Sun. Dec. 10 & 11. So if you are in the city that day, stop by and say hello. I’ll be wearing a shirt that says: "Down the Left Field Line: Life, Baseball & Eric Byrnes."
You’ll find great holiday shopping, music, information and food there. And there’s a Katrina relief project in which you can participate while you are at the Fair. Details on how to get there and what the project is about are at this link.
(Photo of Byrnes by Daryl of Daryl’s Place).