An Open Letter to Eric Byrnes: Next time, Byrnesie, Don’t Be So $#&!^%^!!!@ Stubborn!!
Seriously, if there is anyone reading this who actually knows Eric Byrnes, please send him a copy.
The Diamondbacks won their game against the Dodgers on July 19, 2006 and I saw most of it. I should be thrilled with what I saw. Miguel Batista pitched a complete game shutout. With all the emphasis on pitch counts, closers, etc., we don’t see many of those anymore. But Batista is a pitcher of the old school, who goes out each time with the intent to pitch a complete game, and sometimes, like tonight, he does it. I love complete games.
Gonzo passed Willie Mays on the all-time doubles list. Greenie homered. Stephen Drew had THREE extra-base hits. The D’Backs blew out the Dodgers 8-0.
And with you hitting two singles and scoring a run, I should have been happy with your performance. But instead, I am furious and hoping that Bob Melvin, Mike Aldrete, Chad Tracy and Luis Gonzalez at minimum are furious too. Most of all, I hope you are furious with yourself for your at-bat in the 6th inning, and I hope that you learned a valuable lesson from it.
Stephen Drew was on third with one out. Joe Beimel was on the mound. You and Beimel both knew that any type of hit or a deep enough fly ball would drive in Drew. You and Beimel both remembered what happened the last time you met; you hit the first pitch he threw you into an Angelino’s beer in left-center field. So this time he was determined not to give you anything good to hit. But you were determined to get a hit anyway. You swung at two balls way outside the zone and eventually hit a weak 4-3 that left Drew on third. He later scored on a balk, and the run wasn’t needed for the victory anyway. But while you did not cost your team a victory, you did a lot of damage to yourself with your stubbornness.
By refusing Beimel’s invitation to take first base, 1) you handed the Dodgers an out they weren’t even looking for at the moment, 2) you lowered your batting average, and 3) you looked incompetent.
The really great hitters know that there are times when they are the ones to drive in the runs, like the other night when you hit the 3-run homer, and then there are other times when they need to be willing to walk and let the guys behind them drive in the runs. That’s why hitters like Moises Alou, Manny Ramirez and Scott Rolen are so important to their teams. They drive in the runs when the guys ahead of them get walked intentionally or semi-intentionally. Beimel knew you could be trouble for him. You needed to let him give you first base and let Tracy and Gonzo do what they could do.
Taking a walk would have 1) not cost your team an out, 2) not driven your batting average down, 3) upped your OBP, and 4) put you in a position to possibly score another run if one of your teammates could deliver. And this turned out to be the kind of night where a lot of your guys were delivering.
More than anything, it would have shown that you understood the situation. Beimel remembered what you had done the last time he faced you, so he made an adjustment by making sure he didn’t give you anything too good to hit. You, however, did not make the corresponding adjustment of taking his wide ones. You tried to force the situation, having made up your mind that you were going to swing at what he threw, in an effort to repeat what happened a couple of nights ago, i.e. that you were the guy who broke the game open. You should have known better than that. You know the strike zone. I have seen you take pitches much closer than the ones you swung at tonight. This wasn’t an instance of being fooled by the pitches, this was an instance of you being stubborn and impatient and refusing to understand the value of taking a walk in this situation.
You usually bat 2nd or leadoff, the table-setting positions, not the typical lineup holes for someone who shares the team lead in homers, leads the team in slugging percentage, gets an extra base hit over 45% of the time he gets a hit, and is second on the team in doubles. I keep stats on your day-to-day performance, so I understand and share your frustration. I would like to see you batting fifth. But you are not there, probably because of the fact that, for someone with your slugger stats, you’re a little light in the RBI department.
In a sense, that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a lead-off or two hitter, you often come up with no one on base. But you are also not as "clutch" as others with comparable slugging stats are. Trouble is that trying to force the situation is not the way to up your RBI totals. It’s like when you get it into your head that you have pull everything, even though you have the skill to hit to the opposite field. When you get into that level of stubbornness, your batting average goes down because the pitchers, counting on that stubbornness, throw outside pitches that when pulled, end up as grounders to third and short.
Being a contact hitter, and someone who is willing to walk if necessary, should not be at odds with being a slugger. You have the physical strength to hit hard, you have the knowledge of the game to understand what the pitcher is trying to do to you. What you need now is the emotional make up necessary to go with what the pitcher gives, being ready for him to make the mistake. Don’t give him another advantage by being desperate to prove you can drive in the runs that are expected of someone in the heart of the order, which is where your slugging stats suggest you should be. Goodness knows that pitchers have enough advantages as it is.
A BB always looks better in the box score, and on The Eric Byrnes Pitch Count Report, than a 4-3.