Twenty Questions for the Rays

August 9, 2010 

(1) Is batting coach Derek Skelton on vacation or does he actually work?  Why let Ben Zobrist take the first pitch of each at bat- usually on the outside corner- whether it is hittable or not?  Why does he usually have him take the second pitch-usually over the middle- but has him swing at a second pitch that is too far inside to hit?  Is this some new sort of exotic strategy, meant to confuse the opposition?

(2) Why, when Ben leads off, should he worry about hitting a home run pitch instead of hitting that outside pitch “the other way?” The reason that the first pitch is on the outside corner, of course, is that he hit 25 home runs last year.  Maybe, if he punishes pitchers by constantly hitting those outside pitches to the opposite field (as he did last year), he’ll see more inside pitches to drill over the fence. By the way, the only pitch he managed to hit today was a first pitch on the outside part of the plate which he drove to the wall in left center.

(3) Why can’t a professional batting coach teach B.J. Upton how to stop swaying on his back swing and, instead, rotate his shoulders.  They’re supposed to teach that in Little League.

(4) Why can’t a professional batting coach teach Carlos Pena to stop leaning his lead shoulder and his weight toward the plate before he begins his long arduous swing?  They teach you to “rotate” your shoulders in Little league.

(5) Did Jim Hickey watch Wade Davis drop his arm angle in the first inning a few days ago-the one in which he gave up 4 runs?  Is there some reason that the catcher can’t go out and tell his pitcher to return to the proper arm angle?  Brian Anderson should know that Davis’s lack of velocity and the reason for so many pitches staying “up” was because his arm angle was too flat.  David Price does exactly the same thing when he’s “off.”  “Three quarters” pitchers like Price and Davis are like “gifts from heaven” because they are so easy to coach.  If they throw from “10 o’clock” or  “2 o’clock,” using their shoulder and arm, no problem.  If they drop the arm angle toward “9 o’clock” or “3 o’clock, using only the arm-guess what- less velocity and the ball stays “up,” because their fingers are on the side of the ball instead of on top of it. Worse yet, “dropping down” slightly can lead to injured arms.

(6) Is there some sort of penalty for a Rays player who hits the ball to the opposite field?  Elementary logic tells us that the hitter actually has more time to react and adjust to breaking balls, if he is willing to hit the ball “the other way.”  He has even more time if the ball is breaking away from him.  How many times must we watch Rays hitters try to pull outside pitches?  Please cancel the penalty, Coach Skelton.

(7) When is pitching Coach Hickey going to have that “little talk”  with James Shields, the one in which he explains that his fastball is his fifth pitch, not his first?  In fact what, exactly, are the catcher on the field and the coach and manager in the dugout doing while their pitcher throws one fastball cookie after another?  Playing bridge?  This is at least twice that manager Maddon has thrown in the towel early in the first few innings.  If he’s not going to “try,” then the players won’t either.

(8) If I recall, in 1965, the L.A. Dodgers, after winning the pennant, won the World Series in 4 games.  I believe they hit something like .239 as a team that year without being shut out.  What excuse will our “figurehead” batting coach use when his team endures its third no-hitter?  What will he say when you wake him up and have the audacity to ask how his team managed to strike out even more than last year, even more than any other team in baseball?

(9) Speaking of strikeouts:  Did you know that even with the unforgivable flaws in Upton’s and Pena’s swings and 300-400 strikeouts, that the number of team strikeouts could be reduced by 15-20% with some basic Little League principles?  The first rule: “Hit the outside pitch to the opposite field.”  The second rule: pull the inside pitch.  The third rule: When in a slump, hit the ball up the middle.  Thank You Little League Coaches of America!

(10) Rays: has anyone ever told you to hit outside pitches “the other way?”

(11) Do you know what they call “pulling an outside pitch with a man on first?  (1) Strike? (2) Double Play? (3) rare hit? (4) usually stupid? (5) All the above?”

(12) If you answered any thing but (5) do you know where you belong? (1) In the Minor Leagues?

(2) Batting coach for the Rays?  Don’t worry.  Either answer is correct.

(13) Did you know that if you keep hammering outside pitches to the opposite field for base hits, that eventually they’ll throw you middle inside pitches that you can pull for power?  Ted Williams actually said that.

(14) Do you know how Evan Longoria can raise his average about twenty five points and cut his strikeouts by 25%?  Evan, already one of the only Rays who tries to go to the opposite field with two strikes, has about a ninety percent chance of seeing a breaking ball in the dirt or outside, off the plate.  He could do what many good hitters do and move up in the batters box, allowing him to better identify the pitch and actually hit it before it hits the dirt.  Since his coach is not aware of this “old trick,” take it from me: it has worked many times!

(15) Am I one of the only people that notices that almost every time Evan Longoria or Matt Joyce hits a home run, neither of them looks like he is swinging very hard?  In fact, after both of his grand slams, Joyce pointed out that he “was just trying to get the fat part of the bat on the ball to drive it.  ”You guessed it.  Longoria, Joyce and Zobrist are all in slumps due to over swinging.

(16) Mr. Friedman, have you thought about bringing up an assistant batting coach from Durham instead of another hitter?

(17) Why did it take nine innings before any Ray decided to choke up on the bat and shorten his swing in order to hit “the other way” for a base hit?  After three embarrassing strikeouts, all on the same sliders, Crawford and Longoria finally shortened up and hit the ball hard to the opposite field.  Do you really think the Rays hitters are all brain dead or maybe they lack a little (very little) guidance?  I choose the latter.

(18) After about a dozen or so of Morrow’s strikeouts on sliders in the dirt, Mr. Skelton, don’t you think it would have been a good idea to move all of your hitters up just a little bit in the batters box?  The advice doesn’t fit in Longoria’s case alone.

(19) How long will the Rays continue to be the worst hitting team in Major League Baseball?  How many hitters will the Rays coaches have to ruin before they change their coaching philosophy?

(20) Will anyone in the Rays organization ever read these questions?  I have been e-mailing them the same suggestions for the last few years without any hint of a reply to any of the issues.  Never the less: Go Rays!

Allen Finkelstein, D.O.