Friday, July 24, 2009

36 Questions: Seeing a pitcher

Question: How does Seeing a Pitcher Help a Hitter?

The Sox have hit a little snag recently against pitchers they have no business hitting a snag against. They often find themselves struggling against young pitchers who haven’t been around very long. The reasoning usually given is that the batters haven’t seen the pitcher before, so that presents problems. What exactly does that mean? I’ve also heard that term used when talking about closers. It’s been said that closers can get away with fewer pitches in their arsenal since a batter only sees them once, as opposed to a starter. Is that the same thing?

I can almost understand the young pitcher part of the equation. It takes a while to know what sorts of pitches the pitcher throws, and maybe even which arm slot those pitches come from. Scouting can tell some of that. A decent scout can tell you which pitches the guy can throw, and probably even when he likes to throw them. But, knowing exactly where the ball comes from every time probably takes actually facing the pitcher. So, when a patter faces a pitcher for the first time, I can see it taking a pitch or two just to see where the ball is coming from. But, does that mean that the batter remembers where the ball comes from for every pitcher he’s ever faced? When David Ortiz digs in against CC Sabathia, does he know instantly where to look? Does he have in his head that a curveball should come from 2 inches above his cap, or whatever? I know some golfers who remember almost every detail of golf courses they’ve only played once, a few years ago. They know which holes have doglegs left, or clumps of trees in the fairway. Are batters like that? Do they just have this photographic-like memory of every pitcher ever? If so, how do pitchers stay around? Hasn’t every batter in the majors seen Jamie Moyer by now? Don’t they all have that picture of where the ball comes from? How does he not get hit hard every time out? (Ok, maybe Moyer’s not the best example?) I assume he survives by changing things up. If so, aren’t all those mental pictures out there wrong? So, how are they helpful?

How does that apply to the difference between starters and closers? I remember people saying Derek Lowe might make a good closer since he always seemed to pitch 3 great innings at the beginning of a start. But, once the batters got a second look at him, he was hit pretty hard. So, apparently, the mental picture the batters had of Derek Lowe needed some fine-tuning, and it took a plate appearance to remember exactly wheat Lowe looked like on the mound? Why doesn’t that apply to these rookie pitchers? After an at-bat, don’t they now know what it all looks like? And, what about long-time closers like Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman. Haven’t all the batters faced them enough to have the mental picture all ready to go? Is that why Rivera has so much trouble with the Red Sox? Do all the Sox have great mental pictures ready to go right out of the box?

Is “seeing a pitcher” one of those things that’s different for every pitcher and hitter? Does Manny Ramirez just need one pitch to figure it all out, while Nick Green might need three at-bats to just get a clue? Did Pedro Martinez have so much working in his favor that batters never really figured it out, while John Wasdin never fooled anybody?

What does it really mean to have seen a pitcher before?

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