Old Time Hockey
Before the final game the Charlestown Chiefs play in “Slap Shot,” Paul Newman’s Reg Dunlop tells his thuggish players that he wants to change. To go out clean. Reg instructs his top goons, the bespectacled Hanson Brothers, to quit fighting and instead play “old time hockey,” like greats Toe Blake, Dit Clapper and Eddie Shore.
But their opponents are a squad of ringers, tough guys who whallop the Chiefs into submission — until Regs takes the shackles off the Hansons, that is.
The Mariners shouldn’t try to go all Hanson Brothers on other teams — no, not even A-Rod and the Yankees — but neither should they uncritically accept traditional strategy if it alters what certain players do best. Yet in two stories today, Jim Street rings the bell for “quality” or “productive” outs. Excerpts:
New batting coach Don Baylor has the task of getting the hitters to buy into the “quality out” theory, advancing runners and driving them in from third base with less than two outs. Seattle’s situational hitting in ’04 was lackluster and was a huge factor in the team finishing last in the league in runs scored.
Another area that must be shored up is situational hitting. The Mariners were last in runs scored, but fifth in hits last season.
I would say something about how frustrated I’m going to be the first time Richie Sexson is instructed to dribble a grounder to the right side with Ichiro on second, but instead I’ll just hope there is no first time that happens.
Derek and others have rebutted the productive out theory in depth, but I’m a simple man. Simple like William of Occam, who said that correct explanations are usually the ones that require the fewest moving parts. Adding elements — “we got a lot of runners to first base, so why didn’t we score? Perhaps we didn’t sacrifice enough, or make wide enough turns …” — just obfuscates.
How’s this for simple: that run-scoring problem happened because the 2004 team hit a lot of singles. If the team had hit more doubles, triples, and home runs, runners would have had a better chance of scoring without giving up outs — items which, when given up in quantities equal to 27, end games.
Maybe this whole “last in runs scored, fifth in hits” deal has to do with a lack of productive outs after the hits, like Jim Street says. Or maybe it has to do with the absence of aggressive baserunning, as Mike Hargrove implies later in the article.
If you’re looking for the most likely explanation, though, the fact that the Mariners were last in the AL in team slugging percentage seems compelling to me. That’s why it was a fine idea to bring in talents that specialize in the long hit.
So should Don Baylor stress so-called “productive” outs? No. The all-time leader in getting hit by pitches would have better luck teaching players to lean into offerings, especially if Willie Bloomquist is still on the roster. It might hurt, but it doesn’t advance the out clock any closer to midnight.
Hitters, like folks in any other profession, ought to use the top skills they possess. Asking Sexson, Adrian Beltre or Bucky Jacobsen to refrain from hitting the ball a country mile is like trying to make the Hanson Brothers stop putting on the foil before games.