A Reminder Of Somewhat Critical Importance
Some time ago, a report came out of somewhere suggesting that, within the Mariners organization, there was disagreement concerning Jesus Montero’s playing time. The Mariners have since downplayed anything of the sort, and of course we should expect that there would be some disagreement, since an organization includes a lot of people and a lot of people have a lot of opinions. Disagreement only matters if it gets ugly, and right now there are no signs of an organizational schism. Outside of the schism between the second and third slots in the starting rotation.
But this hits at something I want to talk about more generally. Montero is a young player, and people always want young players in the majors to play as often as possible. Now, from Ryan Divish:
Even if Montero isn’t in the line-up, that doesn’t mean progress isn’t being made. At the big league level, a day out of the line-up for a “work day” can be quite beneficial. With Montero, those work days include plenty of work on drilling, refining and ingraining certain catching fundamentals.
“That’s why we give him good work days,” Wedge said. “Those are huge. And for him, a young player, he has to step away from it. It’s such a grind.”
We’ve given the Mariners crap when we’ve thought they were wrong, so it’s only fair to highlight when they’re doing something right. And though this isn’t rocket science, the Mariners are right to give Montero some breathers. Less specifically, Wedge is right on — days off aren’t days off. Every day is a work day, and it’s just that sometimes, that work day doesn’t involve a game against another team.
Whenever — whenever — a young player is out of the lineup, people bitch. In part they bitch because they selfishly just want to see the young guy play, since young guys are interesting and exciting, but they also bitch because they think sitting is bad for a player’s development. Fans want young players to develop. Fans figure development comes from playing in games against high-level opponents. What good does it do to have a young player sit on the bench, when he could be getting more regular reps in the minors?
Playing baseball isn’t just about playing baseball games. It’s also about everything that goes on in between, and there is so much work that gets done outside of the nine competitive innings. Of course, there’s no substitute for standing in against CC Sabathia or Mike Trout or whoever, but that doesn’t mean it’s wasted time. Playing a guy too much might wear him down. It might get him feeling overwhelmed, the way you might feel about work if you never got weekends. Sometimes a break is necessary to clear the mind and recharge. And sometimes time off is how you implement important changes and tweaks.
In the majors, players learn real fast about their strengths and weaknesses. So it becomes a priority for the weaknesses to be addressed, and it’s not like they’re only addressed during game action. They’re considered in practice, and should there be adjustments attempted in throwing or hitting mechanics, those can take time to sink in and start to feel comfortable. You’re basically re-writing muscle memory, and if you try to change a guy in the afternoon and then play him at night, you run the risk of having any progress erased. In higher-stress situations, players are likely to revert to what’s most familiar, and that might not include the latest tweaks. Those tweaks need to be repeated, so they can come naturally. That’s the course of improvement.
It should go without saying that there’s a balance, and there would be such thing as a young player in the majors who isn’t playing enough. If you promote a young hitter and just sit him on the bench, he won’t get enough opportunities to put his skills to the test. It’s important to participate in competitive action, and better to have a developing player play a bunch in the minors than not very much in the bigs. But just because a young guy is in the bigs doesn’t mean he has to play all the time. Just because a young guy gets a lot of days off doesn’t mean his team is crippling his development. There’s always work being done, and we don’t know nearly enough to be able to justify criticism of a team for sitting a prospect. If anything, young guys would be the most prone to feeling overwhelmed. And when one feels overwhelmed or generally stressed out, little of substance gets accomplished. Focus and development don’t automatically follow from playing as many major-league innings as possible.
Fans always want to see the younger players every day. You can’t blame them; the younger players are the players with spice(!). But sometimes it’s in a guy’s long-term best interests to “watch a game,” as they say. Sometimes to watch a few games, while putting a lot of work in on the side. We generally suck at considering long-term best interests, when they disagree with the immediate preference. Give baseball people a break. Everybody wants their young players to get better. Baseball people don’t always make the right decisions, but it’s not like fans are player-development experts themselves.