Talking to Joey Votto about hitting is like talking to Ted Williams or Barry Bonds. It is a conversation that is intellectual, passionate and precisely clear, as John Updike once put it, like looking inside an old-fashioned peeping-type Easter egg.
When he speaks of “by and large, pitchers who are successful don’t throw pitches near the middle of the plate and hitters who are successful seldom miss pitches in the middle of the plate,” it is as if someone is reading from “The Art of Hitting .300.” Like Ted, like Barry, he has occasionally been called selfish for not surrendering his command of the strike zone; like them, he understands that, as Williams once said, “once you surrender the strike zone you surrender. When I say ‘get a good ball to hit,’ I mean a good ball, not a ball.”
Votto did something he does not often do Tuesday night. In the ninth inning of a tie game, two out, two on against Koji Uehara, he hit a pop fly that Will Middlebrooks caught in foul territory. “As soon as I hit it,” said Votto, “I thought, ‘I haven’t done that in a while.” Actually, it was sometime last April or May.
You see, it was the third infield popup Votto has hit in three years.
“That’s it for the year,” said Reds coach Lee Tinsley, who turned to Votto and asked, “have you hit a ground ball foul down the first base line this season?”
“I hit two opening day,” Votto replied. “I was a mess at the plate.”
“I don’t think he pulled a ground ball foul all last season,” Tinsley added. “His discipline, his routine is unbelievable, unless you’re with him. Watch his BP. He ends every one with a line drive to left field.”
The game, when played, not computed, is extraordinarily difficult, one that for many demands precise routine. Wednesday, Grady Sizemore talked about regaining his timing and his routine after two years off. “It comes and it goes, but I think the more I play the more it will come,” said Sizemore.
The conversation moved towards Derek Jeter, and his struggle to find his routine after a year off, and how with routine comes timing. “He always looks the same to me,” Sizemore said of Jeter. “He always looks great to me.”
Jeter takes batting practice the same way every day to avoid any complications that might distract his seeing and hitting pitches. Sizemore was told Jeter once said that he has always used the same model bat, the one he was given the day he reported to rookie ball in 1992. “Same with me,” said Sizemore, holding out his bat. “I have used the same model going back to my rookie ball days.”
Be he Votto or Williams, Bonds, Jeter or Sizemore, they don’t think like the rest of us, which is why they aren’t like the rest of us.
Jonny Gomes on Pete Rose
“Think about that. Think how great Jeter has been, then think that he’d have had to play in 100 win seasons his first 19 seasons to get close to Rose.”
Difficult free agent situations facing the Red Sox
At some point, the Red Sox have to enter the real market on Jon Lester. They left spring training in the four year, $70-80M range, and at the end of the first week of May their two ring October backbone is first among all major league pitchers in Wins Above Replacement, yes, ahead of Jose Fernandez and Max Scherzer. They know that two years from now, John Lackey and Jake Peavy will be gone, they have no idea what Felix Doubront will become and with their eyes set on breaking in two or three pitchers out of their organization, Lester is the person the baseball operations people want as the fulcrum for those young pitchers. Ownership casts wary eyes on workhorse power pitchers in their mid-30’s (CC Sabathia, for instance), but if you’re the Yankees, Dodgers (if Hyun-jin Ryu has shoulder issues), Tigers (sans Scherzer), Angels, Giants or a number of other clubs, Lester is likely going to be able to get a deal at least through age 35.
The Red Sox may have another difficult free agent situation in Andrew Miller. “I have no issue using him in any situation,” says John Farrell. “If he had to be used as a closer, I wouldn’t hesitate. He’s become one of the best in the league. He gets righthanders and lefthanders out. He’s worked his delivery out really well. I give Bobby Valentine credit for sticking with him.”
Miller averages 95 MPH, sometimes getting to 98, and as one Red Sox coach says, “there is still a fear factor of not knowing where it’s going. Even though he’s become very consistent.”
In Miller’s last ten appearances, covering 10 2/3 innings, he has 16 strikeouts, 0 walks. His strikeout-walk ratio is 12.3/2,5 per nine innings. For his career, his 150 strikeouts in 119 relief innings is bettered only by Aroldis Chapman and Antonio Bastardo among major league lefties.
The Red Sox kid about having two Phi Beta Kappas (Craig Breslow, Chris Capuano) and a guy who had 1561 on his SATs (Miller) for lefthanders in the bullpen, but at the end of the year, at age 29, Miller is going to be a hot commodity. One can make the case that Boston has the best lefthanded starter and the best lefthanded reliever in the league, both of whom are free agents come November. There will be a lot of internal discussion and even more negotiations ahead.