Posted at 8:22 AM on July 8, 2005
by Josh Lee
Baseball and softball have been dropped from the stable of Olympic events, ending their brief sojurn in the pantheon of international sports. London, which admittedly has other things on its mind right now, is probably relieved at not having to convert a cricket pitch or something in time for the 2012 games. Given the lack of major league players on national teams, hardly anyone ever noticed the existence of baseball in the Olympics; softball got a few passing mentions in 2004, but the U.S.'s complete dominance in the tournament probably says something about how international the sport really is.
And it's not like the idea of international baseball is going away any time soon. Plans are still underway for a "World Baseball Classic" in 2006, and of course, there's the newly-internationalized Home Run Derby on tap for this weekend.
Posted at 11:17 AM on July 8, 2005
by David Zingler
Mastery of the strike zone is the most difficult skill for most hitters to develop. It rarely comes easily, especially to the raw youngsters fast-tracked to the majors, who usually learn it on the fly. It is essential however, to fielding a consistently potent line-up. Why then have the Twins, who are often touted as a model organization, seemingly neglected this important concept?
It would be unfair to cite the newer group of players like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Lew Ford or even Michael Cuddyer as examples because they are still developing. So Iíll turn instead to the established group of regulars that played at least from 2001 through last season with the club.
Outfielders Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones have shown frighteningly little improvement when it comes to managing the strike zone. In 1999, Hunterís first full season, he drew 26 walks and struck out 72 times, or coaxed .36 walks for every strikeout. Last season he went 40/101 or .39. His career best, .47 (50/106), came in 2003. Jones meanwhile, went .27 (26/72) in 1999, also his first season, and .34 (40/117) in 2004. His career best was .42 (39/92) in 2001.
Then thereís everybodyís favorite double play duo, Cristian Guzman and Luis Rivas. Like Hunter and Jones, Guzman broke into the big leagues in 1999 and drew 22 walks against 90 strikeouts or .24. Last year, thankfully his final with the Twins, Guzzie managed .47 (30/64), a career high. From 2000-03 he went .46, .27, .22 and .38. Rivas meanwhile, began his career in 2001 and coaxed 40 walks against 99 strikeouts or .40. Since then heís gone .37, .46 and .25.
The two other regulars during that era, Corey Koskie and Doug Mientkiewicz fared far better. In Koskieís Twins career, he went .55, .74, .58, .57, .68 and .48. Dougie Baseball managed .84, .73, 1.08 and 1.0 from 1999-2004, excluding the 2000 season which he spent at Triple A and with the Olympic team. Mientkiewicz and Koskieís consistently solid numbers show that they entered the big leagues as more patient, polished hitters.
I am not going to pretend to know what a major league batting coach does on a day-to-day basis, but it I do think it is fair to say that Scott Ullger bears a significant part of the responsibility for the development (or lack thereof) of the teamsí hitters. Ullger, who hit .190 in a cup of coffee with the Twins in 1983 Ė- his only big league experience, has been the teams batting coach since 1998 and has thus overseen the stunted growth of the before-mentioned players.
Maybe heís giving sound advice but the players wonít listen, maybe the players arenít capable of grasping the concept or maybe heís just not a good coach. So, at best his message isnít getting through and at worst, heís incompetent. Either way, it seems like time for a change.