Hank Aaron, as almost all former players of a certain age do, shakes his head at the kids today:
Hank Aaron watches games these days and is perplexed as batter after
batter tries to jack pitches out of the ballpark, obsessed with the long
ball that made Hammerin’ Hank famous.
“I don’t think they understand the role of what they need to be doing,”
Aaron said Thursday during a visit to The Associated Press. “I’m not
saying all of them, but I think some players need to understand that
they’re never going to hit 50 home runs or 45 home runs (a year).
They’ve got to learn how to hit the ball to the opposite field and do
the little things to help their ballclub win championships.”
Cheap “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-did” irony aside, his point is a good one, inasmuch as some guys simply don’t have a lot of power and should always be trying to pull the ball out of the yard. I think, however, that he sets the bar too high for would-be power hitters.
If I’m running a team I want almost everyone to try and hit more home runs, at least as long as they’re not messing up their natural swing and approach to do it. If someone can hit 10 homers I want them to hit 15. If someone can hit 15 I want them to hit 20. The reason is simple: home runs correlate really nicely with winning. If you have power, you usually win. If you don’t, you hardly ever do.
Aaron’s comments suggest that only those players who can be elite home run hitters like he was should concentrate on the long ball. I’d take his general idea to heart, but I’d only advise those guys who simply can’t hit it out of the yard even if they square and turn on the ball perfectly — the Nick Puntos of the world — to get homers out of their head and try to slap it the other way.
Indeed, if some teams did that during Aaron’s heyday instead of adhering so strictly to the then-prevalent orthodoxy (shortstops don’t need to hit; everyone but the cleanup hitter bunts, etc.) there probably would have been more offense back then.
During the Pirates’ FanFest on Saturday, right-hander Gerrit Cole announced that he is back up to full health after being shut down with elbow inflammation in September. Per Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cole said he’ll start a throwing program on Monday as he works on regaining his form for the 2017 season.
The 26-year-old pitched through 116 innings for the Pirates in 2016, delivering a 3.88 ERA and 2.5 WARP before landing on the disabled list in June with a triceps strain and again in August with elbow inflammation. It was a steep drop for the right-hander, who saw a considerable spike in his ERA and BB/9 rate and struggled to strike out batters at the 8.7 mark he managed in 2015.
The upside? Inflammation was the worst of Cole’s issues in 2016, and while the newfound health issues didn’t help his case for an extension, a more serious injury doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.
The Astros, Braves and Nationals came sniffing around White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana during the Winter Meetings, but each appeared to find the Sox’ asking price well beyond what they were willing to give up for the starter. On Saturday, Peter Gammons revealed that the White Sox had floated Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove as a possible return for Quintana.
It’s a strategy that worked well for Chicago in the past, most recently when they dealt Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others, and flipped Adam Eaton to the Nationals for a trio of pitching prospects. Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t appear eager to sacrifice some of his core talent to net a high-end starter, however, and told the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan as much on Wednesday:
We’re prepared to trade players to improve our club right now. […] We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done.
While Lunhow was speaking specifically to the inclusion of third baseman Alex Bregman in future deals, it’s not unrealistic to think that top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker would also be considered instrumental to the Astros’ plans for the next few seasons.
Martes, 21, currently sits atop the team’s top prospect list on MLB.com. The right-hander blazed through his first full season in Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 3.30 ERA and career-best 9.4 K/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2016. Tucker, meanwhile, profiles as the Astros’ second-best prospect and made a successful jump to High-A Lancaster last season, slashing .339/.435/.661 in 69 PA. Rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove is the only player left off the top prospect list, but he got off to a decent start with the club in 2016 as well, going 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 3.44 K/BB rate in 62 innings during his first major league season.