What’s a “pure hitter” anyway?

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That Wade Boggs post put the term “pure hitter” — as in “he’s the best pure hitter …” — in my mind. You hear it a lot. Boggs was called that. Tony Gwynn. Rod Carew. Whoever is the batting champ type at any given time tends to have that moniker hung on him.  But I really don’t get it, actually. And in some ways it seems like a backhanded compliment at best, a bit of obfuscation at worst.

As it is commonly used, “pure hitter” seems to mean “a hitter for average but no real power.” No one ever called Barry Bonds “the best pure hitter of the 90s” or whatever. Ted Williams is often called the best hitter who ever lived and maybe he was, but no one ever calls him a “pure hitter.” Why? Too many homers!  To be a “pure hitter” you sort of have to be a contact hitter. Which, in effect, distorts the term “pure” to mean “one dimensional.”

And when you do that, are you not giving a backhanded slam to great contact hitters? Tony Gwynn was a GREAT HITTER. There can be no denying that. I get that when you call him a “pure hitter” you’re trying to give him his own category so you’re not comparing him to Mike Schmidt or Barry Bonds — a comparison Gwynn would lose because they were better and more productive than him overall — but adding that “pure” on there has the effect of adding an asterisk. Of signaling that he’s not the best, even if you intended to give him a compliment. I don’t think that’s the idea any more than I think it diminishes Gwynn or whoever to note that, well, maybe he wasn’t the absolute best even if he was outrageously good at a certain thing. You can be great at some stuff and not great at others and still be great. Saying a guy doesn’t do one given thing well isn’t to say he’s bad at baseball.

And if “pure hitter” is a backhanded slam to the contact hitters, it’s a front-handed slam to more well-rounded hitters. Is there something “impure” about a guy who mixed in a bunch of homers, walks and strikeouts to his hit total? Hank Aaron had over 3,000 hits even if you took all his home runs away! No one ever calls him a “pure hitter.” But is there anyone you’d rather have at bat than Hank freakin’ Aaron?

I know I’m spilling a lot of ink on something almost 100% unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But “pure hitter” is a phrase that bugs me. It’s in the same league as a lot of other broadcaster phrases that sound good and give the illusion of imparting wisdom but which really serve to obscure what’s going on in a baseball game and what’s important (see also “nice piece of hitting” and “professional hitter”).

I wish we could cut that junk out.

Yankees decide to keep Luis Severino on regular rest, give Twins potential Wild Card preview

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
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Yankees starter Luis Severino pitched last Friday, putting him on track to start Wednesday’s series finale against the Twins. The Yankees mulled the possibility of pushing him back to start on Friday against the Blue Jays after an off day on Thursday so that the Twins wouldn’t get an early look at Severino in a potential AL Wild Card matchup.

However, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports that Severino will indeed start on Wednesday against the Twins instead of Masahiro Tanaka. Hoch adds that Severino’s preference is to pitch on regular rest.

Severino, 23, has been the Yankees’ best starter this year and would be the most reliable arm in a must-win game. The right-hander is carrying a 13-6 record with a 2.93 ERA and a 218/49 K/BB ratio in 184 1/3 innings.

Entering Tuesday’s action, the Yankees hold a five-game lead over the Twins for the first Wild Card slot. The Angels hold a 1.5-game lead over the Angels for the second slot. The Yankees are also very much in the AL East race, trailing the Red Sox by only three games with 12 games left in the regular season.

You should probably pay attention to Matt Olson

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The claim of “East Coast Bias” is often hurled as an accusation of smug superiority, and it’s often met with denial, but it’s a thing. It’s not the exact thing the west coast people think it is — it’s not hate, it’s just a function of time zones and TV ratings — but there are certainly factors that cause stuff that happens in California to get shorter shrift than that which happens back east, where most of the national media people are.

One thing getting short shrift this year: the performance of Oakland A’s first baseman Matt Olson, which one has to imagine would be getting all kinds of press if he played back east.

Wait, we don’t have to imagine that at all. Because Olson is doing basically the exact same thing Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez did last year, and Sanchez got tons of headlines for it while I’m guessing most baseball fans who either (a) live outside of the Bay Area; or (b) aren’t big fantasy players, attuned to all of the latest callups, haven’t heard Olson’s name much if at all . Their respective lines:

  • Sanchez 2016: 53 games, .299/.376/.657, 20 HR, 168 OPS+
  • Olson 2017: 54 games, .267/.360/.663, 22 HR 168 OPS+

Sanchez’s rate stats were better but Olson is doing it in tougher parks for hitters. Obviously Sanchez is catching and Olson playing the corner, but a dude coming out of the minors to put up these kinds of numbers in the final two months of the season is rare. That it’s happening again, in almost the same way, is quite the thing.

Part of the reason for the discrepancy in press is that Sanchez was making a strong argument for the Rookie of the Year Award despite playing less than half the season whereas Olson has no shot given what Aaron Judge has done this year. But I’m guessing more of it is simply a function of Olson’s games starting at 10:30 or so back east and most of us not seeing what he does unless we look at the box scores the next day.

Still, Olson, the A’s first round pick from 2012, is not someone to sleep on. And, given that he hit 23 homers in 79 minor league games this year — the last guy to hit 20 in both the bigs and minors in the same year was Giancarlo Stanton — he’s not a fluke. Indeed, he’s one of the few rays of sunshine for the Oakland Athletics. And someone to whom us folks back east should pay a bit more attention.