It’s never fair when an athlete who is otherwise a fine human being becomes hated in the town he calls home. But it does happen all the time, be it because of unfulfilled promise, injuries or overall poor play.
One of the toughest sports cities in the country is Philadelphia and one of the more disappointing players of the past few years has been Ryan Howard. Yet, as Stephen Silver points out, he’s more or less gotten a free pass:
Ryan Howard is something unique in recent Philadelphia history: He’s a superstar athlete making huge money who’s been a major disappointment, yet he hasn’t become a figure of hate among the city’s fans. Philly may be the toughest city there is on its own star athletes, yet Howard, with some exceptions, remains relatively popular.
Silver lists a number of reasons for this. And assuming he’s right, which I think he is, it evidences some pretty mature and sophisticated sentiment on the part of Phillies fans as a whole.
Which, really guys, you have to cut that out. You keep doing that and you’ll totally kill the schtick I have going on here.
The wave of defensive shifts we’ve seen over the past few years has led to a lot of armchair hitting coaches demanding that players bunt to beat it. This is easier said than done, however.
The shift happens because certain hitters tend to pull the ball. Certain hitters tend to pull the ball because pulling the ball is what happens when one gets a strong, quick swing on a pitch one identifies early and which one endeavors to send as far away from home plate as possible. Which is to say that pulling is a skill that is good to have and which is strongly selected for among hitters.
In light of that, “why not just bunt to beat the shift” takes are kind of lazy. Bunting is hard! And it is not a thing guys who get shifted a lot are good at. Most of the time asking a player to do a thing he is not well-equipped to do is a bad idea. Indeed, a hitter voluntarily going away from his strength is something the defense would much prefer.
Most of the time anyway.
Last night Matt Carpenter made those armchair hitting coaches happy by laying down a bunt to beat the shift. And he laid it down so well that he ended up with a standup double:
One batter later Carpenter scored on a Starlin Castro error.
The shift giveth and the shift taketh away.