Can you teach an old catcher new tricks?
Pudge Rodriguez’s power surge has been a pleasant surprise this spring. With two more homers today, he now has a MLB leading six for the spring. But as Jason Beck notes, Pudge is focusing less on the homers, and more on being patient. This is a guy after all, that is one of only 4 players since 2003 to have more than 500 plate appearances in a season and fewer than 15 walks. And he did it twice!
Still, Pudge sez:
“No, I don’t think I’ve had a Spring Training like that as far as home runs. But I don’t look for that. It’s good, yes. I have six home runs in Spring Training. The main thing about it is I’m just doing what I want to do and just be more selective at the plate, try to hit some strikes and take the balls. I’m just trying to see 4-5 pitches per at-bat. That’s what I’m trying to do. And so far, that’s what I’m doing. I’m feeling pretty good about that.”
Keep in mind here that Pudge’s pitch selection in 2007 wasn’t just poor, it was horrendous. Using pitch f/x data from last year we saw that a typical big leaguer would offer at 29% of pitchers out of the strike zone. Rodriguez was around 50%.
As for the 4-5 pitches per PA, that would be quite a jump. Beck noted that Rodriguez ranked near the bottom in terms of pitchers per PA last year when he averaged 3.51. But that was actually the most pitches he’s seen since becoming a Tigers with rates of 3.44, 3.33, and 3.39. In fact the 3.51 was the 2nd highest mark of his career.
Rodriguez’s ability to carry this over into the regular season would seem to be far fetched. Still, this is a contract year which may provide some extra motivation to be a more complete hitter. Secondly, he’s had some early success this spring which should provide some positive reinforcement that the approach is working. Third, he’ll be in a great lineup. Okay, that last one doesn’t make a lot of sense but it is a popular refrain for why players will do really well for the Tigers this year.