An article by Tom Krasovic in Wednesday’s San Diego Union-Tribune takes a look at Grady Fuson’s efforts to improve the approach of hitters throughout the Padres organization by educating them on “the importance of getting a good pitch to hit.” These are methods that served the Oakland A’s well when Fuson was there and that helped produce the likes of Eric ChÃ¡vez, Jason Giambi, and Miguel Tejada.
As the article notes, Fuson’s ideas aren’t exactly revolutionary. At the same time, how many clubs are sitting their coaches and young hitters down in a classroom and showing them the batting averages of big leaguers by count over the past two seasons?
This is an example of how traditional baseball thought can coexist with stathead concepts, and how the two actually reinforce each other. Of course, you always want to get a good pitch to hit. But maybe when someone like Fuson, who has been in the game for a long time and enjoyed considerable success (and helped others to do the same), demonstrates exactly how much your chances improve by getting into a favorable count, you take it a little more to heart than if someone simply tells you to work the count.
Fuson addresses the “why” part of the equation. Now, armed with this knowledge, you know as a hitter that the goal isn’t to work the count, but rather to get a good pitch to hit so you can improve your likelihood of succeeding. Working the count is merely the tool by which this goal is achieved. Drawing walks, which also helps the team by putting potential runs on base, is a fortunate by-product.
All well and good, if a tad academic. But if there’s any doubt that Fuson is the right man for the job, check out his track record. And listen to his attitude toward getting staffers to drink the proverbial Kool-Aid:
I told them, “Let me show you. I don’t expect you to just nod your head and say OK.” I don’t feel resistance. And if I do, I look at it like my presentation needs to be better.
In other words, Fuson isn’t some guy wielding a bunch of books and formulas with ivory tower authority. He knows the numbers and how to use them, but he also has the cred of one who has achieved measurable success. Beyond the cred, he has the confidence of such a person, such a messenger. If the message doesn’t get through right away, he will try again. This isn’t someone looking to impress people with his knowledge, this is a man with real solutions to real problems.
Fuson’s ideas may not be revolutionary, but in the Padres universe they represent movement in the right direction. Getting people to embrace an unfamiliar concept is less a matter of hitting them over the head with it and berating them for “not getting it” when they don’t jump on board immediately, and more a matter of patiently explaining the idea and how it benefits them personally.
This is not a short-term strategy, and not everyone has the temperament to be “patiently aggressive” (is it coincidence that Fuson’s favorite expression applies to his own teaching methods as much as to the approach he wants his hitters to adopt?). But it is a plan with a history of demonstrable success, and with the right man driving the plan, it just might start a revolution.