With nothing much going on around the Nationals this week - well, nothing really jaw-dropping, anyway - I thought I'd use this space to hammer on one of my pet peeves: batting practice.
I remember watching batting practice years ago where the BP pitcher threw off the mound, and would throw breaking balls and changeups as well as fastballs. The idea was to give the hitter some actual practice based upon what he might see in a game. It was fun to get to the ballpark early enough to see it. Every team had a couple of guys to throw, usually a righty and a lefty.
For the last several years batting practice has consisted of someone standing about 45 feet from home plate behind a mesh screen and essentially flipping the ball toward the batter. It's not a fastball, it's a creampuff. Quicker than slow-pitch softball, but no challenge to make contact with.
This past season I asked several Nats' hitters about BP, and what it meant to them. Adam Dunn told me that it was "loosening up," no more and no less. I asked him if he thought it might help him become a better hitter if the BP pitcher actually threw hard or made the ball move, and he said, "Oh, probably, but they're not going to do it, so it's kind of a moot point." Virtually every other Nats' hitter, good or otherwise, echoed Dunn's words.
I asked around the league and got similar responses, but no one seems to know exactly when BP changed to what it is today. I did hear a lot of coach/manager types say they'd like to see it go back to what it was, but no one had any idea how to do it.
One baseball lifer who recently was at the winter meetings in Orlando related a conversation he had there with longtime player and manager Felipe Alou. "Felipe claimed that Barry Bonds was the best hitter, period, that he's ever seen," he said. adding that Barry did not want to take BP from a coach throwing 60 mph from 50 feet or less. "Felipe said that Barry felt that he needed a regular pitcher throwing from normal distance (60 feet, 6 inches) to both identify the type of pitch and its location." Alou also said that BP as it's presently constituted is virtually meaningless, since the hitter really can't judge how well he's hitting a specific type of pitch.
A couple of summers ago, I was listening to a sports call-in show on a Baltimore station and the host was talking about how he'd been to Ravens training camp that day and had watched a specific wide receiver make a great downfield catch that morning, and how he was sure that guy would have a great season. He failed to mention that no one was playing defense, and they were practicing in T-shirts and shorts. If I went on the air and referenced a specific hitter who'd hit a few bombs into the seats during BP that evening, and parlayed it into an endorsement of that hitter, I'd be called on it by the listeners, and rightfully so, since I think most fans already know there's no real correlation.
Throughout baseball history, there have been batters who were described as "6 o'clock hitters," since they could crush the ball during BP, but in the game itself, not so much. Maybe it's time for some team to change the current culture of batting practice, and actually turn it into actual batting practice.
Is there a downside to that that I'm missing?