Chris Davis was one tired looking hitter coming down the stretch. So was Manny Machado. Both have a reputation for being hard workers. No doubt fans of every team could name a hitter or two (or eight) who despite the hard work, slumped in September. I am starting to believe that it was because of the hard work that these slumps occurred. It’s not the 500 at-bats that’s wearing out these guys, it’s the obsessive number of swings in spring training, in the cage, off the tee, during batting practice before the game, in the tunnel during the game, and in the tunnel after the game.
Baseball has placed all kinds of limits on pitchers. The last 40 years has seen the advent of five man rotations, pitch counts, and innings limits, yet hitters are allowed to swing, swing, swing as though Benny Goodman was the Commissioner of Baseball. (You younger fans go with me here and look him up. Click on the link for a sample!) Forty years ago, no one had even heard of an oblique muscle much less a strained one, but today it is a relatively common injury. I don’t believe that’s a random occurrence.
We know that too much exercise of any kind can cause fatigue, injury, and loss of form, which begs the question, how many swings are too many swings in the course of a season? Some kinesiologist or exercise physiologist (or a whole bunch of them) need toe study the phenomenon of hitter fatigue. Perhaps, there already is an answer to this question, and I would love to hear from anyone qualified to answer it. A cursory Google search, however, produced only two newspaper articles on the general subject of batting practice, but both contained some highly interesting observations. The most recent, a July 7, 2013 MLB.com article by Bill Chastain and Sam Strong, quotes Rays manager Joe Maddon who states that “all baseball players swing too much during the season.” Maddon goes on to say that the 50 minute pre-game batting practice ritual is vastly over-rated. This opinion was shared by Yankee manager Joe Girardi and several others in an August 16, 2012 New York Times article by David Walstein.
I could find no scientific articles relating to the subject, but then I’ve never read any articles explaining the “science” behind the pitch count limit, either. If the concept of a pitch count is valid, then shouldn’t there be a “swing count” based on the same principle of limiting player injury and fatigue? Sabermetric research has given owners and general managers valuable information for intelligently investing in major league personnel. Once the investment is made, however, pitchers are restricted by the new (ungrounded) traditions while hitters are still swinging ’til their hands bleed in the old (ungrounded) tradition. Baseball needs to scientifically ground its traditions in order to maximize the major investments that are being made in ballplayers. As a start, I offer the following hypothesis: Pitchers are over-protected and hitters and under-protected.