Though the timely grand slam is a wonderful distraction, I wanted to analyze one of the frustrations oft voiced on AN lately, which is a hitter's inability to make a "productive out". These are the outs which advance runners from second with nobody out or from third with less than two outs. It is, indeed, very, very aggravating to watch a player fail to put a ball in play in the manner you know--and they darn well oughta know--is called for by the situation.
First off, remember, it's not just the A's who fail with these opportunities; all teams fail enough to make their fans believe, "No team can possibly be as bad at this as we are!" The other thing to remember is that the pitcher is among those who know what the batter wants to do, and the pitcher has a lot invested in not allowing that productive out to be made.
So it's not always as easy as it looks from my living room, where many a flying remote has clipped Poochini's ear, prompting more than a few home visits from the SPCA. What follows is my analysis of the cat-and-mouse intricacies of the "productive out"; I hope it is educational, or at least interesting...
Runner at second, nobody out
In this situation, while a base-hit or a fly ball of enough depth can do the trick, a hitter should be thinking "ground ball to the right side." As a result the pitcher is likely to pitch a left-handed hitter away and a right-handed hitter inside. Here, I think left-handed hitters have a significant advantage over right-handed hitters. It is much easier for a left-handed hitter to reach out for an outside pitch and pull a ground ball than it is for a right-handed hitter to spray an inside pitch on the ground to the right side. For right-handed batters who are pitched in on the hands, it is not easy (though Kendall is exceptional at it) to keep the ball out of the air and going to the right side.
Runner at third, less than two outs
Here's where it really gets interesting, as the batter is looking for a pitch to drive to the outfield deep enough to score the run, while the pitcher is ideally looking for either a strikeout or a pop-up.
For these situations, pitch selection becomes key. The best strikeout pitches are often the splitter or slider, while the best pop-up pitch is the changeup. Hitters tend to look fastball, because if you don't a fastball will be by you in a blur. For this reason, the changeup is an especially effective weapon, as once the hitter is out in front of a changeup it is easy for him to pop the pitch up. Recommended hitting approach: If you see a fastball for a strike early in the count, don't wait around because it will only set up the splitter, or slider, or changeup later. Hitters like Kotsay and Payton are naturally well suited to this approach, while hitters like Kendall and Ellis are not (they have to adjust their natural approach).
Feel free to add your thoughts on the matter. Is there a surefire way for the hitter to gain the competitive edge in this cat-and-mouse game?