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RISP-y Business

Much as I admire Ron Washington and wanted to see him have a chance to manage the A's, and critical as I was, at the time, of the managerial hiring process itself, the more I hear Bob Geren the more convinced I am that he was an excellent choice to be the A's next manager. In his initial interviews, Geren keeps touching upon the very aspects of the A's offense I have been waiting, wanting, hoping, nee craving to see improved: a willingness to run a little more, and more attention to success with runners-in-scoring-position.

Of course, the "running a little more" one is simpler to address. Essentially, you address it by running a little more. But how to improve your hitting with RISP? As Geren himself notes in his interview with Blez, "I played in a lot of organizations and in the minor leagues for so many years and had so many different hitting coaches and you just hear hundreds of different approaches. Some of them are actually comical." Obviously, Geren's philosophies weren't compatible with the hitting coach who preached the importance of "intimidating the ball," nor did he see eye to eye with the hitting coach who tried to integrate aromatherapy into situational hitting. So then, other than the obvious--relaxing instead of pressing, and just generally not being Bobby Crosby--what is the secret to hitting with RISP?

Personally, I believe the single key to hitting with RISP is the same as the single key to hitting successfully in general: looking to "hit the ball where it's pitched". Batters who look to line outside pitches to the opposite field, turn on inside pitches, and rap everything in between from left-center to right-center have several important qualities in common:

  • They can afford to keep their swing short and quick

  • They rarely get themselves out

  • As a result, they are very difficult to pitch to
And isn't that last one alone a pretty good predictor of likely success: that you make it difficult for the other guy to do his job successfully? When we hear that hitters are "pressing with RISP," the change is usually that they are trying to pull everything or that their swing is going against, not with, the pitch. The result is a longer swing, which means you have to commit to pitches earlier--usually while pulling your head off of the swing so you're the last to know that you actually missed the darn ball completely. Who has consistently hit well with RISP? Jason Kendall, who doesn't try to do too much because, well, how much can he do anyway? Hit .333 (81/243) with RISP since joining the A's, that's what.

So if Geren and company can just get A's hitters to keep their swings short and quick with RISP (I'm looking at you, Swish), and to maintain an emphasis on just "hitting the ball hard where it's pitched" (you with me, Dan Johnson?), Oakland could hit well above .243 with RISP and the A's offensive production, post Frank Thomas, might not be so offensive after all.