This offseason, the A’s traded Khris Davis’s majestic long fly balls to right field for Elvis Andrus’ ball slapped through the right side hole. Was there ever a better time to make this swap?
Don’t get me wrong — the home run, and slugging, aren’t going anywhere, but more of those fly balls may be going only as far as the warning track. MLB gets few things right (but enough about blackouts, extra innings and doubleheaders), yet even a broken clock is right twice a day and MLB has hit a rare bullseye in reintroducing a deadened, instead of more tightly wound, baseball.
“Chicks dig the long ball” is a misleading meme. Whether you are a chick or a dude, Homerun Derby is not the most exciting brand of baseball. Less reliance on slugging, and more reliance on contact skills, simply makes baseball a far more exciting game to watch.
In a “dead ball era,” you see elements of the game that were shelved for the better part of 30 years: The stolen base, the hit and run, the suicide squeeze, the “two strike approach”. In other words, nuanced and creative baseball, not just “grip it and rip it in any count”.
That’s not Khris Davis’ game, but it is Elvis Andrus’, and while the A’s will still slug perhaps this season we will see more emphasis on cutting the corner of the second base bag going from 1st to 3rd then the tedious recitations of launch angle and exit velocity.
“The Book” reminds us that your #2 hitter should be your best all around hitter but in the “old school” days, which include dead ball eras, the #2 spot often featured a slappy, high contact hitter whose jobs included taking pitches for a base stealer, “hitting behind the runner” to find the right side hole, and making contact in hit-and-run counts.
This describes Andrus, Tony Kemp, and Vimael Machin (who my voice recognition software wants to call “gmail machine”), players whose value may have been enhanced when they loosened the seams on this year’s baseball.
And don’t worry: Matt Olson could hit a wet sponge 450 feet. The A’s will still hit HRs, but how refreshing to think that small ball, and a two strike approach, might be returning to the game. You cannot tell me that a triple followed by a suicide squeeze is not more exciting than yet another solo HR. Or that you don’t want to torment an innocent puppy when a player swings from his ass on a two-strike pitch with a runner at third and one out.
And let’s face it: As the game evolves, so do the relative values of different skill-sets. I am happy to see qualities such as contact skills, all fields hitting, situational approach, and versatility rewarded.
Welcome back, real baseball. We have truly missed you.