Preach, Scotty, preach.
Detroit Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris started talking about his strike-zone beliefs at his introductory news conference.
“I believe that the strike zone disproportionately influences just about everything you see on the baseball field,” Harris said on Sept. 20. “It dictates pitch counts. It dictates count leverage. It dictates length of inning, dictates the load you’re putting on the pitcher’s body and how many pitchers you’re going to have to use throughout a series. It also dictates the quality of contact that you’re giving up and how much contact you’re giving up, which therefore influences the quality of defense that you can build and execute behind the pitcher.”
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That philosophy has flowed through the entire organization.
Tigers manager A.J. Hinch has talked about it so much since spring training that it has become a team doctrine.
Not surprisingly, the message has filtered to the minor leagues.
Tigers prospects are talking about it, and so are the managers of the Tigers’ minor league clubs.
“We really want them to go out there and No. 1 … have fun, that’s the most important thing,” West Michigan manager Brayan Peña said last Tuesday. “But No. 2, which is important, too, is for them to understand where exactly in the zone they are going to do some damage. What is the strike they are going to hit hard? And we’re making sure that our guys understand that. The credit goes to Kenny Graham (Tigers director of development). That is a message that our guys are getting every single day.”
But it’s more than the strike zone. More than swinging at strikes.
It’s getting into good counts and doing damage with the right kind of pitches.
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Which brings us to Colt Keith. Mr. Hit for the Cycle.
He has been on a ridiculous hot streak for Double-A Erie and was named Eastern League Player of the Week.
But dig deeper and you can see it goes back to the strike zone. Keith cut down on his strikeouts, and the damage followed.
A quick recap: In four games from May 6-10, Keith struck out 11 times in 18 plate appearances while struggling through a 2-for-16 (.125) rough patch. This is the exact opposite of controlling the strike zone. There were far too many strikeouts and not enough damage, especially for someone of his talent level.
But then something flipped. In his next eight games, Keith cut down on his strikeouts tremendously (just five strikeouts in 38 plate appearances), while hitting four homers, a triple and a double, for an amazing .478 average with a 1.611 OPS.
It’s a simple concept, really.
Swing at the pitches where you can do damage.
Of course, it’s easier said than done.
It’s a learning process.
One that might never end.
“We want to make sure that our guys understand that this is not just here for West Michigan,” Pena said. “This is something that we want them to do when they get to Detroit.”
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Doing serious damage
Darn near every conversation that I’ve had with a Tigers prospect has veered quickly into a discussion about the strike zone.
“How is the season going?” I asked Chris Meyers, a West Michigan first baseman, last Tuesday.
I find Meyers intriguing because he is a big left-handed hitting prospect who can hit for both average (.284 entering Tuesday) and power (seven homers).
“Kind of hitting a little bit of a lull right now,” he said last week. “Kind of chasing pitches that I normally wouldn’t be chasing. But other than that, just kind of getting back to my approach.”
“What are you working on specifically hitting-wise?” I asked him.
“Right now, kind of just trying to stay a little bit more through the ball,” he said. “I’ve been kind of catching it a little bit deep. So just kind of getting that head out.”
That’s the next level of this conversation: It’s not only picking the right pitches to do damage but putting the right swing on them.
A few days later, he figured it out.
On Sunday afternoon, he went 3-for-4 with two homers and a double while driving in three runs.
To me, that’s the most encouraging part of this.
It’s not just talk or a sermon. This is real development. With real results. From a philosophy to practice.
And you can literally see the progress.
All stemming from Harris’ focus.
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Everybody talking about strike zone
I also find Danny Serretti intriguing.
He’s a smooth-fielding shortstop playing for West Michigan.
And the strike zone was on his mind, too.
“I’m striking (out) a little more than I want to,” he said. “I feel like last year I was able to walk a little more. But you know, it’s a long season. This is a tough league. Pitchers are really good and their misses are close. So, I’m not worried about it. It’s early in the season but yeah, it is a little higher than I’d like.”
Serretti is the Tigers’ No. 29 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
“We believe that he’s a very good player and we believe in his talent, we believe in what he can do on the baseball field,” Peña said.
Even though Serretti thinks he should be doing better, he has some fascinating numbers, when you put it through the Harris doctrine.
Who is the Tigers’ top-30 prospect with the lowest strikeout percentage?
None other than Andre Lipcius (16.9% strikeout rate), who got a long look during spring training and is in Triple-A Toledo.
He’s followed by Wenceel Pérez (18.7%) and you guessed it, Serretti (19.3%).
Those numbers are important to keep in mind.
“We’re going to start with the strike zone,” Harris said at his introductory presser. “We want to dominate the strike zone on both sides of the ball, and we want to acquire, develop, and retain players that can give us the chance to do that.”
Those are important words: Acquire, develop and retain.
So that’s why all this is so important.
Not just at the big league level.
But in the minors, where it all starts.
Looking forward, it’s going to impact who the Tigers acquire, as well as who they retain and push through the system.
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Contact Jeff Seidel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.
To read Seidel’s recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.