By Steven Urena —
“It’s time to tell it like it is, sports fans. And this is the most wretched road trip I’ve seen in 20 years. And possibly the worst Durham team in a half-century. Is the modern-day athlete a pale imitation of the great old warriors? Only Crash Davis stands out this year, begging the question: What are these boys thinking about? Because it sure ain’t baseball.” -Teddy Cullinane, Bull Durham
Lost Angeles Dodgers
What turns a season? Is it a stroke of luck? A hard-fought and courageous win? A rah-rah speech? A fight with another team?
Go back to the basics. Simplify. A wise man once told me, “This is a simple game. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.”
Some teams just need to hit rock bottom. Once a team realizes they are horrible and just kind of accept it, they start to relax. The process of hitting rock bottom is harder on a team than actually being at the bottom. By the time a team hits rock bottom, they already lost the heartbreakers, blowouts, and blew leads. A team that feels like they have nothing to lose is dangerous.
Others say you need to claw and scratch your way back to the top. Compete your rear end off, continue the process, don’t worry about the results, and work hard. Play forward and stop letting past failures affect current performance. The mental tools needed to play baseball far exceed the physical ones. Win series, win at-bats, execute pitches, be tough and compete.
Mix it up. Chances are, you played for a coach that quoted Albert Einstein. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Change up the batting order, change hitting approaches, play a little Small Ball, give other guys an opportunity to play and have fun. Kobe Bryant once said, “It’s not about you. You feel embarrassed, well, you are not that important. Get over yourself.” At the end of the day, the players get paid a handsome wager to play baseball. Enjoy it.
One of my favorite movies of all time is The Legend of Bagger Vance. Throughout the film, Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon) says he “lost his golf swing,” to which people constantly reply, “where’d it go?” As much as Dodger fans hate to admit it, we are learning how to win all over again. The injuries do not help, but neither does playing timid and without confidence.
Well, ladies and gentleman, the Dodgers lost their stroke. Now we have to go find it.
I saw an interesting stat on Mike Trout. This season, his launch angle lowered and, statistically, he is having the best year of his career. According to the new school of baseball thinking, this should not happen. There should be a direct correlation between a higher launch angle and batting statistics. Let’s discuss.
Every time a ball is hit, it has some degree of launch angle. Launch angle is not the way a hitter swings the bat. Launch angle is not swinging down, up, or level. Launch angle is how far up the ball goes “up” after contact. The idea for most is to create a higher degree of launch angle to hit more home runs.
Let’s be clear, the goal is not simply to achieve the highest launch angle possible. If the launch angle is too high, the hitter is popping up. If the launch angle is too low, the hitter is grounding out. The magic occurs in the middle. I wrote a piece about sabermetrics recently. The average launch angle on a home run is about 30 degrees. Usually, line drives are anywhere from 5-15 degrees.
Every hitter is different. Mike Trout’s average launch angle went from 22.2 degrees in 2019 to 10.5 degrees in 2021. Does this mean Trout is now “swinging down” on the ball more? Absolutely not. Remember, Trout is strong enough to hit balls out of the ballpark at lower launch angles than most players. If he hits a hard line drive with backspin, he can rely on his strength to hit the ball over the fence.
Byron Buxton, on the other hand, is slightly different. Buxton is a bit leaner and does not possess as much natural power as Trout. Buxton has a decrease of 14.3 degrees in launch angle from last year and is crushing the ball. He’s hitting over 100 points higher and with more power than he did in 2020 and in his only full season in the big leagues (2017). Again, are we to believe that Buxton is swinging down now? No way. His focus, like Trout, is hitting line drives.
Put me in a cage with a youngster, and I am not emphasizing swing down, up, or level. My main point would be to hit line drives. If the ball is at your knees, hammering down on the ball will not create the backspin needed to hit a line drive. If the ball is letter high and the hitter swings slightly up, the ball will be popped up or completely missed. A hitter’s swing path depends on the location of the ball. The swing path for a ball low and away is not the same as a ball that is belt high and down the middle. The height of the pitch and the location has a lot to do with the hitter’s bat path.
Ground balls are outs. Fly balls are outs. Line drives are usually hits. Telling a young hitter to swing up all the time or swing down all the time will cause some confusion. Coach youngsters depending on their age, development, and advancement. Power will come naturally, but one must learn the value of line drives. Not everyone is a home run hitter, but the mindset is always to swing to do damage. Try to hit the ball hard and put the correct swing on the ball according to its height and location.
My take on Trout and Buxton is they see the ball exceptionally well. They are hitting mistakes out of the ballpark and hitting line drives on tough pitches. It is also early in the season. I highly doubt either of them will hit over .340 at the end of the season—especially Buxton.
Everyone loves a good underdog story. I sure do, except when it involves the San Francisco Giants. If any Giants fan in Los Angeles would have placed bets on Opening Day that they would be in 1st place on May 12, they would have won every single one. Their veterans are off to a great start, and the youngsters have been pulling their weight.
In some ways, Dodger fans hate to see the Boston Red Sox having success. Especially young Armando Verdugo. Red Sox fans love to see him hitting over .300 while Mookie Betts has had his struggles. The engine is running in Bean Town, and that engine is J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts. On the other side of the ball, you got Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, and Garrett Richards holding down the fort.
Is Moneyball back? The Oakland A’s are playing like it’s the early 2000’s. Scrappy hitters, pitching is getting out of jams and high energy. The A’s don’t jump off the page, but they just keep winning series. Whatever keeps the Houston Astros out of the playoffs, I am all for it.
Players I’ve had on the IL or COVID list: Fernando Tatis Jr. (twice), Anthony Rendon (twice), Ketel Marte, Colin Moran, Hyun Jin Ryu, Marco Gonzales, Jordan Hicks, Travis d’Arnaud, and Max Kepler. Can I pick ‘em or what?
Legends Never Die
The end came sooner than later for Albert Pujols. As far as stats go, he’s one of the best ever. Easily, top three first baseman of all time. Unlike a fine wine and unfortunately for the Angels, he did not age well. His best years were clearly in St. Louis with the Cardinals. Despite his decline in Anaheim, he is still heading to Cooperstown. You hate to see Pujols go out like this, but baseball can be a cruel, cruel game. In his prime, he had the best swing to teach youngsters.
I like what Trevor Bauer said after he lost to the Angels. Anyone that did not like it, including his teammates, needs a serious gut check. Bauer came here to win. Plain and simple. He’s done his part and some. It’s time some of his teammates join the fight.
Las Vegas A’s
I love this idea. It keeps the A’s on the West coast. They get a new stadium and hopefully generate some money.
I am looking forward to Dodgers and A’s showdowns in Sin City.
Joke of the Day
What does Ohtani feed his horses? Shoheeeeiiiii.
The Urena Express appears every Wednesday at JoeTorosian.com
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