LAKELAND, FLORIDA -- It's no secret that fans, media and players do not always agree about the game of baseball. A glance at Twitter any time a team bunts is enough to confirm that notion. A glance at a comments section -- DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS EXCEPT MAYBE OCCASIONALLY AT BYB, WE GUESS, BUT NEVER AFTER BUNTS -- would confirm it as well.
Yet listening to Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, with 23 years of professional experience (18 at the major league level), just talk about the game can be a pretty darn educational experience in itself. With that in mind, here are a few excerpts from his discussions with the media on Friday and Saturday:
On pointing out splits when discussing a player's season:
"It kind of irks me a little bit when people want to split players' seasons up. You say player X had a good year but he really struggled in the second half. He still had a good year. Guys are going to struggle at some point in the season. It's more likely they struggle in the second half as they tire. You can't discount what they did in the first half. Games are just important to win as they are in the second half. You hear it the other way, too. Someone will say pitcher X, he struggled but he finished strong. Yeah, so?"
And yes, are the splits revealing something? Well ...
"I think as coaches you're trying to identify why was the second half (bad)? Was it because he tired, or was it because he overachieved in the first half, which can also be the case, based on what our experiences as coaches with players in baseball tells us. Yes he had a great first half, but was he -- and I'm not talking about anyone specifically -- we've seen guys with similar stuff, are his numbers way better than his stuff right now, and water's gonna find its level in the second half and did? Or is his stuff really as good as it was in the first half and he just struggled in the second half, that he was tired or his cannon got out of whack? So you have to try to identify the reasons why, rather than just look at the numbers.
On dealing with speedy baserunners
"There's a number of ways a pitcher can mitigate a baserunner's ability to steal. It's not necessarily just the time to home plate, but when you come set, holding for varying amounts of time rather than holding the same amount of time every pitch. Having different head movements -- pitchers get in the habit of doing the same thing. They come set, they look, they pitch. They come set, they look, they pitch. ... So there is ways to mitigate it. That's something we focused on last year in spring training and we're doing again, even in the bullpens and these live BP sessions, we remind them, hey, vary your times, vary your holds, etc."
"Yeah I learned early on -- and many catchers make this mistake -- you cannot call pitches with the idea you wanna pitch to throw the runner out. You gotta call pitches to get the hitter out. There are catchers across the game who, they want that caught stealing and they'll call for a pitch that helps them throw the runner out, but might preclude them from getting the hitter out. Which, for me, compounds the problem."
What about using the side step?
"The quicker you are to the plate, the easier it's going to be to throw the guy out or to stop the guy from running. The problem with the slide step is you're changing your delivery. When you go to the slide step, what happens is your legs are in front of your arms and a lot of times your arm ends up dragging. So it makes it much more difficult to throw the breaking ball. You can't constantly slide step unless that's how you pitched your whole life. It just throws the rhythm of the delivery off.
"Some guys are better at it than others. One rule I had when I was catching, unless I knew the guy could do it, I would never call the breaking ball on the slide step 'cause the arm didn't catch up and then the breaking ball ended being up in the zone, aka a hanger. There's ways besides the slide step."