It’s a new season, and with it comes the opportunity for new approaches. We are used to hearing it year after year in regards to base running, as Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus espouses a seemingly new emphasis on that aspect of the game. While we may wait until the end of time for the base running revolution, there appears to be one area — if the result of center fielder JaCoby Jones first at-bat of the season is to be believed — where improvements are being made: hitting in two-strike counts.
Jones, and the Tigers organization as a whole, appear to be putting more of an emphasis on two-strike hitting this season. Earlier this month Jason Beck talked with Jones, who said “If it’s anywhere close the first couple pitches, I’m probably going to hack at it if I can drive it. But the two-strike approach is just bearing down, being more focused and not giving away ABs easily.”
It’s an approach he started using with some success in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .329/.391/.427. The approach seemed to hold true on Tuesday when Jones worked a seven-pitch at-bat that resulted in a three-run home run. It was encouraging to see Jones find success in his first plate appearance of the season, but in many ways, the process was more encouraging than the result.
Breaking down the at-bat, Jones saw a total of seven pitches from Chicago White Sox starter Jose Quintana. They were a mixture of four-seam fastballs, sinkers, and curve balls.
The at-bat started with Jones watching a high-70s curve drop over the plate for a called strike. On the next pitch, he fouled off a low-90s fastball to bring the count to 0-2.
Jones’ swing-and-miss rates have been a big concern. To fall behind a pitcher like Quintana in an 0-2 count is a dangerous position for anyone to put themselves in, let alone a rookie who struck out nearly 30 percent of the time in the minor leagues. This is why the remainder of the at-bat showed a glimmer of promise for the young hitter. The 0-2 pitch was a fastball that got away from Quintana way up and outside the zone. Now with a 1-2 count, Quintana threw a really good looking curveball that Jones managed to check his swing on. This may have been the best pitch of the at-bat for Jones as, he showed great discipline in a pitcher’s count.
On the next two pitches, Jones saw two more fastballs, both in the low 90s. Focusing on contact, he got a piece of both of them to keep the at-bat alive long enough to get the seventh pitch curve that he parked in the bullpen.
When asked about the at bat after the game Jones had this to say:
"I was just trying to put the ball in play. I laid off a tough pitch in the dirt and fouled a couple fastballs off and he threw me another hanging curve ball," Jones said. "I don't know if it would have been a strike, but I just caught it out front and lifted it in the air and it got the job done. All I was trying to do was put a good swing on it and see what happens."
It’s that last sentence that should give you the warm fuzzies. This is just one at-bat from his first game of the year. We don’t have a tremendous amount of data to go on from last year either, but it seems like a more patient approach, especially when he gets behind in counts, could do wonders for reducing his strikeout rate. For a guy who carried a whiff/swing percentage of close to 40 percent on breaking balls last year, holding off on one breaking ball out of the zone, and then tattooing the next one is a pretty nice thing to see.