Word out of the Blue Jays “Winter Tour” is that the team is planning to play more small ball and manufacture more runs than it did last year when it relied almost entirely on the home run.
Whatever you think of small ball, the underlying philosophy that seems to be behind this new approach is a solid one: Get on base so that someone else can drive you in. Or, as Vernon Wells says in the above-linked article, “If you look at the offensive year that we had, I think if we were able to manufacture a few more runs we could have had a few more wins.”
Get on base, work your way around the bases, score a run, repeat. Do this more times than the other team and you win.
Sounds good, but there is one big glaring flaw with the plan:
That’s right. It’s hitting coach extraordinaire Dwayne Murphy.
Murph did a fine job last year with the Blue Jays. Then-manager Cito Gaston liked saying things like “there’s no defence against the trot” and so Murph did everything he could to teach the Blue Jays how to pull the ball and hit it hard and far. He did this and he did it impressively as the Jays led the majors in home runs by a nautical mile.
The downside of hitting all those home runs is that Murph’s pupils had to change their approach to mash all the taters. The change in approach resulted in some people being really screwed up (see Lind, Adam) and some completely blowing everybody away (JoBau!) but the one thing that happened to nearly everybody on the team? They stopped getting on base.
Now, was this a necessary consequence of hitting the dingers or was it something bigger? Was Murph telling his players that getting on base doesn’t actually matter?
In interview with Yahoo early in the 2010 season, Murph said that “on-base percentage is an overrated stat. Those guys getting on base, most of them aren’t getting them in. Give me somebody who drives them in after that. I need guys who can drive the ball.”
That could indicate his true feelings, or it could be a guy covering his ass and trying to keep his boss happy. It’s hard to say, but one thing’s for sure, if that’s how Murph really feels and the Jays really are going to be playing a version of small ball in this upcoming season, something’s gotta give. You can’t play small ball if you’ve got the hitting coach preaching a boom-or-bust approach at the plate.