The "Book" Hitters and Pitchers keep on each other

Baseball players regard themselves as a Brotherhood. Thus it has always been, even in the earliest days of the game. There was even a Players League in 1890 (Boston won the pennant). Today while the state of Organized Labor in these United States is at a nadir, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA) is arguably the strongest and most powerful union in existence. Unlike their cousins in the National Football League, the MLBPA would never, ever, consider “decertifying” itself. An unthinkable thought!

Looking deeper into this shared concept of Brotherhood, we find two distinct and competing fraternities: that of Pitchers, and that of Hitters. Pitchers on opposing teams will routinely discuss Hitters on a third team (never their own there is that much loyalty: Teammate above all), “What’s he looking for? Can he hit the breaking ball? Can you go up and in? Will he chase?” And Hitters likewise will gather around the batting cage and discuss third-team pitchers (“What’s he got? Will he throw the breaking ball on 3-1? Does he come inside?”).

There is, on every Pitcher and on every Hitter, a “Book” on that player’s proclivities, tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. Each team maintains such a Book and it is in fact formalized, today in spreadsheets, charts and graphs, and now in video, but there is throughout the leagues a shared Book that is informal but no less real and compelling on each and every player.

These discussions between players on Team A and Team B most often take place after Team A has faced Team C in a recent series and Team B is looking towards an upcoming match with Team C. Get those observations while they’re fresh and when you’ll soon be needing them!

Baseball, unlike other games, is defined and parameterized by its singular event from which all other events flow, the confrontation of Pitcher and Hitter. Thus, it can be said that the savviest and most capable Pitchers “throw the Book” at opposing Hitters, and the most talented and capable Hitters read the Pitcher “like a Book”. Top pitchers will in fact digest “the Book” on an entire lineup. As Hall of Famer Greg Maddux said, “You don’t get out Hitters, you get out lineups.” Knowing where and when to attack a lineup, knowing which hitters to challenge and which to avoid, is a key element in taming an opponent.

Similarly, understanding a pitcher’s tendencies can be crucial to success. In poker they are called “tells”, in baseball a pitcher may “tip” his pitches, or possibly take a certain stance or body language that can be “read” by a base-runner to know if the pitcher is going home with his pitch or whether he is looking to hold the runner and attempt a pick-off.

On August 3, in a game between the Colorado Rockies and the Philadelphia Phillies, it became evident (as noted by the game announcers) that the Rockies had picked up a “tell” on Roy Halladay that indicated when he was throwing home and could thus be stolen on more easily. In the bottom of the first inning, Rockies’ leadoff man Eric Young Jr. reached base on an infield hit. Young, reading Halladay perfectly, stole second easily and when Dexter Fowler’s bunt attempt was mishandled by first baseman Ryan Howard, Young scored from second.

In the bottom of the third, Fowler himself walked, and stole second on Halladay, before scoring himself on Todd Helton’s single. The announcers were now all over Halladay’s exposure.

Well, somebody in the Phillies’ clubhouse was watching the game and this was brought to the coaching staff’s, and Halladay’s attention. In the bottom of the fourth, Mark Ellis of the Rockies singled. As he took off for second, Doc stepped off rubber, wheeled and threw Ellis out. That was the end of the Rockies running that day.

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