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Can plate discipline and pitch recognition be taught?

A mid-season demotion for a promising young hitter is as synonymous with summer as a trip to the beach or a glob of sunscreen. These players leave the show toting unsightly numbers and, almost always, poor strikeout and walk totals. The commentary surrounding these roster moves features the usual chatter: Needs to control the zone better. Needs to learn how to take a walk. Needs to lay off the high fastball. Needs to stop swinging at the curve in the dirt.

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Timing issues held Yu Darvish back in his first big-league start, but sound underlying mechanics suggest that he'll soon put those struggles behind him.

Monday night in Arlington featured the most anticipated pitching appearance of 2012, with Yu Darvish taking the mound in his stateside debut against the Seattle Mariners. The right-hander came to Texas preceded by a $111 million price tag, scouting reports that told of a seven-pitch arsenal, and a reputation as Japan's greatest pitcher. The Rangers held him back until the fourth game of the season, unveiling their hired gun at home against a light-hitting Mariners club that just happens to have a legion of Japanese fans, cranking up the media hype for Darvish's first start.

Darvish wore the stoic mask of a Man with No Name as he took the mound, though he must have been saturated with adrenaline once he toed the rubber. He walked leadoff batter Chone Figgins on four consecutive pitches, the last three of which missed badly outside the zone as his throwing arm failed to catch up to the rest of his body. Darvish came back to strike out Dustin Ackley on a nasty slider, surviving a seven-pitch battle and setting up the ultimate face-off of Japan's legends, with Ichiro striding to the plate to face the phenom. Darvish took the opportunity to show off multiple variations of his fastball, chucking six consecutive heaters that ranged from 92-96 mph with assorted levels of sink, cut, and run through the zone.

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December 28, 2011 3:30 am

Prospectus Hit and Run: The Class of 2012: The First Basemen


Jay Jaffe

The new JAWS runs up against players from the Steroid Era to determine their Hall worthiness.

As with comedy, timing is everything in baseball. "Hitting is timing," Hall of Famer Warren Spahn said famously, finishing the thought with the complementary observation, "Pitching is upsetting timing." A good chunk of both the game's traditional and advanced statistics, the ones that we spurn and those that we celebrate, owe plenty to being the right man in the right place at the right time—wins, saves, and RBI from the former camp, leverage, run expectancy, and win expectancy from the latter. ERA owes everything to the sequence of events. For better or worse, MVP votes are won and lost on the timing of a player's productivity, or at least the perception of it that comes with being labeled "clutch." Timing is a major part of how we measure the game, so it should matter when we look over the course of a player's career in evaluating his fitness for the Hall of Fame.

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The Reds prospect will try to win a job with the major-league club this spring, and talks about his rise through the system.

Chris Heisey made people stand up and take notice in 2009. That's not to say the Reds outfield prospect hadn't performed admirably since being taken in the 17th round of the 2006 draft from Division III Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, but he also had fallen short of distinguishing himself. Last year that changed. In 585 plate appearances split between Double-A and Triple-A, Heisey hit a robust 314/.379/.521 with 22 home runs, and for good measure he swiped 21 bases in 24 attempts. Heisey will go into spring training looking to compete for the Reds left-field job, and talked with David about his game and a few of his teammates on the final weekend of the Arizona Fall League season last November.

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An in-depth discussion about mechanics with the motion analysis coordinator and coach of the National Pitching Association.

Pitching is both an art and a science, and from youth leagues to the big leagues, so is the challenge of keeping pitchers healthy. The National Pitching Association (NPA) is on the cutting edge of research and instruction on all three fronts, and many of their concepts are shared in their forthcoming book, Arm Action, Arm Path, and the Perfect Pitch: a Science-Based Guide to Pitching Health and Performance. David talked to the NPA's motion analysis coordinator and coach, Doug Thorburn.

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