Over-aggressiveness Hindering Cajun Hitters
The Ragin' Cajuns are 2-5 to begin this 2018 baseball campaign, not exactly the start everyone had hoped for. There have been a couple injuries to a couple of big time leaders on this team, pitchers Gunner Leger and Hogan Harris and catcher Handsome Monica. There has been a bit of bad luck go against them as well, whether it was the walk-off loss to Texas in weekend number one or last weekend when it seems the umpires botched a couple of calls that cost the Cajuns runs.
However, don't bring those excuses up to head coach Tony Robicheaux, he's not letting his team grab that low hanging fruit. He stated that point at his weekly press conference Tuesday, "We can't grab low hanging fruit...We are 2-5 and it's on me."
Where you may be able to look at this team and say they need to do a better job is being overly aggressive at the plate. I made the argument last week that this team was being overly aggressive and pointed to their loss at Southeastern as a direct example.
During that game the Cajuns had three hits, two walks, and struck out 11 times making things pretty easy on Southeastern's starting pitcher, Carlisle Koestler. UL had 31 at-bats as a team and either put the ball in play or struck out within the first three pitches 17 times that game.
I've always said that as a hitter you want to be selectively aggressive, meaning that until you have two strikes you are not swinging at a pitch you know that you can't drive.
The phrase that Coach Robe used at his press conference was, "controlled aggressiveness" when I asked him about his team being overly aggressive at the plate. Another point that coach made was that swinging at the right pitch early in the count is perfectly fine, "We don't mind a line out...what we don't like to see is a soft early out...There's no excuse for that."
Basically, selectively aggressive or controlled aggressiveness is making sure if you're going to swing at a pitch early in the count you have to make sure it's a pitch you can hit hard. You also have to have the discipline as a hitter in order to take a pitch that you know you can't drive or isn't something you're looking for early in the count. In addition, you have to have confidence in yourself as a hitter to not swing at a pitch early in the count or swing at something you're not looking for just because it's a strike. That's where the Cajuns are struggling offensively right now.
As a hitter, it's OK to be a guess hitter, one of the best hitters who ever lived, Ted Williams, was a guess hitter. Is it easier to hit a pitch that you're looking for or trying to be ready for every pitch the pitcher MIGHT throw you? I'd much rather try and hit a pitch I'm looking for rather than every pitch the pitcher might throw, unless you have two strikes. If you have two strikes on you then all bets are off, you go into battle mode as a hitter.
Now, how do you make an educated guess as a hitter, yeah that sounds better than a guess hitter, you watch how the pitcher pitches your teammates and learn what his tendencies are. Pitchers are creatures of habit, most of the time when a pitcher is in trouble he'll go to his off-speed pitches.
There was no better example of that then on Sunday against Wright State when the Cajuns had 2nd and 3rd with no outs. Wright State's reliever, Derek Hendrixson lived off his slider and baffled the next two batters he faced (McKinnon and Bourgeois). He had them chasing pitches in the dirt, off the plate, and throwing their timing all off. Hendrixson got out of that inning unscathed and that was a golden opportunity gone by the wayside.
Getting on base is also another HUGE factor in the slow start this season. The team has drawn only 19 free passes out of 232 plate appearances and when you're hitting a mere .174 as a team that's not going to be a recipe for success. In correlation, the teams OBP (on-base percentage) is severely low as well sitting at .237, makes it hard to score runs when you don't have runners on base.
Coach Robe also acknowledged the lack of patience and walks by saying, "Right now we don't walk much and I think that has to come up. We've got to get rid of fear and anxiety."
Baseball is a game that's dominated by statistics and numbers but for the Cajuns to be successful they need to throw out the batting average and stop fearing that this at-bat won't result in a hit. They need to get back to winning every pitch, being disciplined at the plate, and keeping their confidence high, worrying more about putting a good at bat together rather than living or dying with each result.
Having quality at-bats is what's going to get this team out of its early funk and Coach Robe said that the "Q-AB's" (quality at-bats) are on the rise. "If we can just collectively keep growing one through nine and continue to, what I call, take every at-bat personal....when you get nine guys that hit like that, I think you can overcome a poor swing or some poor mechanics."
This offense is young and needs to grow, with leaders on the sidelines, someone needs to step up. From what I heard from Coach Robe Tuesday afternoon, it makes me believe that this team will eventually figure it out and start to stack quality at-bats that will result in runs. The offense may never light the world on fire, so to speak, this season but I do believe with the right mental state they can be very effective and win a lot of games aiding their solid pitching and good defense.