Monday, April 04, 2005

the patterson problem

ah, opening day! the months of accumulated detrius are swept away by spring's renewing tide, and all things are born again. in browning's articulation, "I trust in Nature for the stable laws/Of beauty and utility. Spring shall plant/And Autumn garner to the end of time." surely that could not be truer than of baseball.

speculation among the 1060west contributors regarding the opening day lineup for your chicago cubs sparked again the question of corey patterson. the cubs obviously lack a true leadoff hitter, which some combination of c-pat's speed and... well, a patience that no one on the team actually has. because of his 32 steals last year, patterson may well be (as he was in 2004) the first cub to the plate in most of his appearances. but there's no ignoring the truth that he simply does not get on base as a leadoff hitter should -- or, for that matter, as a good major-league hitter should.

patterson's got over 1700 major league at-bats in now. he's a veteran at this point. so when does a guy start to show all the plate discipline he ever will?

perhaps not yet. he's definitely still showing some improvement. c-pat's at-bats per walk have steadily declined, showing more patience: 2002 -- 31.1; 2003 -- 21.9; 2004 -- 14.0. but a decent number would be something more like 8 or 9.

the other, bigger issue, however, is just making contact -- especially when behind in the count, where c-pat is at his worst. simply putting the ball in play can force good things to happen; with his speed, patterson can pressure an infield into errors. contact is essential.

improved discipline will help pitch selection, but he also needs to start playing the mental game. patterson often just looks bewildered up there, and not having a rational guess in mind is why he ends up four feet in front of a 1-2 breaking ball in the dirt. the kid fanned 168 times last year. a hundred and sixty-eight empty outs. that's unacceptable.

and it's not getting better. at-bats per K: 2002 -- 4.17; 2003 -- 4.27; 2004 -- 3.76.

his splits last year tell a story of failure too: apr -- 4.15; may -- 4.76; june -- 4.59; july -- 3.19; aug -- 4.25; sep -- 2.80.

the sorry truth is that no one in baseball struck out more than c-pat after the break. not adam dunn. not mark bellhorn. not craig wilson or jason bay or geoff jenkins or sammy sosa or mike cameron or any of the other usual suspects. patterson was like rob deer out there. and we can't make the age argument here either -- patterson struck out more than all but three 24-year-olds in baseball history (one of whom happened to be adam dunn last year).

"hope springs eternal in the human breast," said pope -- but the cubs need to see some serious improvement in 2005 in patterson's approach to continue investing playing time in him. like kerry wood, he is a player increasingly likely to fail to fulfill his once-heady promise. i sincerely hope he comes out like bonds, takes 40 walks in april and proves me wrong. but chances are much better that patterson won't take 40 walks all year.

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