Sunday, May 11, 2008

Outlook On Travis, Full Or Haf?

In today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sports writer Bud Shaw wonders what new theories will emerge on the Travis Hafner slump.
Shaw lists 7 theories on what is wrong with Pronk;

  1. He got married

  2. He needs to play in the field

  3. Someone else (actor Javier Bardem) has taken his place

  4. He lifts weights too much

  5. He’s in his 30’s and slowing down

  6. His mechanics are messed up

  7. He’s hurt

You can dismiss all theories except 6 and 7.
Let’s put #7 on the shelf for now. Hafner has stated that he is not hurt and the Indians’ medical staff has verified this. Still, he has taken some nasty fastballs in the arm, elbow, wrist, knees, hands, and face. Let’s assume Travis is truthful and the medical staff has done their job.
Now, on to #6.
Is Hafner’s swing broken?
Since batting .308 in 2006, Travis dropped 42 points in 2007. In 2007, he hit 18 less home runs and his slugging and on base percentages dropped significantly. Haf is off to a slower start this year. Over the last 2 seasons, many teams have begun to put an infield switch on the big guy.
What if this is a combination mental and physical problem? Did the switch get in his head? Is he overcompensating and changing his stance and swing?
These would be questions for hitting Coach Derek Shelton.
Who is Derek Shelton?
Shelton was in the Yankees minor league organization until he required career-ending surgery on his right elbow. He moved into coaching and has had some impressive accomplishments in the minors as a batting coach and a manager. He took over as the Indians’ batting coach in mid 2005 replacing Eddie Murray. Perhaps he is in over his head, perhaps not.
Manager Eric Wedge maintains that hard work and patience will turn the Indians’ hitting troubles around. The question is how much patience? Another question is, can a hitch in someone’s swing be recognized and addressed in a reasonable amount of time?
Are Derek Shelton and Carl Willis (Indians’ pitching coach) equipped to recognize mechanical problems in their hitters and pitchers? This seems to be the biggest question mark with this team. A player with this team gets into a slump and they do not seem to be able to overcome the slump. The entire team with few exceptions is trying to come out of a slump.
This blog has been calling for action for quite some time but action is not necessarily a trade or calling up the cavalry from the farm system. Instead, a reaction to problems quicker has been the plea. The Dolans and G.M. Mark Shapiro have a profit and loss statement to answer to. They must balance earnings vs. costs just as any business must do. But the manager and the coaches have a P&L of sorts to answer to. That P&L is team and individual player performance. As a team, the Indians are 13th in batting, 10th in on base percentage, and 13th in slugging percentage in the American League. They are dead last in hits, 2nd in ERA, tie for 12th in saves, and 2nd in fielding. My concern is that because G.M. Mark Shapiro has taken a “patience” attitude, so has the manager and the coaching staff. I am concerned that Willis and Shelton are not attacking the batting and relief pitching the way they should be. While I agree with being patient with the existing team, I do not agree with being patient with their under performance. Batting stances, swings, and approaches need to be analyzed and corrected. Pitcher’s wind ups and release points must be addressed, corrected, and monitored. C.C. and Fausto didn’t get back on track by just working through their difficulties. Their mechanical problems are well documented but what took so long to recognize and fix them?
Pronk is out of whack for over a year now. The fact that teams still put the switch on him proves that he is still a feared hitter. They are thinking that he may or will start hitting again at any time. Does Haf think that? He doesn’t appear to.
I think that the Cleveland Indians are a very good team. I truly believe that they are beginning to put it all together. I also believe that they should be running away with the Central Division.
The coaching staff must figure out these slumps and react much quicker.

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