Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How to Beat Justin Verlander at Tetherball

One of my favorite Justin Verlander rookie cards is from 2006 eTopps. The photography in the 2006 baseball set from eTopps has a wide variation in quality. They range from nifty in-game action shots, to the outright laughable, such as this gem:

"This guy's angled tether ball attack is unbeatable."
At the time, the eTopps message boards called this the "tetherpole rookie". It looks like Topps hired one of those pony-pictures-with-kids guys to catch Justin at the Extended Stay America® after spring training practice. Luckily, they seem to have just missed the torrential rain that always seems to hit Florida daily around 3:30 in the afternoon.  Apparently, Curtis Granderson caught a ride back with Justin that day, too.

Some of the other photography winners in 2006 eTopps include "Field of Dreams" Jorge Cantu, Matt "High School Dance" Garza, and "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me" Jon Lester.

So, after striking out eleven Athletics twice over five games last week, the Tetherball King is set to take on the Giants tonight.  Do the Giants have hope?  The answer is yes.

Even though much of the roster is different than the 2010 Team Of Destiny Giants, that team of two years ago faced a season-perfect-game-then-postseason-no-hitter Roy Halladay and the Phillies in the NLCS, no less daunting than the situation today. That team wasn't afraid of Halladay (particularly Cody Ross), and there's no reason why the 2012 Giants need to be afraid of Verlander.

So what do the Giants do tonight?

1) Be patient early. What pitchers hate, above all else in the universe, is having to throw more pitches than they want to. The Giants will need to take pitches, even if that means that they may give up an initial strike. If they can get Verlander to 90 or more pitches through the fifth inning, that may help open up the chance for Verlander to make a mistake.  That's an average of only six pitches per out (not even per at-bat!) up to that point. If the Giants can make Verlander work for his outs early, then they have a better chance to see somebody else pitch to them later.

2) Be selectively aggressive later. The #1 commandment tonight I'd suggest is, "Never take a called third strike." An obvious truism is that a team, as a practical matter, will (almost) never score by leaving bats on shoulders. Up against a third strike? Anything even close, they should swing at it. They just might get a base hit. A foul ball at least helps extend tactic #1.

3) Lay off the (high) hard stuff. High strike zone fastballs from Verlander will (very possibly in a literal sense) kill you. They seem juicy, and then leave you thirsty. Wait for low zone stuff and hit it down. Station-to-station base hits can be enough. Building off of tactic #2, a hopefully somewhat tired Verlander will become lulled by getting so many first pitch strikes. After the fifth, unleash the best Giant first ball hitters, and be selectively aggressive at anything low that's at the right pace.

4) Determine patterns early. Pitchers rarely throw their repertoire in equal parts. It often works out to throw mostly whatever's working best that particular night. Good movement on the fastball? He'll throw that 80% of the time. Curveball really biting? He might throw that 70% of the time. Figure out from the first two innings which pitch is the foundation for the night, and ignore those. Wait for the change-of-pace pitch (change up, maybe?), and kill it when it arrives at the right spot.

I certainly don't have all the answers, but I did watch Game 5 of the ALDS against the A's at Coliseum. The Athletics certainly stepped up to be aggressive at the plate, but often looked like they were Britney Spears trying to hit a fly with a golf club. A little more patience and tactical thinking may have made more of an offensive difference.

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