Juan’s Not Here, Man
Posted by The Right Reverend on April 17, 2006
"90% of the game is half mental."
"Slump? I ain't in no slump. I just ain't hitting." –Yogi Berra
Albert Pujols may have let Juan Encarnacion off of the hook yesterday, but I haven't. Sunday's dropped catch and missed double play opportunity put the exclamation point on Juan's rough start in St. Louis. It's sort of odd, because Friday night he made a terrific catch in the top of the ninth to save a run. Seeing that play made me recall a blurb on Encarnacion I read in John Dewan's book, The Fielding Bible.
"Encarnacion has the skills, but not the consistency. He has good speed and often makes spectacular catches, but then he turns around and botches routine plays."
If you are a subscriber at the Birdhouse, you may have seen Brian Walton point out that Encarnacion hit .331 with runners in scoring position last season for the Marlins, tied for 5th in the NL with Derrek Lee. He also was tied for 4th in The Hardball Times "Clutch"stat rankings. This year is another story, as Juan is batting .063(!) with runners in scoring position. Granted, much of what we call clutch hitting consists of luck, but it's more then just that. There's a mental aspect, and it's obvious Juan is in a funk right now.
When I'm not following the Cards I consider myself a bit of a latent Tiger fan, as my family is from Michigan and the first baseball game I ever went to was at ol' Tiger Stadium. Anyway, I was lurking around Tiger bloggerdom when I came across this profile of slugging Tiger first baseman Chris Shelton, dug up by Bilfer at www.detroittigersweblog.com.
"Gary Gillette profiles Shelton:One of Shelton’s biggest assets is what one member of the Detroit organization called “controlled aggression.” The key element of controlled aggression is good plate discipline, but Shelton also is restrained enough to not get too pumped up when he comes to bat in a key situation with runners on base. Too often, good hitters will unconsciously change their approach when they get the opportunity to drive in the go-ahead or winning runs. In their anxiousness to help their club, they end up helping the pitcher by swinging at marginal pitches and getting themselves out."
It would appear to me at least that Juan is the anti-Shelton, as displayed when he whiffed at three straight Todd Coffey pitches Friday night and tooka seat. He must be getting far too pumped up in key situations. And he must be changing his approach in his own anxiousness to help the club, because he certainly has been swinging (or should I say flailing?) and missing a lot of marginal pitches. I'm sure Cardinal hitting coach Hal McRae is working on getting this guy to relax. Between the botched plays in the outfield and the poor hitting, especially poor hitting when it counts, makes it obvious that Juan is mentally not there. While I'm sure the boos from the usually supportive St. Louis fans aren't helping, Juan just needs to relax, be patient, realize he's signed a three year contract and (for better or worse) isn't going anywhere, so he may as well have fun and play baseball.
If he returns to the Juan of old that still isn't great, but it's better the ball-dropping, hacking version we see now.