Triple-A baseball has hit its All-Star break and, well, Bobby Meacham can’t quite figure out his Buffalo Bisons club at the plate.
By all accounts, the Herd should have a powerful lineup, able to hit well and score plenty of runs. The roster from the start of the season had plenty of highly rated prospects, certainly more than the last two years, and on paper looked to be a team that would put up runs and find ways to win ball games.
But that hasn’t been the case as the Bisons hit the break below .500 (40-42) and nine games back of Lehigh Valley in the International League North Division.
“We’re not playing good. We’re not,” Meacham said. “For me, I’ve seen flashes of talent but it’s supposed to be showing up every day and it’s not. Sometimes you wonder. Are we as good as everybody says we are? Are we over evaluating these guys, their talent? We’re going to find out.
“We talked to these guys a few days ago, to go home over the break and just think, ‘What can I do to get better?’ Let’s see what we all can do to get better.”
Pitching has been good. Defense has been adequate. But the hitting, well, let’s start there as we look at the Bisons at the break:
No Bison is in the Top 10 in the International League with Danny Jansen coming in at 11th with a .288 average.
As a team, the Herd ranks ninth in the 14-team IL hitting .247. They’ve scored 348 runs, ranking 10th in the league. That means they’re averaging just 4.24 runs per game.
“The one thing I think that really helps us that I can wrap my head around is that when we’re aggressive we’re really good,” Meacham said. “What happens is too many games we see, guys walk up to that plate the first time through the order and aren’t ready to hit. They want to see what he’s got. 'I don’t want to make an out with one pitch.' OK, make an out with five.
“I think what happens is then we score late or start to get better swings late in the game because guys are ready to hit. With all the information that we get on pitchers, I don’t understand why they’re giving them the first at-bat. Sometimes we have a tendency to do that.”
Speaking of all that information, Meacham thinks sometimes the analytics gets in the way for hitters. They focus too much on the scouting report and don’t take into account what they actually see.
“They analyze what the pitcher’s tendencies are and it takes away from what they actually see,” Meacham said.
He explains that watching a pitcher warm up, he might see the catcher setting up outside the plate, but the pitcher continuously misses and throws inside.
“Well that means he can’t get the ball over here. So I just eliminate this part of the zone and I just look over here,” Meacham said. “That’s what everybody used to do. Now, that guy’s warming up, they watch a little bit of it but they’re at the chart that tells them what this guy is going to do, but that’s just an average, right? It’s not exactly what he’s doing today.
“So I think that’s where we miss stuff. We don’t see things and their tendencies take over … I don’t want to make it sound like it’s bad. The tendencies, it’s good to have that in mind – like this guy throws a lot of sliders, 85 percent sliders with two strikes. We have all that information, but when he throws a fastball instead, that information’s not helpful.”
On the bases
The Bisons once again are leading the league in stolen bases with 81. Roemon Fields has 18 and Anthony Alford has 11.
But still, Meacham sees so much room for improvement, in part because you can’t steal a base if you don’t get on base.
Fields is hitting .248 with an on-base percentage of .323 while Alford is hitting just .219 with a .296 on-base percentage.
And without getting on base, and getting repetition in stealing bases, you’re bound to make mistakes.
“I’ve made my share of mistakes too,” Meacham said of managing some of the base running while coaching at third base. “Too many outs on the bases. We talk about it more and more. We’ve gotten a little bit better with our decisions on when to steal. I think that’s getting better. We’re still trying to be aggressive. It kind of magnifies everything when you’re not scoring.”
Overall the pitching has been rather good for the Herd, highlighted by Ryan Borucki, whose 3.27 earned run average ranks seventh in the International league, even after being promoted for the first time to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Chris Rowley also ranks in the Top 10 with a 3.45 ERA.
Overall, the Herd’s pitching staff ranks fifth in the IL with a 3.63 ERA. They haven’t struck out that many – their 576 rank last in the league – but neither have they walked that many, giving up just 255 walks, the third fewest in the IL.
The key? Simply throwing the ball over the plate.
“I think a lot of guys have figured that out,” Meacham said. “Maybe they’ve been playing for a while now and know I need to throw the ball over the plate and see what happens. The way we get outs early in at-bats means pitch counts have been lower than typical for guys. Our guys have been throwing the ball over the plate. I don’t know what walk ratio is to strikeouts, but it just feels like when we get beat, we get beat with the bats, we don’t get beat with walks.”
A word about chemistry
Players have discussed the benefits of coming up through the Blue Jays system together. They know each other. They’re comfortable talking with each other. They’ve developed friendships beyond baseball.
But that can be a fine line, Meacham noted. Sometimes players unknowingly fall into complacency of where they are slotted in the system – as a top prospect who is ahead of everyone else or as a guy who will never pass that top prospect in the organizational depth chart.
“That’s dangerous because you start to develop ‘well, I can’t pass him or he can’t pass me,’ ” Meacham said. “Also I talked to the guys the other day about the fact that this probably is the first time a lot of them have been told you’re not good enough.
“You’re the first-round pick, you’re the big prospect, you go to Toronto in the winter when they have the symposium where they show you how to deal with the media when you get there. All that stuff. And you know, you haven’t done anything. So sometimes they get locked into that thought process of 'I’m OK.' Instead of 'I want to be great.'
“Then we don’t help them as coaches sometimes when you let them go three, four levels and you overlook the stuff the so-called prospects are doing wrong and they don’t get corrected until they get here. All of sudden they get here and go ‘Oh, I didn’t know that.’ It’s tricky. The chemistry thing is elusive.”