Submitted by Rob G. on Tue, 09/06/2005 - 4:48am
For someone that crossed him earlier in the season with some unappreciated comments about playing time, Dusty Baker of late has been showing an awful lot of loyalty to Jerry Hairston Jr, and it's somewhat hard to work out just why. Hairston has become a regular in the outfield, and while that was slightly desirable earlier in the year for a lack of better options, things have since changed with the emergence of Matt Murton. Dusty, who was far too slow moving Hairston into the lineup at the expense of the ill-fated Jason Dubois and Todd Hollandsworth arrangement, is now too slow getting him back out. Jerry Hairston is a very fine utility player. He's also a very decent second baseman, though Walker is comfortably better. But there is one thing that Hairston's not, and that's an outfielder. The biggest problem really is that he plays the outfield like an infielder. As a result of spending a lifetime dealing with grounders and popups, his handling of flyballs off the bat, in terms of reads and jumps, is poor. To try and compensate for that, or perhaps because it's what he's done all his life in the infield, his initial reaction is invariably to step in. On occasions, that can help him get to shallower flies, and he's even not too bad going from side to side, for certainly Hairston can run when he stretches his legs. But anything over his head, and Hairston's original forward motion, combined with the sideways then back routes that he then takes, promises either Hairston getting his body into shapes you never knew were possible or, more often, the ball landing untouched and rolling to the wall for extra bases. Hairston also has very much a second baseman's arm, leading to players as unrenowned for their speed as Albert Pujols tagging up from first to take second on flyball outs that don't even come close to making the warning track. It's just not pretty and it's costing the Cubs a lot of runs. Then there's the issue of his bat. Hairston over the last three years has managed a .278/.355/.381 line, which is exactly bang in line with what his peripherals suggest is his natural level. That uncanny ability to get on-base should not be underestimated. That said, his complete lack of power, while not as much of a factor as long as he's stationed at second base, becomes a significant problem if he's going to play the outfield. While the average NL second baseman this year has hit .278/.340/.414, relative to which Hairston's numbers don't come out at all unfavourably (and Walker's come out extremely well), the average NL left fielder this year has hit .272/.346/.460. Those eighty points of slugging mean that Hairston's bat simply doesn't stack up in the outfield, and it never will. That and his glove ought to have the Cubs very much on the lookout for a better option in left field (and his glove ought to preclude any ideas of him playing centre field, where Burnitz would be a far better option if push came to shove). It quickly became obvious that Jason Dubois wasn't such a better option in left field, and that's why Hairston first got a job out there. Matt Murton though is a different ballplayer to Dubois, and one that Dusty needs to now be giving the playing time. We know that Hairston can do out there, and we know that it's not good enough. Murton's not a top prospect, but he has the tools - the ability to hit for average, and very advanced strike zone judgement - to fashion a solid Major League career. He's done with the minors, and he deserves his shot. Speaking of the minors, Corey really should have remained put there. Since his return from Iowa, Patterson has essentially picked up where heíd left off before his demotionÖ
Itís all very well criticising Corey for such lamentable performance, and he deserves it since heís so oblivious to whatís best for him, but the Cubs apparently donít know any better, and thatís the greater crime. It was essential that Corey stayed at Iowa until heíd learnt the necessary new hitting processes - recognising balls and strikes, being more selective, laying off the high fastball, going the other way and not pulling everything, and so on ñ and not only learnt them, but had them stick so tight that he wouldnít ever be able to shake them off again if he tried. The new processes needed to become second-nature. They also needed to yield results, the kind of results thatíd make even Corey sit up, take notice and once again have confidence in his own ability, a real and unflappable self-belief. Only then would he once again be ready for the big time.
When Corey was recalled he was nowhere near that point. As a result, the Corey we see now is no different to the one that was dispatched to Iowa in July with his tail between his legs. He can still run, he can still field and he can still throw, but at the plate heís a man convinced of his swing and miss fate before the pitcherís even come set. Baseball is a game of failure, but Corey has become enveloped and overwhelmed by his failings. For Corey then, the best thing now would be to not play another game all year, to not see another game all year, to not think about another game all year, to become as removed from the game of baseball as possible. Extradition to England for five months at the Cubsí expense with immediate effect could do the trick. Then, come January, say, let the overhaul of his game begin once again, and let it not be interrupted until itís complete. Thereís no guarantee itíll ever be completed, that itíll ever work, but itís increasingly looking like the only chance he has right now of a worthwhile Major League career. Heck, right now, Iíd almost rather have Hairston in centre field. Better yet, let Adam Greenberg build on his 1.000 career OBP in the big leagues. Or, if you want him to enjoy the Southern League playoffs, call up Calvin Murray. Or Ben Grieve to play right, and shift Burnitz to centre. I don't care, just do something.