By: Kurt Snyder
Justin Upton, until signing with the Tigers, had spent his entire career in the National League; playing in Arizona, Atlanta and San Diego. During the national broadcast of Saturday night’s Tiger victory over the Yankees, it was a point of discussion, pertaining to the adjustment challenges of moving from one league to the other.
The arguments on both sides of the issue have validity. On one hand, come on, it’s still baseball. What does a player need? He makes a living hitting a baseball. He makes a living as an outfielder in the major leagues. There can’t be that much to learn. It can’t take that long to adjust.
And on the other hand, what does a player have to learn to adjust to a new league? Well, quite a bit. First of all, you have to adjust to your new home park. Comerica Park is a pitcher’s ballpark; with plenty of depth in the middle of the field. It’s a doubles and triples park for the average hitter. Players used to hitting home runs, will have a more difficult time at Comerica. So any adjustment you make to hitting in Detroit must include hitting to the gaps in left and right center. You can make a great living doing that here.
Defensively, you have to adjust to new dimensions and the outfield caroms, learning how to play balls off the wall, learning how much room you really have when fielding a fly ball heading towards the outfield fence. There is a comfort level that needs to be reached.
When the team hits the road, you have to adjust to new parks in Kansas City, Chicago, Minnesota and Cleveland. In an unbalanced schedule, these are the teams you are going to see the most. You will spend 9-10 games in each city doing the same things you must do at Comerica Park; learning.
You will also spend a series on the road in each of the other American League cities in the East and in the West; all possessing their own challenges with differing outfield dimensions, stadium lighting angles and sunlight issues.
There is legitimately a lot to learn. And with Upton specifically, having spent his entire career in warm weather cities, the weather early in the season can be a challenge.
You would almost expect a player in April to struggle, not having played much in cold weather cities. But how long do you give a player to adjust? How long do you play the cold weather card? There are certainly exceptions to the rule where players have switched leagues and immediately adapted. But the examples are probably few.
Granted, most of April, you are bound to come across several games where it’s way too early to be playing baseball. It’s way too early to be playing night games. It’s just too cold. We talk about it every year.
But let’s cut to the chase. Doesn’t the discussion really come down to adjusting to new pitchers? This is where the rubber really hits the road.
You learn the tendencies of a pitcher when you face him over and over again. You learn what pitches they like to throw. You learn how much they will challenge a hitter or whether or not they like pitching inside. You learn what breaking pitches they throw, if they possess a good change-up. It’s just all repetition when it comes to learning the nuances of pitchers. You probably learn something new every time you face them. Scouting reports are one thing, but you really don’t know what to expect until you step into that box.
So, considering all these factors, should we be more understanding of how long it has taken for Justin to contribute? Should we be more understanding about how often he is striking out? Should we be more understanding when he misplays balls in the outfield? I guess it’s really up to you the fan.
Justin came to town with a lot of expectations. He came to town with a reputation of a player who would hit and hit for power. And he has done very little of both. He came to town with the reputation of being a streaky hitter. But, can you consider his struggles during the first 2 ½ months an example of streakiness? Geez, I hope not.
So, here’s the cold, hard truth. Justin Upton doesn’t get a 1-year training period to learn the new league. Sorry. He needs to get moving. This is not your normal baseball town. This is not your normal baseball owner. There are expectations for winning. When are you expected to win? Now! Adjustment period? Probably not really tolerated. Production? It’s expected pretty darn soon. No, now! It’s expected now!
The Tigers have invested a lot of money and potentially, a lot of years in a player with quite a bit of talent, and surely they discussed the factors involved when a player changes leagues, before pulling the trigger on the investment.
Surely they did…they did right?