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Brian Bannister Gets It

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How is it that Brian Bannister understands the way baseball works but so many people who have been around the game for so long still don't? Tim Dierkes of MLBTR recently conducted an interview with Bannister, a conversation which included the following exchange:

MLBTR: What's the most misunderstood aspect of succeeding in baseball by typical fans, sportswriters, and announcers?

Bannister: There are two things that make baseball unique from other sports. One, baseball is a game of skill that is accentuated by the physical tools of the person performing those skills. Most people superficially judge a position player solely on size, strength, and speed, when his eyesight, balance, rhythm, hand-eye coordination, and mental makeup are much more influential factors in his future success. It is when a player embodies all of these qualities that we get our superstars and hall-of-famers. I would much rather face a hitter with "80" power and "80" speed but bad strike zone discipline than one with no power and a .400+ OBP. Over the course of time, the hitter with the .400+ OBP is going to hurt me much, much more, especially if he is surrounded by other good hitters.

Secondly, whether you like it or not, baseball is a game of randomness. We play outdoors (mostly) in changing elements and field dimensions, and each pitch results in a series of events that can go in either teams favor. One thing that I have have come to accept is that just because I train hard physically, I practice perfectly, I prepare diligently, and execute a pitch exactly as I wanted, it can still result in a home run. In golf, if you analyze all the variables correctly (lie, distance, slope, wind, etc.) and execute your swing perfectly, it will result in a great shot. Not so for a pitcher or a hitter. A hitter can swing the bat perfectly and it will result in an out more than six times out of ten. Therefore, as a pitcher, I study and play to put the percentages in my favor more than anything because I know that I can't control the outcome in a single game or series of games, but over the course of a season or a career I will be better than average.

The trade that send Bannister to the Royals in exchange for Ambiorix Burgos doesn't look too good from the Mets' vantage right now, though I'm hardly sold on Bannister's potential for long-term success in this league. He doesn't walk many, but he strikes out very few batters and he is a flyball pitcher to boot. I love his attitude, but right now he looks like Carlos Silva with more walks and without the groundball thing going for him. Not too many pitchers have been successful with such an unimpressive arsenal.

On the other hand, Burgos was nothing special last year before being lost for the year with Tommy John surgery in August. He might miss all of 2008, too. Whatever Bannister's future holds, he has already turned in one above-average season for the Royals, which is much more than we can say about Burgos to this point. The jury is still out on this one.