“Approach” has become one of my favorite words in any language. In baseball parlance, it’s used in a variety of structures and meanings, but primarily and most commonly as a descriptor for how mentally engaged a hitter is during an at-bat. As a guy who looks for and appreciates the off-kilter, difficult-to-measure aspects of scouting, “approach” is one of my favorite quantifiably in-quantifiable traits. What are you thinking when you step into the box? Do you understand what you should be trying to do in different situations? Then, do you even have the physical abilities to execute the plan? If not, how can you use your skill set to accomplish something positive with this at-bat? If a hitter is slumping does he start hacking immediately, or try to take a few pitches? If the pitcher is a junk-ball lefty and you’re a FB hitter, can you wait him out until he throws you a “1”? I see it all the time at the minor league level and it’s a pleasure to watch the development. Essentially, “what is your plan?” “Approach”, frankly, may be Jurickson Profar’s single strongest attribute. He was/is preternaturally aware in the batter’s box. The thing that puts him over the top, from a prospect standpoint, is that he matches his approach with incredible abilities. Same with Trout, Harper, Bundy, Machado, and a small handful of other kids coming up.
The reason I bring this up is because I’m often surprised at the diminishing emphasis being put on approach at the big league level. Admittedly, I don’t watch as much Major League baseball as the majority of you, but is anybody taking pitches anymore? Perhaps a better question is, are managers using the “take” signal at all? Anyway, you can look at the walk rates and empirical data of the MLB teams very easily so I won’t be redundant in saying the 2012 Rangers didn’t walk very often. They finished 18th in MLB, the lowest of any team that made the playoffs. But it’s not just about drawing walks. It’s about understanding all of the situations; your own, the team’s, the game’s, the opposing pitcher’s…everything.
Here lies my affection for the word “approach”. I’ve now watched enough of the last games of the season to realize that not only was the team often flawed in it’s approach at the plate, but perhaps, flawed in it’s approach to the entire two-week run. The 2012 Rangers failed down the stretch because of a litany of reasons. Assessing blame is an exercise in futility. Big stars failed, role players failed, rookies failed, veterans failed, coaches failed, tenured leaders failed, mid-season acquisitions failed. I truly believe this is the way it’s viewed internally as well. The Texas front office is too smart to point fingers in one direction or another. They’ll find the holes and attempt to fill them, but they know nothing went right, top-to-bottom, in the last two weeks of the season. The 2012 Rangers were a highly functional machine, except during those last two weeks. The last two weeks, in which the players and coaches seemed to have no idea what they were going to attempt to do. The last two weeks, when it seemed they ignored their “approach”.