One of my favorite parts of baseball is how easy the best players make it seem, and yet how incredibly difficult the game actually is to play. Squarely hitting a baseball, reliably and frequently, when the pitcher doesn’t want you to do it, is extraordinarly difficult.
This article by Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated shows that Ryan Howard saw, far and away, the most breaking pitches of any hitter in the majors last season. Now, Ryan Howard is a tremendous athlete, blessed with the strength, speed, and hand-eye coordination required to be an All-Star major leaguer. He knows that he needs to improve on laying off of breaking pitches outside the strike zone. It’s not like he’s just hacking up there – he’s working on it. And yet he still struck out 186 times last season, the second most in all of baseball.
Does that mean Ryan Howard is terrible? No, although it’s obviously partially his fault. But it is a nice reminder (to me, sitting on my couch, screaming at the television “Don’t swing at that–aw, Howard…”) that baseball is really freaking hard, even when you’re a phenomenal athlete and trying your darndest to be better at it.