Lee’s got the right stuff; he only needs to find it now“Much ado about nothing” may be the most fitting description of Lee Seung-yeop’s first half in the Japanese major leagues.
Because he set the home-run record in Korea last season with 56 blasts out of the park, many didn’t foresee Lee struggling to the extent that he has so far.
A batting average of .231 (in 208 at-bats), nine home runs, 37 RBIs and a stint in the Japanese minor leagues was all Lee managed to produce in the first half of the season.
Needless to say, Lee’s bid to become the team’s first-string first baseman has failed. Kazuya Fukuura secured that spot with a .310 batting average, nine home runs and 44 RBIs. I still think Lee has a chance of posting some solid numbers, though he won’t likely shatter any Japanese records. With that, his chances of playing in the big leagues are getting slimmer.
For Lee, the next best thing to accepting a contract with the Dodgers, even when it meant that he’d have to pay his dues in the farm system first, was to go to Japan. Instead of criticizing him like many fans do, we ought to support him.
His current statistics are not a good way to define him. Lee’s too good for them, a smart player who knows how to adjust. Apart from adjusting to a different kind of ballgame and its culture, Lee’s struggle seems to come largely from the inability to put some good wood on breaking balls.
Japanese pitchers are known for their heavy use of curveballs and forkballs. A left-handed pitcher throwing against a southpaw like Lee throws a curve that goes from left to right and then drops down, making for an effective down-and-away pitch.
But even if Lee knew the direction of the pitch, that doesn’t mean it’d be easy to hit. It’s the movement and speed put on it keeping the batter honest. A curve thrown 10 times may have two to three different movements.
Right now, Lee is almost always taken out of the lineup when a lefty’s on the mound. Against right-handers throwing a curve, Lee seems to have problems attacking a pitch that is down-and-in.
The forkball is a very similar pitch. It breaks down hard toward the ground, making it not only challenging to hit but also hard to catch. In line with this tradition, Japanese export Hideo Nomo comes to mind when thinking of pitchers with a devastating forkball.
If Lee wants to win the battle at the plate, he needs a shorter swing, quicker hands ― and patience. A batter might be fooled by a breaking ball into committing himself too early, but a shorter swing would permit Lee to wait longer, hence reducing the number of bad balls he’d normally swing at. Quick hands should save him in case his body is committed to a trick ball.
Having said that, it may sound odd, but I’d also recommend that he think less about his problems. If he starts pondering any more, he’ll only dig himself a deeper hole. With Lee trying to do too many things at once, hitting the ball itself becomes of secondary importance and the dry spell may go on and on.
Whether it’s opening the shoulders too fast or adjusting other mechanisms in his batting style, Lee should try to identify the most important thing and then focus on it. The rest will follow.
by Brian Lee