What makes a hitter a tough out?

What makes a hitter a tough out?
Tough outs? // Brian Kersey, Getty Images

"He handles the bat great," Ventura said. "He’s always a tough out, not that he steals a lot of bases but he handles the bat and does the appropriate things. He’s one of those guys who will hook it if you have to or put it the other way if they shift on him. Right now I like him right there."

Robin Ventura wants A.J. Pierzynski to bat 2nd for presumably multiple reasons, but one of the stated ones is "he's a tough out".  What do managers mean when they say tough out?

It could just be a meaningless cliche that Ventura is spouting because he doesn't think the issue really merits a thorough look into his decision-making progress.

If it refers to anything real at all, it's likely Pierzynski's trademark refusal to be struck out (6.6% last season).  Strikeouts are certainly pretty sure outs, and AJ putting it in play makes the defense do actual things.  Doing things is harder than not doing things.  It hasn't resulted in elite batting averages or on-base skills, but sure enough, if your 2nd basemen is having an acid flashback right when Pierzynski's at the plate, there might be problems.

He hasn't posted an average BABIP since 2009, so he hasn't challenged the defense too hard, but he's done it frequently.

But that's the defense's problem.  In terms of the actual pitcher, no one gives an easier time.  Weakly grounding the first pitch of the at-bat generally isn't considered a difficult battle.

While his elite contact ability make him fully capably of fouling off pitches and battlin' in at-bats, Pierzynski's 3.36 pitches per plate appearance last season was the lowest among the regular White Sox starters, and this was on a team that did not take a lot of pitches.

Of course, by that standard, Dunn was the hardest out.  He and Konerko were the only two who saw an above-average amount of offerings on the 2011 squad, and Grand Canyon's 4.38 pitches seen per plate appearance put him in 1st by a good margin.

That can't be right.  Surely a player who couldn't catch up to low-90's fastballs down the gut, and can't hope for a better result than a walk isn't a tough out.

Someone could be both.  They could make a lot of contact and see a lot of pitches and work the count.  That would probably make them Albert Pujols.  Albert Pujols would be excellent choice to bat in the #2 hole for the Chicago White Sox.  But alas.

 

Surely it's just a vague compliment.  I'm positive it's just a vague, unverifiable compliment.  Ventura is inheriting a bad offense; a bad offense that he can't be sure of hardly any of the contributors to, and any justification for his doomed choices about who's "earned" which role is bound to be ethereal.

But there's also a sense that Pierzynski really is regarded as a tough out.  Surely, he is when he's going well, and is spoiling close pitches on the outside rather than rolling them over to 2nd.  Those memories can gloss over the stretches where he slumps away at-bats.

Ideally they don't.  I think it would be better if Ventura was just doing his managerial duty in praising A.J. than if an emphasis on contact above all else was ruling the day in Glendale.  That's where we're at.

 

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