The S-T has a piece today about the emphasis a few players, notably Hank Blalock and Rod Barajas, have made this season on trying to draw more walks than last season, and strike out less often.
Now, the two goals aren't necessarily compatible -- players with high walk totals often have high strikeout totals, as well, just because they are working counts deeper -- but the emphasis on increasing walk totals is great to see.
Blalock had good plate discipline in the minors, and is someone for whom 80-90 walks per year is a reasonable goal. While Blalock hits well when he's aggressive early in the count, he gets into trouble when his aggression becomes uncontrolled. It seems that, when he's going well, he jumps on the first pitch if it is "his pitch", but otherwise lets is go. He appears, to my untrained eye, to get into slumps when he starts flailing at everything early in the count, particularly at breaking balls.
So if Blalock is making a conscious effort to improve his patience at the plate, to lay off those sliders down and away, that bodes well for him and the team, and increases the possibility of 2005 being a breakout year for him.
Barajas, though, is the more interesting case to me. He's never had any plate discipline at any level, which is why his OBP is always terrible. Even when he's hitting for power -- and he does have some pop -- his inability to draw walks means that he's making outs at a tremendous rate, which minimizes his value.
Barajas acknowledges in the S-T piece that, last year, he was hacking at anything close. The refreshing thing, though, is rather than offering some Erstadian platitude about how he's a hitter, that he gets paid to hit and not to walk, he acknowledges that plate discipline is an area of his game that he needs to work on, and is something he's trying to improve on this season.
Barajas is off to a good start, and has shown much better patience at the plate so far, with 5 walks through the first 8 games of the season, after drawing only 4 in the entire first half of last season.
Now, I haven't changed my position on Barajas, at least not yet. I still don't think he's anything more than a decent backup catcher. However, if this newfound patience is real -- if he can get his OBP up to the .320 or .330 level -- then he's going to be a lot more valuable of a player.
In any case, it is good to see the Rangers players addressing an area that was a huge weakness for them last season, and working to improve on it.