ST. LOUIS – Marlon Byrd did a thing few veteran players do last offseason: he took a trip to Mexico.
No he wasn’t going to a sea-side resort in Cancun, or to enjoy street taco tour along the Pacific coast. No, Byrd, in need of a major league job, went to play baseball for Cuilacan in the Mexican Pacific League League, which is akin to Triple-A baseball with fewer amenities.
Byrd said he was looking for a place to get reps and work on his new swing mechanics. But Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Byrd was in search of something in particular.
Marlon Byrd has worn many hats, including this one of the Culiacan Tomateros
“He wanted to improve an area of his game, hitting (off-speed),” Hurdle said. “Where better to go then Mexico? A league full of pitchers that spin the ball. They are not concerned about establishing the fastball. He has no ego. He has no fear.”
Byrd has struggled against off-speed pitching in recent years.
This is Byrd’s runs above average against various pitch types via Fangraphs.com:
—————— FB SL CT CB CH
2010 Cubs 22.9 -3.1 1.2 -1.6 -4.8
2011 Cubs 2.0 -5.1 -0.8 0.7 2.4
2012 (2 teams)-5.0 -1.9 -0.7 -0.5 -0.3
2013 (2 teams) 11.4 4.1 -0.1 1.9 1.1
Notice that Byrd has improved against sliders, curveballs and change-ups this season. The home run that moved the earth on Tuesday in the wild card game? That came via changeup.
Byrd said he knew players like Jacque Jones and Adrian Gonzalez went to the Mexican Leauge and took it seriously. He became curious.
“I wanted to go where the competition was going to be toughest for me,” Byrd said. “In Venezuela and in the Dominican (winter leagues) those guys have good fastballs. In Mexico, they pitch. I saw 86-mph sliders. I saw guys with plus fastballs. I got hit by pitches. Some guys can workout outside part of the plate. I saw changeups in 3-0 counts. I went down there where I thought the competition was going to be the best and it helped.”
We wrote about the swing adjustment Byrd made while working with a high school coach this offseason but perhaps the South of hte Border experience also played a role. And the Pirates hope it plays a role Thursday.
Cardinals Game 1 stater Adam Wainwright has second the best curveball in the NL behind only Jose Fernandez, according Baseball Info Solutions.
The Pirates have been the third worst team in the majors against curveballs, per Baseball Info Solutions.
Wainwright vs. the Pirates this season: 1-0, 21IP, 15H, 7R, 20K.
Byrd knows a challenge awaits.
“It’s not a pitch to hit. It’s a pitch he wants to swings on,” Byrd said of Wainwright’s curveball. “He’s unbelievable at locating it, at throwing it short behind the plate. … You don’t see spin. That what makes him so good. The breaking ball is so tight.”
But it’s a challenge Byrd is more prepared for given his trip south of the border.
I received an interesting email from Ed Feng, of Power Rank tonight. He has been studying something he calls “cluster luck” in baseball which he defines as identifying which teams tend to clump their hits closely and which teams have scattered them.