With the activation of Jerry Hairston from the disabled list, the Cubs sent Matt Murton to the minor leagues today. The Chicago Sun-Times interviewed Dusty Baker about the situation, and Baker offered up an interesting quote about trying to teach young players:
”The only thing about teaching at the big-league level is you can’t teach them until they make a mistake,” he said.
”You don’t tell a guy about the cutoff man until he misses it. You assume they know that stuff when they get here.
Well, I hope that Dusty and Corey Patterson had an extended tutoring session following today’s game against the Rockies, because Patterson made about a week’s worth of mistakes in only 9 innings. In the 2nd inning, Patterson led off with a bunt that Rockies 3rd baseman Garrett Atkins threw into the right field corner. Corey advanced to third, but failed to notice (and an assist should go to Chris Spier on this one) that home plate was totally uncovered. Unfortunately, Corey asked for time so he could clean his pants before he realized what was going on. Then, Patterson was cut down at the plate on Mark Prior’s grounder despite actually beating the throw, because he made one of the most comically bad slides that I have ever seen. Think Willie Mays-Hayes coming up a foot short of second base in Major League. Later in the game, Patterson was doubled off first base on a flyball, as the throw from the left fielder just beat his sprint back to first. Of course, it wouldn’t have mattered if Corey had beat the throw, since he had overrun 2nd base on the play, and then failed to retouch it on his way back to first. Finally, in the ninth inning, the Rockies walked the dangerous Neifi Perez to load the bases with 2 outs and pitch to Patterson. Corey promptly struck out on three low outside pitches that he couldn’t have hit with a telephone pole.
Now, Corey wasn’t the only one who made mistakes in the game (Mark Prior missed a sign for a suicide squeeze bunt, and Todd Walker fell asleep and was picked off first base by the catcher), but I’m picking on him for a reason. Corey was sent to AAA to work on his hitting and fundamentals, and it’s pretty obvious that he hasn’t learned anything while down there. And I can’t fault Patterson for that, because he was obviously recalled too early because Jerry Hairston was injured and rather shift Lawton or Burnitz to center field, Dusty Baker insisted on playing Jose Macias. And it’s also obvious from Baker’s comments above that Patterson likely won’t be getting any additional instruction now that he’s back in the majors. So why wasn’t Patterson returned to the minors today, instead of Murton? Because despite all his protestations, Dusty Baker does not trust young position players. Surely he could have found the hot hitting Murton a few more at bats, but he all but refused to let Matt bat against right-handers.
Dusty Baker seemed to be obsessed with protecting Matt Murton, but why? He didn’t want to Murton to struggle and have his confidence hurt, but if he’s going to play in the majors, Matt’s going to have to learn to work through his struggles at some point. Take the case of Willy Taveras in Houston. After a sub par April, and a terrible May, Taveras has rebounded to hit .332 with a .360 OBP since June 1st and he leads the team in stolen bases and is third in runs scored. He was not “protected” by his manager, he was made to work with the coaching staff on his game, and eventually, Willy was able to get on track. But Baker and his coaching staff don’t have the time to teach young players; that’s why Corey Patterson ultimately had to go back to AAA to get instruction, and why the Cubs couldn’t risk letting Murton lose his confidence. When Jerry Hairston was injured, Baker could have easily shifted Jeromy Burnitz to center (around 45% of Burnitz’s starts came in CF last year), thus getting Burnitz, Lawton and Murton, his best hitting outfielders, onto the field on a daily basis. Instead, Patterson was recalled after spending only 1 month in AAA (and only about two weeks that having any kind of success) and thrust right back into lineup without having shown any real improvement. When Hairston was activated today, Patterson should have been sent right back to AAA, but instead Murton will go, since the manager didn’t trust him. And while it seems like the best thing for Matt Murton now, since he’ll be able to play everyday, let us not lose sight of this fact: the Cubs have essentially elected to start a player who is hitting .233 this year, because they’re afraid to use a guy who is hitting .339.