MLBTR: What’s the most misunderstood aspect of succeeding in baseball by typical fans, sportswriters, and announcers?
Bannister: There are two things that make baseball unique from other sports. One, baseball is a game of skill that is accentuated by the physical tools of the person performing those skills. Most people superficially judge a position player solely on size, strength, and speed, when his eyesight, balance, rhythm, hand-eye coordination, and mental makeup are much more influential factors in his future success. It is when a player embodies all of these qualities that we get our superstars and hall-of-famers. I would much rather face a hitter with "80" power and "80" speed but bad strike zone discipline than one with no power and a .400+ OBP. Over the course of time, the hitter with the .400+ OBP is going to hurt me much, much more, especially if he is surrounded by other good hitters.
Secondly, whether you like it or not, baseball is a game of randomness. We play outdoors (mostly) in changing elements and field dimensions, and each pitch results in a series of events that can go in either teams favor. One thing that I have have come to accept is that just because I train hard physically, I practice perfectly, I prepare diligently, and execute a pitch exactly as I wanted, it can still result in a home run. In golf, if you analyze all the variables correctly (lie, distance, slope, wind, etc.) and execute your swing perfectly, it will result in a great shot. Not so for a pitcher or a hitter. A hitter can swing the bat perfectly and it will result in an out more than six times out of ten. Therefore, as a pitcher, I study and play to put the percentages in my favor more than anything because I know that I can’t control the outcome in a single game or series of games, but over the course of a season or a career I will be better than average.
MLBTR: How will you prepare to face the Tigers’ everyday lineup?
Bannister: I have a good knowledge of and also a healthy respect for the Tigers’ lineup, and I have faced new additions Miguel Cabrera and Jacque Jones before. Edgar Renteria is the one new player that I don’t have any experience against.
I think the most important thing when preparing to face a lineup of this caliber is to be realistic and to recognize how they have been playing recently, because confidence level is everything with a good offense. If you look at good lineups, they tend to be extremely streaky, but their cold streaks will be much shorter than their hot streaks over the course of a season. During the hot streaks, teams and opposing pitchers tend to be intimidated by their offensive prowess, and games can be blowouts. In contrast, during the cold streaks they can seem to be a totally different team because they have very high expectations placed on them by the fans and media, and when they’re struggling, it tends to snowball.
When a good lineup is hot, the only thing you can do is throw strikes and not allow yourself to put hitters on base unnecessarily. They are going to get their hits, and when they get them, you don’t want a lot of runners on base. By keeping yourself ahead in the count, you can reduce your pitch count and hopefully their slugging percentage as well.
When a team is struggling at the plate, a pitcher can take advantage by expanding the strike zone, especially with runners in scoring position. Hitters that have had a drought of home runs/RBIs tend to press in those situations, and they will underperform their historical OBP because they are anxious to drive in runs and break out of their slump.
I will also apply this strategy to individual hitters within the lineup. I choose my spots to try and get outs while avoiding the hitters that are hot. A lineup is a constantly changing dynamic that requires a mix of planning, psychology, and quick adjustments in order to be successful.