Tuesday, June 17, 2014

RIP, Tony Gwynn

San Diego shortstop Evereth Cabrera trots past the
number 19, placed Monday in the "5.5 hole" between short
and third by the Seattle Mariners in honor of Tony Gwynn,
who specialized in hitting the ball there.
Tony Gwynn, who died Monday, wasn't really a one-trick pony. He was, at least in his 20s, a good to outstanding base stealer, with a career high of 56. He won six Gold Gloves.

But what really stood out during his career, and what jumps out from his stat line: He could hit for average like nobody else.

Well, not quite like nobody else. He stands in a line of left-handed high-average hitters who thrived on hitting the ball the other way. Rod Carew. Wade Boggs. Joe Mauer. It's a recipe for batting titles, and Gwynn was about as good at it as anybody in baseball history.

He called his favorite spot on the field the "5.5 hole" -- the space between the third baseman, No. 5 in scoring symbols, and the shortstop, No. 6. And he won eight batting titles largely on his ability to slap pitches there.

Gwynn grew up in San Diego. He went to college at San Diego State, where he played both baseball and basketball (and set, in the latter sport, the school's assist record). He played his entire career in San Diego. And after his playing career ended, he returned to his alma mater to be the baseball coach. The hometown boy stayed put.

A few years ago I did a little digging on how much hitting with two strikes drags hitters down. As detailed in this post, even great hitters are diminished with two strikes.

Tony Gwynn, for his career, hit better than .300 with two strikes.

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