JUGS Sports | Newsletter 32: Pure Baseball, with its pitch-by-pitch descriptions, is a great way to learn how the game is really played.

Pure Baseball, with its pitch-by-pitch descriptions, is a great way to learn how the game is really played.

Keith Hernandez, unmatched in his insight into every nuance of the national pastime, has teamed up with sportswriter Mike Bryan and has come up with a gem of a book for the true fans - the advanced fans.

Pure Baseball is unusual in that its focus is on just two games, played during the regular season. You wouldn't think that a pitch-by-pitch analysis of a June '93 game between the Phillies and the Braves, and another game, an extra inning affair between the Tigers and the Yankees (played that same month) would make for very interesting reading. But these games are interesting, when you read Keith's spin on what is going on.

Hernandez narrates each pitch. He takes you inside the thinking of the pitches, the batters, the fielders, and the managers. He probes deep into the notions behind pitch selection, batting strategies, fielder placement, and managerial moves.

The result? He opens up the game to a whole new level of appreciation for any fan who loves this game. Here's an excerpt:

Just two batters into the game, the alert fan has an important clue about Danny Jackson that almost every batter in the National League already knows. He sometimes has trouble coming inside effectively to right-handed hitters, and the one mantra that any baseball fan has heard about effective pitching is that the pitcher has to "establish" inside.

The battle between the pitcher and batter for control of the inside part of the plate is bedrock. Nothing is more basic in baseball. The plate is seventeen inches across, and the umpires often call a strike zone wider than that, maybe twenty inches.

But the sweet spot on the bat is about ten inches long. Figure it out: About half the strike zone can be covered by this piece of the bat. You can get hits when you're jammed on the hands or when you hit the ball near the end of the bat, but only these ten inches really drive the ball.

So if the pitcher cannot effectively throw strikes with a hard pitch inside as well as outside, the batter doesn't worry about the inside half of the plate and focuses his attention and his swing outside. He can adjust to the breaking ball inside.

But if the pitcher does establish hard stuff inside, the batter has a much more difficult time covering the whole plate, not just with that bat, but with the sweet spot of the bat.

With Jeff Blauser on second base, Terry Pendleton comes to the plate for Atlanta. He's having an off year so far at .256, with only four homers and twenty-eight RBIs, but now he's heating up, with an eleven-game hitting streak.

And from the right side of the plate - he switches - Terry has always been murder: .319 this year, .357 last year. By way of contradiction, however, Terry is hitting only .257 career against Jackson.

Some managers place great stock in these mano a mano statistics, but I'm dubious, especially when the stat is a negative for the hitter. We're talking here about a total of thirty-five at-bats.

Maybe Terry came up against Danny a couple of times when Terry wasn't swinging the bat well or Jackson was throwing great, or both. Or maybe Terry has just hit with bad luck against Jackson.

I got quite a few key hits off Nolan Ryan, and a bunch of walks, so I was shocked to learn that I had something like a .170 batting average against him. I batted Nolan. I always felt I was a tough out for him, but you wouldn't know it from that batting average.

Therefore, if I were looking down the bench for a pinch hitter to use against Danny Jackson in some future game, I wouldn't hesitate to go with Terry Pendleton, and I'm sure Bobby Cox wouldn't, either.

A high batting average against a pitcher means more, in my opinion. Jeff Blauser, for instance, was already hitting .391 against Jackson in twenty-three at-bats before his double tonight. It's safe to conclude that he feels confident against Jackson. The chances are good he's not bleeding and blooping Danny to death.

By the way, these and many of the other timely facts I use throughout this book come from the notes prepared for the game by the media relations departments of the Braves and the Phillies. Every organization writes them for every game, and they're invaluable, with up-to-date stats on each player, recent performance, streaks, and slumps

A few teams make these notes available to fans on a regular basis; I hope I don't make enemies around the league by suggesting that any serious fan could possibly arrange to get a copy "at the door." Give it a try by calling the media relations department of your team.

These notes tell you a lot of stuff it's nice to know. I used them as a player. But also remember that cold statistics are not necessarily the whole story. They don't prove one way or another whether Terry Pendleton feels comfortable batting against Danny Jackson.

EDITOR'S NOTE: As Tim McCarver has said, "No, other player played the game with more fervor, passion, and intelligence than Keith Hernandez. I loved to watch him play." The reasons why can be found in this book. To order your copy of Pure Baseball, call Just Books at 1-800-874-4568. Price is around $25, which includes shipping.