Overbay taking aggressive mindset to plate
Renewed approach at dish should help Pirates in middle of order
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Lyle Overbay didn't need a grandiose speech in the recruitment process. He liked what he heard from manager Clint Hurdle, but Hurdle's resume had already done a more than sufficient job of convincing Overbay of his credentials. A respect was cultivated from afar.
From Overbay's perspective, Hurdle's work with hitters in Colorado and his influence on a Rangers offense that led the Majors with a .276 batting average last year spoke for itself. And given Overbay's desire to be a more consistent hitter, he knew precisely who he wanted as a tutor when he looked for a new team to join during the offseason.
"There are some really good hitters that he has made even better," Overbay said. "I needed just a little bit more to help me through that. He's got the proven record. That was big."
That, as much as any other factor, drew Overbay to Pittsburgh.
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At 34 years old, the first baseman is still very much interested in learning. Even he jokes that 10 years after breaking into the Majors, offensive inconsistency continues to be his most frustrating flaw.
Overbay signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Pirates in December, following a season in which he batted .243 as the Blue Jays' starting first baseman. The 20 home runs and 37 doubles looked nice on his final line, but the 131 strikeouts in between bothered Overbay. So, too, does the fact that, if you take away his home runs, the middle-of-the-order hitter drove in just 35 runs.
Looking back, Overbay knows he can do much better. He likely won't touch the .312 batting average he posted in 2006, but after two years of incremental steps backward, Overbay aims to push his average back in that direction.
He wants to be a more consistent hitter and make more frequent contact. Overbay desires to do both without sacrificing the power that the Pirates need him to provide in the middle of the lineup.
That was the challenge Overbay posed to Hurdle and hitting coach Gregg Ritchie as soon as he signed on. Now, he's taking their advice -- don't hesitate to be more aggressive -- to heart.
"Just talking with them, it seems like it was my thought process that needed some changing," Overbay said. "I don't want to go out there and be too aggressive. But on the same token, when you get two strikes, you're not going to be as successful. Being a little more ready to hit earlier in the count could be a good thing."
Overbay's numbers support the idea of swinging early. Though he swung at fewer than 30 percent of the first pitches he saw last season, he had a .353 batting average on the ones that he put in play. His average on second pitches put in play is only slightly lower.
In contrast, when Overbay extended his at-bats to at least three pitches, his batting average was a mere .233.
He hopes to complement that aggressive approach by maintaining a better stance, too.
"I'm fouling pitches off that I should be driving," Overbay said. "For me, it's my upper half staying tall. Now, I'm not feeling like I have to cheat, and I don't have to foul those pitches off. It's a work in progress."
For all the work Overbay is doing to better his approach, he can rest easy knowing that he's already made an impact on defense. Having someone with Overbay's defensive pedigree is especially key, given that two of Pittsburgh's other three infielders have less than a year of Major League experience under their belts.
His range as a left-handed first baseman also allows second baseman Neil Walker to inch over a step or two, since Overbay can cover more ground.
"We are already a whole lot better by having Overbay over there because he can play that position," said third-base coach Nick Leyva.
Overbay ranked second among American League first basemen with a .996 fielding percentage last season and it hasn't been lower than that since 2006.
"He's in a position to help," Hurdle said. "He's a solid defender. He has a quiet, veteran presence. I just think he feels like this is a good fit for him to come in and make a difference."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.