Admiration for Dale Mitchell
Bob Toth | On 19, Feb 2016
August 31, 1948
On the third day of May, Cleveland left fielder Dale Mitchell was still working his way into a regular spot in the Indians lineup.
Nearly two months later, he is one of the most feared hitters in baseball.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly what changed for Mitchell at the plate, but regular playing time certainly seemed to provide him with the eye and opportunity in the batter’s box.
“You try to throw strikes and hope he doesn’t hit anything more than a single,” said New York’s Allie Reynolds, a former Indian, when asked how to pitch to Mitchell. “I never found any way to fool him and I’ve talked to a lot of other pitchers and they all tell me the same thing.”
“I played against him in the Texas League two years ago,” said Yankees backstop Ralph Houk, “but we never found any way to pitch to the guy.”
Over the course of his last 60 games ending with the most recent three-game set with the Washington Senators, Mitchell is batting .382, increasing his season batting average from .285 on July 3 to .343 at day’s end on Monday. He has provided stability and consistency to the Tribe lineup and has been able to drive in 27 runs at the top of the order.
While he may not walk much (his ten walks increase his on-base percentage to .408), he rarely strikes out. In 287 plate appearances in the last 60 games, he has struck out just eight times, an average of one strikeout per nearly 36 times to the plate.
His average during his hot streak hovered slightly over the .400 mark for a period of time, something that both teammate Lou Boudreau and slugger Ted Williams, leaders in the American League batting race, had been unable to sustain.
The growth of Mitchell as a hitter is easier to track with the statistics present. Any time you can be mentioned as third-best behind Boudreau and Williams, you are doing something right.
Mitchell has been putting in work with Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Tris Speaker, who spent eleven of his 22 years in the league in Cleveland with the Indians.
“He’s hitting singles and doubles now,” said Speaker, “but we’ve seen him hit enough long ones to know that he has the power when he wants to swing for distance. He might just be one of the great sluggers of this game.”
“As far as we know,” said New York manager Bucky Harris, “there isn’t any way [to pitch Mitchell]. We’ve tried him high and low, inside and outside, fast ball, curves, and slow stuff. He hits everything. The only comfort we get out of it is the fact that he hits mostly line drives to left field. We get him out by catching line drives.”
In his first 49 games this season, Mitchell had 55 hits while batting .285. Just nine of those hits (eight doubles, one home run) were for extra bases.
In the 60 games to follow, he has 105 hits – 17 doubles, six triples, and a pair of home runs – while batting almost 100 points higher.
The power stroke has been absent from Mitchell’s game, as he has logged just three round trippers so far this season and just four in his career. The Indians do not need him to be a threat with the long ball; he serves the team better by setting the table for the power hitters behind him.
“The thing he was famous for at Oklahoma was his power,” said Reynolds. “He was a helluva power hitter – rapped the ball a country mile to right field.”
While Mitchell seems to possess the tools to naturally be a great hitter, his development and improvement as a left fielder has largely gone unnoticed.
Last season, Mitchell was considered a poor outfielder with a weak arm. Now, he seems to have discovered the tools necessary to become a much more well-rounded outfielder.
He is staying behind the ball more when throwing from the outfield and seems to be better able to follow through on his release. He may not have had the weak arm that he was labeled with as much as he may not have been able to best utilize the strength he contained.
Proof positive of his growth – he has thrown out a pair of runners in the last week who tried to score on him from second base.
As Mitchell continues to play among the top of the class of the outfielders of the American League, his contributions to the Indians’ lineup will not be unnoted. Their success and their contention in the AL pennant chase may very well depend on his ability to maintain this production the rest of the way.