Arbitration System Can Get Nasty

Baseball's salary arbitration system can get nasty. <br><br>More than one player has walked away from the table shell-shocked after being torn down by his team. It's all part of the process as clubs are forced to point out negatives in their attempt to win the hearing.

Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson sat at the arbitration table in Phoenix in February and heard the Pirates point out his shortcomings. However, Wilson decided to turn a negative into a positive.

One of the points the Pirates made in stating their case against Wilson is that he lacked plate discipline and had a lowly .292 on-base percentage in his first three major league seasons. That was the fourth-worst mark in the majors during that span with players with at least 1,500 plate appearances, ahead of only Deivi Cruz (.284), Neifi Perez (.285) and Tony Batista (.287).

Wilson has worked to change that in the early part of this season.

"The thing that really has stood about Jack is that he has really improved his patience at the plate," Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He is not chasing so many bad pitches. He is waiting for his pitch."

The statistics do not necessarily bear that out as Wilson is seeing only 3.44 pitchers per plate appearances and has drawn just two walks in the first 11 games. However, Wilson certainly looks like a different hitter.

Wilson carried a .368 batting average into the week, placing him among the National League leaders. His improvement stems from him taking a more studious approach to hitting.

While Wilson made some strides last season when he hit .256 with nine homers and 62 RBIs -- all career highs -- in 150 games, he wasn't satisfied.

"I realize that when you first come to the big leagues there is going to be adjustment period," Wilson said. "But I thought I would do better than this after three years. I was a good hitter in the minor leagues, and I knew I had to find a way to get back to that."

Wilson dusted off videotapes his wife, Julie, shot of him when he was hitting in the minor leagues. Wilson watched the tapes intently and found the difference between his minor league days and now: Primarily, the placement of his hands and feet in his batting stance had changed.

While Wilson struggled in spring training, he has become comfortable with the adjustments, and the results are showing.

Being able to detect weaknesses and work on them is the sign of a maturing player. In Wilson's case, he is a downright veteran with the Pirates these days.

The 26-year-old is one of just three Pirates who remain from the Opening Day roster in 2001. The others are pitcher Kris Benson and catcher Jason Kendall; infielder Abraham Nunez spent nearly the entire year with the Pirates but began the season in the minor leagues.

"I think I need to take it upon myself to do some things differently this season," Wilson said. "As someone who has some time in the major leagues on a team that has a lot of young guys, I think it's time I become something of a leader."

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