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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: April 11, 2021 8:17 am PDT
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Commmon sense is not so common these days.

Teamwork, accountability, pure baseball maneuvers used to be common to the game. They are so uncommon now that when a player speaks to these ideals as new Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor did this week, it is newsworthy.

That is how far the game has gotten away from its roots as it continues to reinvent itself into oblivion.

Occasionally, a bit of light is spotted. When that light shines, don’t miss it and don’t mistake it for something else.

The truth of the matter is baseball will only be saved by its players. No one else.

The media always will be on the outside looking in and never is that more evident than now in these days of lack of player and team access to reporters.

Ownership, you ask? Come on, look at the Mariners and all their dirty little secrets, that were not so secret, uttered by one former team president recently. But now he’s been removed from the game, and the Mariners are back in good hands again.

Sure, I believe that.

Now that blathering Kevin Mather has resigned, there will be no more roster manipulation in Seattle or the game, no more continuous tanking by organizations, no more completely out of touch front office people who don’t even know what they are looking at on the ballfield. And all those teams that continue to fail year after year are going to be onto the path of success.

Yeah, right.

Pretty funny when Pedroia and Davis bust some chops.

The question people should be asking is how did this guy Mather rise to the position he had and does every team have a Kevin Mather? Why do owners hire these people and continue the march onward and Nerdward while real baseball people are forced out of the game.

Owners, team presidents, presidents of baseball operations and general managers will continue to be as rancid as they are with a few exceptions.

That is why the only hope is with players saying: “Enough is enough. Let’s get back to baseball.’

They are the ones who can save this game and I am not counting on that at this stage of the game, but at least one player had the guts to speak the truth this week and that was Francisco Lindor, who has a much more powerful pulpit these days than he did in Cleveland, where baseball dreams go to die.

Having said all that, let me make it clear these cannot be empty words by Lindor who publicly came out and shamed analytics, particularly The Shift. “Let me do me,’’ the two-time Gold Glove shortstop Zoomed. “I get really mad when I miss a ball because they were telling me to move the other way. It just drives me nuts.’’

It drives you nuts? It’s been Bonkersville for years.

They always count outs saved by The Shift but never count runs allowed by The Shift and how the inning can change with a shift hit. It’s okay to shift on occasion when a batter deserves that kind of treatment but shift all the time? How dumb are these hitters and teams to not take advantage of The Shift?

That is the first change that needs to happen.

An Anti-Shift attack should be in every team’s toolbox as those cool front office Khaki Kids like to say. Just another tool in the toolbox, they proudly note, as if they held an actual hammer in their hands at any point in the life past the age of Fisher-Price toys.

But this is much more than that.

I’d love to see Lindor and other players take it up a notch. If Lindor did, with his all-around ability, I could see him winning the NL MVP award in 2021. He is that talented and now the stage he is on is that much bigger.

Kevin Mather. Yeah, this is his photo

In 99 games in 2015 Lindor hit 12 home runs, 15 the following year, then a big jump in power, 33 home runs in 2017, 38 in 2018, 32 in 2019 and eight last season, as he played all 60 games for the Indians. I’m sure the jet engine baseball helped.

Lindor needs to be the catalyst to the Mets offense. Leave the home runs to Pete Alonso and his natural power. Michael Conforto will get his share of home runs as well and he too could use a more balanced approach to offense, use the entire field, become a doubles machine.

That is what I want to see more from Lindor. Play a little more pepper with the baseball.

Much more on the lost art of pepper later.

Lindor can make contributions everywhere on the diamond. Up the middle defense, a run scorer, and a run producer. That is the Lindor I want to see playing shortstop and batting for the Mets. Be an igniter. Here is one other interesting statistic. In his first full season, 2016, Lindor produced 15 sacrifice flies. Over the next four seasons, he produced 14 sacrifice flies total, one fewer than all of 2016.

When he first showed up to play 99 games in the majors in 2015, Lindor amassed 13 sac bunts to lead the league.

Since that time over five seasons he has a total of 12 sac bunts.

Yes, bunting is forbidden fruit in today’s game, but you can’t tell me that adding a run here or there with the help of the bunt with Jacob deGrom on the mound will not pay huge dividends for the Mets. DeGrom does his things his way and that’s worked out. The Mets let deGrom be deGrom, the same goes for Lindor.

As he said, “Let me do me.’’

Some of this may be circumstance, but that many sacrifice flies does not just happen. That’s a hitter doing everything he can to get the runner home from third no matter what. That is a get the job done mindset. Don’t try to do too much, go with the pitch and gladly take the RBI. That is the Lindor I want to see excel for the Mets in 2021.

Over his last four full seasons, Lindor has averaged 39 doubles a season. I believe that number can rise. And with a ball that is a bit deadened (they say) that would be the mindset to have – hit doubles and let the home runs come as they may.

Lindor must understand that, just as he knows how best to position himself at shortstop, he inherently knows the best approach at the plate for his body type. Don’t try to do too much. Don’t be a home run hitter. Let the home runs come, don’t force the issue. Don’t try to do too much in an effort to impress your new team.

Simplify everything. Be a hitter. And if The Shift is used against Lindor, attack it with one of the weapons in your toolbox, a bunt, pushing the ball the other way, and if Lindor is on base and a framing catcher is all caught up in framing and not throwing or an infielder may have trouble covering a bag because of The Shift, swipe the base. Steal bases, steal runs, get everyone involved in the fun.

That’s baseball.

That used to be baseball.

Plain and simple.

Frankie Lindor: Future MVP

Does he have enough power to make him a bad hitter?.

Does this generation of players inundated with numbers and knowing so well the financial repercussions to such decisions — will these players have the courage to take what the shift defense gives them?

As one scout told me in his evaluation of players, “Does he have enough power to make himself a bad hitter?’’

I knew exactly what he meant by that statement and have seen it time and again.

“I think that is what happened to Lindor,’’ the scout said. “He came up and hit .300, hit .300 again, the home run totals keep going up and then all of a sudden it becomes home run focus and not getting a hit focus and the whole thing changes.’’

Nerds dig the long ball, so players react in such a fashion.

With all that in mind, there was a fascinating post on social media the other day by Joe Mikulik, a former minor league manager who pointed out these numbers in regards to the Southern League.

1986 – K’s 7,925 – HR’s 1,204 – BA .276

1996- K’s 9,547 – HR’s 1,100 – BA .263

2019- K’s 11,455 – HR’s 934 – BA .243

Mikulik also noted that in 1986 there were hardly any indoor cages, hitting work was done on the field. BP was thrown from the mound. Pepper was played.

For those who don’t know: Pepper is a drill where three, four or five players gather, one is a hitter. He hits the ball, the players field the ball and throw it back to the hitter, the idea is to shorten the stroke and focus on contact. It is the complete baseball opposite of the launch angle swing.

Times change, equipment gets better. Facilities get better over the next 10 years and in 1996 there are more cages, some outdoors and pepper was still played.

Fast forward to the last minor league season, 2019, and there is more machine batting practice, more indoor cage, a world of new measurement data and tools, high speed pitching machines imitating spin and movement and BP is from closer range 30-45 feet.

Pepper is no longer encouraged.

A lot more progress in equipment, a lot more data, high-speed video, but much less of the basics, standard BP and good old fashioned pepper. Despite all that progress and shiny new toys, batting averages plummeted and strikeouts went through the roof. Players are stronger, bats are stronger, balls fly deeper, there is much more agility and weight training, but batting average is much worse.

Those Southern League numbers are telling numbers, if baseball wants to pay attention to those numbers.

Owners don’t want to hear those numbers, they continue to be led down the path of more data, less baseball. When will a team buck the trend and have the courage to push more baseball

Lindor opened a door with his anti-shift comments. Will anybody listen?

44+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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