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Mudville: June 16, 2021 11:24 pm PDT
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The Unwatchables

Every once in a while, the truth comes out. Every once in a while, you hear the words to back up what your eyes have been telling you for quite some time.

They want you to think it’s all about the magic of new-age pitching.

The truth is much different.

The hitters have allowed themselves to be manipulated in the box by chasing the false Launch Angle gods. That is baseball’s single biggest problem, no matter what lies they tell you with pitchers suddenly being unhittable.

If their lies were true how in the world could you have one team scoring 20 runs, another scoring 16, another scoring 10 and another scoring 11 runs – all just on Friday night? Did all the unhittable, high spin rate, highly velocity pitchers suddenly become hittable? And how about that 9-7 game, how in the world did that happen?

Hitting used to be about making adjustments. In this day and age hitters act the same, looking to lift the ball and the pitchers have figured out just how dumb these hitters are by attacking their weaknesses, weaknesses they have brought about themselves.

Taking the same swing every single time will result in what we are seeing in Major League Baseball today with already seven no-hitters being thrown well before Memorial Day and teams hitting a combined .237.

Scouts and veteran baseball people, and most importantly, AMBS, have been warning us for years that this day would come, and our voices have been pushed to the back of the room by the ‘Innovators’’ in charge of today’s game.

“We are in the Thelma & Louise Era of baseball and Rob Manfred is driving the ’66 T-Bird with Tony Clark in the passenger seat.’’

If you make no adjustments at the plate and every swing is pretty much the same, this is the result you get. Lineups used to be made where hitters had different roles, now every role is pretty much the same. Swing as hard as you can and hope the pitcher makes a mistake in location.

Two managers let the cat out of the bag this week but you had to be listening carefully.  Their comments told you everything you needed to know.

First from Chris Woodward, whose Texas Rangers have been no-hit twice already this season.

“I think where hitting is at, in the Launch Angle Era, there are a lot of holes in swings right now and pitchers are taking advantage,’’ Woodward said.

And this brilliant observation from Marlins manager Don Mattingly. Donnie Baseball knows the ultimate truth.

“Where does this get better?’’ Mattingly asked. “Strikeouts are at an all-time high. Things like that, it tells you that there are some issues within the game that need to be addressed. They’re going to take a while because this started 15, 16 years ago with the swing changes and the philosophy changes. With all the analytics of the three-run homer and all that stuff. So it’s been coming and it’s been building and now we are at a point where I think it’s getting so much more attention because it’s just a game that is sometimes unwatchable.

“Guys you talk to they don’t even like watching games because there is nothing that goes on in them.’’

Give that man a cigar.

This is not some lunatic on Twitter saying the game is unwatchable. This is not me screaming the game is unwatchable. This is not veteran scouts saying the game is unwatchable. This is Donnie Baseball saying that the game is unwatchable, and guys he knows – translated: that means former players – don’t even bother to watch the games anymore.

Why should they? The next night Mattingly’s Marlins went out and went 3-for-17 with RISP against the Mets in a 6-5 loss.

Un-Wat-Cha-Ble!

Marlins manager Don Mattingly pulled no punches on his thoughts about the three true outcome game that fans are getting tired of watching.

I am hearing that over and over again from baseball people I trust. People who have spent their life in the game. They’ve had enough. They can’t take it anymore. They can’t watch. They can’t stand seeing hitters making the same mistakes, striking out on the same pitches with no adjustments being made.

While viewership goes down, strikeout totals continue to rise at an alarming rate and MLB officials sit back and twiddle their thumbs.

Mattingly has the guts to call the game out. Same goes for Woodward.

Go to any game, talk to anyone, you hear that again and again. Former players, who are doing color commentary are trying to put on a good act for the public and, of course, they want to keep their jobs, but they know how much trouble the game is in.

And this is not just overnight, this has been happening for a while now like Mattingly said and those players have confided it’s hard to watch what they are seeing, but now the dirty little secret is out in the public.

If hitters don’t make adjustments they have no chance. Cut down the swing to a two-strike approach. Hit the ball the other way. As of Saturday, 22 teams had a plus-.300 batting average when they hit the ball to the opposite field. Yet overall teams are hitting .237. You would think they would learn but they don’t.

The Ivy League snake oil salesmen running these teams have created this mess.

How did the Yankees Gleyber Torres get the winning single against the White Sox in a magnificent 2-1 win Friday night at Yankee Stadium? “In that kind of situation, I don’t want to be super big,’’ he said of cutting down his swing. He said he has had time to think about, “How can I do better?’’ His answer was the right one. In key situations, cut down your swing, make contact and drive home the winning run.

Yes, pitchers are throwing harder and there is more movement, my guess is because of all the gook they are loading up the baseballs with these days, something else Rob Manfred and his Merry Men have turned a blind eye to.

But these pitchers don’t have the command of past generations of pitchers, look how they drill hitters left and right with wild pitches. Look at all the wild pitches.

Rangers manager Chris Woodward has, for one, seen enough no-hitters already in 2021.

And the shame of all this is that the hitters have more open space to hit the baseball than any MLB hitters have had in the past.

Just the other day, the Giants scored 19 runs against the Reds while the Rays clobbered the Orioles 10-1. The pitchers are getting roughed up too.

One former major league pitcher – who became a pitching coach – told me this week that he had a long conversation with his team’s hitting coach a few years ago about why not take advantage of what the defense and the pitchers are giving you.

Remember, this is a pitcher trying to figure out why today’s hitters can be so dumb, so stubborn as to continually hit the ball into the shift.

“You know what he told me,’’ the former pitcher said to me in a tone of disbelief about his own hitting coach. “He told me that ‘Yeah you can get men on base that way and maybe get a rally going, but I want my hitters to do damage.’’’

Damage?

Instead, they want the Elites in New York to make new rules to help the poor hitters. Ban the shift! Move back the mound!

They are doing damage alright, and we are seeing that damage on a nightly basis with seven no hitters (Yes, Madison Bumgarner’s seven-inning no-hitter counts). They are doing tons of damage. To themselves. To the game. So much damage that managers are admitting in public there are a lot of holes in the swings of today’s hitters, so much damage that one of the greatest pure hitters of all time, Donnie Baseball is saying the game he loves can be unwatchable.

That is the real damage being done and perhaps it is too late to come back from this abyss. Hitting is hard. I’ve always said that. Tony Gwynn always told me that. Derek Jeter always told me that. Cal Ripken Jr. always told me that. Don Mattingly always told me that. Ernie Banks always told me that. Ted Williams always told me that. Even Barry Bonds always told me that. And you know I believed them, I knew it was hard and it is harder than ever now because what the hitters have done to themselves.

April 25, 2021 - Diamondbacks pitcher Madison Bumgarner is congratulated by teammates after hurling a seven inning no-hitter. And yes, it should count.

They have cut the field in half and have decided to swing from their heels for a home run every swing. None of it makes any sense. Pitchers, to their credit, have picked up on the flaw and have made the hitters’ own swings work against them. Jacob deGrom was one of the first pitchers to pick up on the absurdity of the Launch Angle and now in a copycat league, every pitcher is doing the same. Of course they are. Of course they will spin it that a lot of this is the result of throwing the pitches out of the same arm slot and that a lot of this is because velocity is the name of the game, but they want you to believe that. That’s part of the scam.

“Oh no, it’s not the fact that nearly every hitter does not make adjustments and the bat is not on the same swing path the ball is traveling, it’s because of tunneling we are so successful.’’

Look at some of these no-hitters. Meatballs floating right down Broadway, but the hitters pop it up or just miss the pitch entirely because they are committed early to putting their best swing on the baseball. They are not committed to hitting the baseball, that’s another commitment entirely.

They have fallen down and they can’t get up.

On rare occasions the hitters adjust. Credit to the Blue Jays who appear to be trying to use the whole field, pulling a Wee Willie Keeler. “They hit ‘em where they ain’t.’’

And believe me, I am not against home runs. When J.D. Martinez hit his 250th home run Thursday night to beat the Blue Jays, he smartly went the other way with the pitch and got the ball up in the jet stream that is the minor league ballpark the Jays are playing in right now in Dunedin.

Take what the park gives you, too. But not every damn swing. Not every damn hitter.

And if fielders ain’t there, if they are loaded to one side, why don’t more hitters cut down their swing and play pepper into the large hole? Ego and big contracts, that’s why. I can only hope the Blue Jays and their young hitters like Vlad Guerrero Jr., son of a Hall of Famer, can start a trend.

Do I believe that will happen? No, but I can hope.

Vlad Guerrero, Jr. (PHOTO: JULIO AGUILAR /Getty Images)

Which brings us to the most important question of the day. This week I talked to numerous scouts and saw two minor league games in person in what used to be the Florida State League. I also talked to scouts who are checking out other leagues across the country.

Who knows how much longer teams will actually employ scouts to watch baseball games live and in person because the scouts tell the Ivy League GMs what is really happening to the game and they don’t like that.  Most teams are not even advance scouting the opponent anymore.

I am waiting for ONE team to become scout based again. Even GMs that want to have scouts seem to be losing that war as ownership continues to cut back in the hiring of scouts. Scouts and true development people have given way to technicians or people who take measurements of baseball activities and call themselves teachers.

It’s a sad state of affairs and it is one reason why games are Unwatchable.

What’s next, baseball?

As one talent evaluator told me this week, baseball isn’t slowly falling off a cliff. It is driving full speed off a cliff.

We are in the Thelma & Louise Era of baseball and Rob Manfred is driving the ’66 T-Bird with Tony Clark in the passenger seat.

The play in the minors is frightening. Errors galore, wild pitches, passed balls, wild swings, terrible base-running, lack of hustle. A smart team right now should focus on the little things in their minor league system and produce a conveyor belt of talent.

Baseball has to get back to believing every at-bat is precious. Get back to teaching the game the right way. Demand baseball. Stop lowering the bar.

“What are we going to do to fix it,’’ one talent evaluator told BallNine. “Throwing all this money at technology is not working. If you keep spending money on gadgets and you don’t have people teaching the fundamentals of the game and how to play the game the right way, the product on the field is going to be nothing more than a bowl of garbage.’’

Only he didn’t say garbage.

And of course, many more no-hitters.

Are teams capable of raising the bar or will they all continue to follow the same game plan?

Here is a flashback text another scout sent me this week: “Think back 30 years ago: teams come to the yard, go out for a team stretch in the outfield, supervised by the trainer. They then take several rounds of progressive BP-bunt both sides, go oppo field, up the middle, pull-during that time coaches hit fungoes to the infielders and outfielders, pitchers shag in the outfield, pepper groups intermingled, after which, the best fungo coach hits infield/outfield where outfielders throw accurately to 2B, 3B, home with appropriate cutoff men and infielders work on charging bunts, DP, straight infield … All baseball skill oriented!! They then go in and prepare for the game.’’

That is not happening now. Times have changed. The game has changed and not for the better.

Scouts have had three weeks out on the road watching these minor league teams, four hour-plus games featuring 17 strikeouts by one team or another. Passed balls galore because every catcher is framing and can’t get to the ball.

How about the Fredericksburg Nationals who started 0-15?

What’s coming people is worse than what is here. That must change. There has to be a Great Awakening. Perhaps it starts with two gutsy managers speaking up about what is really wrong with a game that is becoming unwatchable.

Problems have been identified, baseball. What are you going to do to fix it?

45+ 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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