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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: May 25, 2022 8:52 am PDT
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They always cite the numbers as hard evidence.

Unless, of course, the numbers don’t tell the story they want to tell. Then they ignore those numbers and come up with other numbers that work to their advantage.

In many ways, MLB has its own Ministry of Truth.

That’s how baseball works nowadays and that’s why there are only a small number of truly good teams. Here at BallNine, we keep it simple: If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.

Going into Saturday, there were 604 games played in the major leagues this season. The batting average for those games is an abysmal .232, the on-base percentage is .308 and the slugging percentage is .370, good for a .678 OPS.

Hitting stinks.

Launch Angle Hitting stinks.

Pitch Recognition stinks.

The game is going backwards.

Hitters are not making the necessary adjustments and there is no accountability. Baseball is a one size fits all sport now and the people in charge are trying to tell us this is entertaining. They will blame the humidors now in each ballpark or the use of more power/spin arms in the bullpens but hitting stinks because the hitters have a terrible Launch Angle approach.

Just five years ago the MLB team batting average was .255.

For years I’ve been warning baseball that the game is trending downward, as they like to say. It’s beyond that now, it’s trending off the cliff.

I believe teams should have a Set You Straight coach, especially in the minor leagues; although you don’t want to offend anybody these days so you would have to call that coach the Quality Control Coach.

On Friday night the Phillies, one of the better hitting teams in the majors, were no-hit by five Mets pitchers. If you want a good laugh at how not to approach an at-bat in a close game, check out Odubel Herrera’s first two strikeouts against Tylor Mcgill.

One batter who does make adjustments plays for the Mets, No. 8 hitter Jeff McNeil, who drilled a two-run single to center in the fifth against Aaron Nola to break the scoreless tie. McNeil is back to being McNeil and went with the high fastball, not trying to do too much. He wasn’t just taking another big-ass swing that has become a staple in the game. It was refreshing to see. It was fun. It was baseball. I was smiling as much as McNeil was smiling at first base.

But for most teams, with the Nerds in charge, this is not allowed.

Playing to the moment of the game has been lost, too. As one longtime baseball man told me this week of the way teams are run: “They work off a script. They work off a predictive outcome and sometimes the predictive outcome doesn’t come about – and they are never held accountable for that.

“‘Well, the odds say he should throw that pitch.’

“No, It wasn’t the right pitch. The batter moved up on the plate and was looking out over the plate and nobody there recognized it because nobody there is thinking in the moment,’’ he explained. “Or the batter has moved off the plate and is looking inside for the same pitch he just got. Meanwhile, the pitchers are looking at the card they take out of their pocket as opposed to watching the hitter move up on the plate.’’

The same is true for hitters. An amazing number of strikes right down the middle are taken for strike three with runners in scoring position.

The edge of wanting to swing the bat to get that runner home has been lost with all the technology and the over-thinking in each at-bat.

McNeil knows baseball and as I have been saying for years, the Nerds don’t know baseball – they know algorithms –yet they get away with their “teachings’’ because ownership has fallen for the Launch Angle Ponzi Scheme that continues to ruin the game.

A lot of sizzle, no steak.

The Dodgers, by the way, recently had a Will Smith Bobblehead giveaway – and AMBS loves his bobbleheads – and this was a nice looking Bobblehead with only one minor detail askew. Check out home plate in the picture. The way it is going in hitting sometimes, it looks like the batters are facing the wrong way or home plate is facing the wrong way.

Oops.

Buck Showalter has brought accountability to the Mets as I predicted he would the day he was hired, and he has a coaching staff that does baseball things. Good for them. How many teams have such a manager or how many teams have many hitters who will make key adjustments and take what the pitcher is giving them?

Baseball needs more players with the approach of Jeff McNeil. Last year he lost his way at the plate because the people in charge of the Mets wanted more Launch Angle from all their hitters. They wanted more Cow Bell.

What they got was cow droppings.

McNeil changed and the results were terrible. Those people are now gone.

But most teams are still Launch Angle crazy, evidenced by the overall .232 average that baseball is putting up on the board. That is the average, but it is much worse. An overall .308 on base percentage is pathetic too, as is the .370 slugging percentage.

Put the ball in play. How about the Orioles making seven errors in two games over Thursday and Friday? Think that forced them to do more fielding practice? How about the D-Backs hitting .183? Heading into Saturday, only two teams in baseball were hitting over .260. The Rockies were leading the way with a .264 average, McNeil’s Mets were next at .261. Twelve teams were hitting under .230.

Aaron Judge pointed out something about the Yankees that I have been imploring for years. They are off to a good start, Judge said, because there is more diversity in the lineup. Everyone is not just looking for the home run ball and someone from the Yankees figured out it would be nice to have some left-handed hitters like Anthony Rizzo in the lineup for a team with the short porch in right field.

Get a clue, Nerds.

We will see if the Yankees have postseason success against better pitching, but for now they are cleaning up mistakes.

Pitchers have figured out how to attack the Launch Angle Generation and I also believe this year pitchers are in a better rhythm because of PitchCom. They are getting the sign quicker and that is allowing them to get into a better pitching rhythm.

Essentially baseball fixed a problem created by the worst kinds of Nerds, the Cheating Nerds. Everyone in baseball went to the extravagant signs once the Astros and other teams locked cameras on the catcher’s fingers to steal signs.

Pitcher Drew Smith #62 and catcher James McCann #33 of the New York Mets have a communication problem with their PitchCom device as home plate umpire Marvin Hudson looks on during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on April 12, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

The Nerds created that problem. In the past, sign-stealing problems were handled by pitchers but rules have changed.

PitchCom has fixed the problem now once teams get used to using it. I still say it might be a problem in the postseason because visiting teams will have the fan volume turned up, once the fans figure out they can play a role, much like visiting football teams have trouble hearing in an opposing stadium; the pitcher and fielders might have trouble hearing the PitchCom voice in their hats. But for now it is working out well, and the pitchers have one less thing to worry about… and we all know pitchers love to have one less thing to worry about.

The problem is the hitter. The hitter will not adjust for the most part because those in charge reward the Big Fly and there are little consequences for strikeouts.

The consequences come at the fans’ feet. They have to watch this boring stuff. Strikeout after strikeout, the ball not being put in play, strategy lost, the inability to learn how to bunt. The inability to learn how to steal a base. The inability to learn how to properly run the bases.

I was at a few minor league games this week and I am not going to mention the player because I don’t like to beat up on minor league players, they have enough going on in their world, but this was a critical juncture in a tie game. The player drove a pitch to left field that bounced off the wall. The player had good speed but was already celebrating out of the box so he was not running hard – but that’s not the worst of it.

The player had no thought of forcing the action. He was thrilled with his double. He did not round the bag at second base even though the ball was still not in from the outfield. He put on the brakes before he reached second base, did not even bother to cross the bag and pick up the ball. He immediately turned to the dugout and started to celebrate with some kind of over-the-top routine with his teammates, and the ball was still making its way in from the outfield.

A view of the PitchCom system used by catch Joey Bart #21 of the San Francisco Giants during the game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on April 24, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

What if the relay was muffed? A great possibility these days. What if the cutoff man mishandled the throw? A baserunner must round second base aggressively to at least draw the throw. That’s Baseball 101. Not these days. It’s look at me on second base instead of look at me I may take third base on your mistake. From what I saw throughout the game there was a good chance the defense would mess it up, and if the runner had been running hard out of the box, he would have been able to make third easily because the outfielder did not make a clean play retrieving the ball.

The worst part is this, nobody said a word to the celebrating runner, no coach, no manager pointed to the third base bag and clapped as if to say, “Hey, don’t give up on the play.’’ Of course there was a wild pitch later in the inning that moved the runner to third. If he had been on third, he would have trotted home with the go-ahead run.

Then you could have celebrated with meaningful high fives.

But that was not the case. As it turned out, the runner died on the vine at third, proudly thinking he did his job with that “double’’ and had no clue and no one bothered to tell him that his base-running on that play was atrocious.

Bad behavior is not only being tolerated throughout most of baseball, it is being celebrated. My guess is coaches and managers have to be aware that they cannot jump on a player like in the past, after all, you would not want the Mental Skills Coach to have to build up that player’s confidence.

And by the way, the team with the bad base-running had a mental skills coach.

I believe teams should have a Set You Straight coach, especially in the minor leagues; although you don’t want to offend anybody these days so you would have to call that coach the Quality Control Coach.  You mess up and this coach will set you straight. He or she will let you know right away. And then to drive home the point that coach will break out the iPad in the dugout and show you what you did wrong, using the Hawk-Eye system that is in nearly every ballpark.

A verbal set you straight, then a video set you straight.

That way you are getting human element feedback in addition to technology feedback. This generation of players trusts technology so why can’t teams use it to their advantage, much like PitchCom.

I venture to call it TruthCom.

TruthCom will help show you the way. And you will not take TruthCom personally because it is only a tool and as everyone in baseball likes to say now, “The more tools you have in your toolbox the better off you are.’’

You can even call that person the TruthCom coach. No judgment. Just technical truth.

Of course that coach would have to point out to all the Launch Angle strikeout kings, “Hey, it ain’t working, just put the ball in play here.’’ But that would take a front office and a manager who not only knows baseball and all the intricacies of the game but also holds players accountable.

You couldn’t have that now, could you?

We are in the midst of the NAB Era of baseball … No Accountability Baseball. It has given us pathetic batting averages so as a result we are told by those in charge now, “Batting average is not an important statistic.’’

It is important. It does matter, it is the bedrock of the game. Imagine telling that to Ty Cobb batting average doesn’t matter and see his response.

Strikeouts don’t matter, they tell us, but strikeouts do matter. Runners are not advanced because the ball was not put in play. Clutch singles like Jeff McNeil’s two-run single that snapped a scoreless tie in the fifth do matter. McNeil’s teammate Mark Canha is hitting .333, all his hits have been singles (17 of them) except for one double. Francisco Lindor is batting .284. Brandon Nimmo is batting .271 with a .386 on-base percentage.

Here is the best number, though, the Mets went into Saturday with a .714 winning percentage with the make contact lineup with power like Pete Alonso sprinkled into the mix. The Mets have the best on-base percentage at .343 because of those players. And their pitching is dominating those opposing Launch Angle swingers.

All that doesn’t just happen.

You have to work at it and if you are not playing correctly, you have to have a manager and a coaching staff that holds you accountable. TruthCom.

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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