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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: December 2, 2022 8:47 am PDT
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Things are only getting worse in the baseball world.

What’s going on in the minor leagues with pitching is downright ridiculous. Pitchers simply aren’t getting enough work.

While most are focused on the pitch clock in the minor leagues, here at BallNine we are focused on the work.

They are not getting enough innings to become better pitchers. They are not getting enough innings to learn how to get out of trouble. They are not getting enough innings to build the mental fortitude it takes for major league success, not to mention the arm strength. Most of all, they are not getting enough innings to learn they can trust their stuff and just as importantly – trust themselves.

Checking in with some scouts this week who have been blazing the minor league trail this season, this is what they are seeing at the different levels of minor league play… and it is not pretty.

“They are not helping anybody get any better,’’ one scout told BallNIne of the way many organizations are run with the Nerds calling all the shots and baseball people sent to the sidelines.

“I saw six kids yesterday,’’ the scout said Wednesday of one minor league team. “The first day of a series they threw six different pitchers. The other team threw five but that team had three guys who threw multiple innings.’’

The parent club of the team that had three pitchers throw multiple innings, by the way, is in first place.

Not the case with the team with the six-pack of pitchers on the first day of the series.

That’s the Nerd Plan, starters go short and relievers parade through one inning at a time, you know, keep that pitch count down so pitchers never have injuries any more even though they have more injuries than ever before.

Just this week the Yankees lost reliever Chad Green to Tommy John surgery. Closer Aroldis Chapman is down with left Achilles tendinitis. Domingo German is coming back from right shoulder impingement. Fireballing right-hander Luis Gil will undergo Tommy John surgery and on Wednesday, the Yankees announced that Jonathan Loaisiga is going on the injured list with shoulder discomfort. In the Yankees non-pitching world, Giancarlo Stanton is dealing with a calf issue.

Starting pitcher Luis Gil #81 of the New York Yankees delivers the baseball in the first inning against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on May 12, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

Injuries happen. That is baseball, especially pitching injuries, but to think drastically limiting pitchers’ innings is the answer to the problem is an Ivory Tower non-solution; and now to think they will make young pitchers reach their potential in such a fashion is Nerd’s Gold – the same as Fool’s Gold – but that is the state of the game right now.

Kind of like transitory inflation.

A lot of data is being used throughout the game, but not a lot of coaching is being done, not a lot of work is taking place.

This from a veteran scout who remembers what work ethic used to entail in the minor leagues.

“The players get worse every day,’’ he said bluntly. “They do absolutely nothing.’’

What a damning comment on the state of the minor league game and it infuriates longtime coaches and former players when they see this approach. Now, of course, the players will take batting practice, but as far as infield work, outfield work, base-running, you are pretty much on your own because those are relics of the past game.

The approach is about me, never team.

That’s all part of the minor league programs of today, and, of course, the baseball people who grew up in the game, who love the game, who understand the game, when they question this bizarre style of teaching baseball are basically told: “You guys just don’t understand.’’

A friend of mine recently went to a Double-A game and when I asked what do you think, he said, “Winning doesn’t matter to them in the minor leagues anymore. It’s all about their individual statistics.’’

This was not a baseball person, this was just a solid baseball fan. He then asked, “When do they learn to win?’’

Great question.

When do they learn to win?

Winning is a skill too and it helps to practice to learn how to win, move a runner over, drop down a sacrifice bunt, do the little things but for the most part, that is all on the back burner now; unless of course, you play for a manager like Buck Showalter, who demands some of the little things be done.

Not an accident that the Mets are far ahead in the NL East.

Back to a veteran baseball person who said he was told by some of the younger players batting average and strikeouts don’t matter.

Yes, his head nearly exploded.

“We don’t take infield, in games, doing cutoffs and relays nobody ever covers second base because they don’t know what they are doing, our pitchers we take out after three innings because they are prospects … and we expect them to become players.’’

That’s all part of the minor league programs of today, and, of course, the baseball people who grew up in the game, who love the game, who understand the game, when they question this bizarre style of teaching baseball are basically told: “You guys just don’t understand.’’

They understand everything and they all understand why play in the majors continues to deteriorate because of this current brand of player development in many organizations.

The thing that gets me is the arrogance of the Nerds, but I’ve been dealing with it for years. When I would point out something to different GMs or assistant Ivy League GMs that didn’t make any baseball sense about the organizational mistakes being made, they blew it off as their team dropped lower and lower in the standings.

Their answer was to hire more Nerds, less baseball people.

“You called this five years ago,’’ one friend said to me recently.

Actually more like eight years ago.

Brandon Crawford #35 and Joc Pederson #23 of the San Francisco Giants celebrates after Crawford hit a walk-off rbi single scoring Darin Ruf #33 to defeat the New York Mets 13-12 at Oracle Park on May 24, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

*****

In 1988 W.J. Weatherby of the Manchester Guardian wrote: “Baseball reflects American society’s need for confrontation.’’

Because of the nature of the game now and the friendships that develop in Showcase travels or in sharing the same player agent, some of that has been lost, but one of the things I see the Mets doing, is they are not afraid of confronting the other team; and that too gets back to Showalter and you can see it in the way the Mets have had enough with being hit by pitches. The Mets have been hit much more than any other club, leading baseball with 29 hit by pitches.

More hitting food for thought: Only nine teams own more hits than strikeouts and the Mets are leading the way in that category with 401 hits and 338 strikeouts. The league average is 338 hits to 358 strikeouts. The league batting average is .238, the Mets are hitting .263 as a team. Hitting the ball to all fields like Jeff McNeil does pays dividends no matter how much the Nerds want this to be a Launch Angle game and every once in a while, McNeil will drive a home run to right to keep pitchers honest. “I think Jeff McNeil is the closest thing we have to Tony Gwynn in the game right now,’’ one scout noted. That is some high praise.

The Giants took a page from the Mets’ book to beat the Mets in the wildest game of the year Tuesday night when Brandon Crawford bounced a single the other way where the shortstop used to play for the 13-12 win. Joc Pederson blasted three home runs and drove in eight runs after getting hitting tips from Barry Bonds. Bonds has forever been a student of hitting and his conversations with Tony Gwynn about hitting during my time covering the Padres was one of the coolest parts of my job. The Max Scherzer oblique injury certainly dampens the success the Mets have had to start the season. Pederson continued his home run success the next day, dropping the head of the bat on the ball making like Bonds again.

Trevor Story #10 of the Boston Red Sox hits a three run home run in the first inning against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on May 24, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

*****

In the Florida State League, that’s what I’m still calling it, both the Yankees and Mets teams are free swingers. Tampa leads the league with 490 strikeouts, St. Lucie is second with 432 … This next item was brought to my attention on May 13 but in running around the country and going to watch so many grandchildren baseball and softball games I forgot to drop it into Baseball or Bust. MLB was offering 50 percent off its streaming package. That quickly into the season it was half off to watch games, imagine that. I feel bad for those who paid the full freight, a month earlier. I was one of those people who paid the big price. Wait a month and get half off is the lesson to be learned here in the future. Fool me once …

Remember at the start of the season I pointed out the Yankees would get off to a lightning start. That was brought to my attention by a friend, Silvio Ciafardini, who keeps close tracks of scheduling and noted the Yankees easy early schedule. Now the hard work begins for the Yankees who have built a solid lead in the AL East in Rob Manfred’s everybody makes the playoffs world. So they have put themselves in fine position. “Wednesday ends the Yankees 44 games of easy schedule,’’ Ciafardini said. “So while they took care of business, watch the flaws start to magnify. They did manage to burn out the bullpen during that powder puff schedule.’’ Yes, Ciafardini is one tough critic. “It’s a cushion for now,’’ he added. “They haven’t played Tampa Bay yet and the Red Sox schedule now gets easy. Let’s see where this goes.’’

The Red Sox could not have been any worse but they are winning now and Trevor Story is hitting. Over the last 13 games, Story is batting .300 with eight home runs, 23 RBIs and an .800 slugging percentage. The Red Sox are still not back to .500 but they are making a move.

C.J. Cron #25 of the Colorado Rockies hits a solo home run to left field in the third inning during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on May 25, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

*****

Story’s former team, the Rockies seem to be bedeviled by some of the same problems as in the past. They are two games under .500 but are two different hitting teams, one at Coors Field, another on the road. The Rockies are 14-11 at home and 6-11 on the road, heading into midweek. At home they have scored 149 runs and allowed 131. On the road they have scored 44 runs and allowed 90 runs. At home they have 30 home runs, on the road they have 11, the lowest in MLB. At home the OPS is .796 while on the road they are at .616. I once asked about that difference between home and road hitting and I was told that for Rockies hitters, they get used to the ball moving a certain way at home and having to re-adjust on the road. Makes sense. Simply put, away from the Mile High City, the ball they are trying to hit has more action. Somehow, some way, the Rockies are going to have to collect hitters who can make the adjustment. Perhaps the Rockies could use a more active approach on the road, steal bases, hit and run, sacrifice bunt, find a way to score more runs on the road.

Carlos Correa #4 of the Minnesota Twins celebrates with Gary Sanchez #24 after scoring against the Oakland Athletics at RingCentral Coliseum on May 18, 2022 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

*****

The AL Central leading Twins are playing well and the Carlos Correa influence has been huge, not just with his talent but his ability to hit the ball the other way. The Twins as a team are using the entire field, making them a much more dangerous offense. Gary Sanchez has come alive again after leaving the Yankees, a trade that was good for both teams. “It’s big to see the Kraken back,’’ Correa said. “He’s happy here.’’

I’m a big believer in doubles. The Twins are fourth in MLB in doubles with 77. The struggling Rangers are dead last with 45. The Yankees have made a huge improvement in hitting doubles this season. With RISP the Dodgers lead all of baseball with 32 doubles. They are tops in ERA with a 2.75 mark, followed by the division-leading Astros at 2.85, followed by the division-leading Yankees at 3.07, followed by the division-leading Twins at 3.31. You get the picture.

Noted one scout, “You know what’s funny, the analytical people are starting to learn that the old stuff did work. That stealing bases is okay. Sacrifice bunts are okay, and hit and runs are okay. But they are going to take credit for that like they freaking invented it when everybody starts doing it. ‘Our analytics department realized that if we could steal some bases, move 90 feet that we would be better off.’ They take credit for everything. Elevating fastballs they take credit for, I was taught that in 1977, move eyes up and down. I’ve always encouraged kids to change speeds, moving the plate is sequencing, from in to out, up and down, you can move the strike zone.’’

Gotta love it.

Just a friendly reminder: The Nerds did not invent the game.

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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