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Mudville: July 5, 2022 10:46 am PDT
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Snowball Headed For Hell

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Congratulations are in order.

You’ve finally done it Nerds, you’ve turned a majority of teams into a pile of baseball compost. Take a bow. Earlier this week 19 teams were sitting with records under .500 and four teams were playing under .400. As of this writing 17 teams are under water and four are under .400, those Fantastic Four: Nationals (.368), Reds (.356), A’s (.351) and Royals (.315).

These 17 teams are not only playing bad baseball, they are playing dumb baseball, too, and they are not entertaining in any way. Most of them can’t even run the bases properly.

This is where we are at in the grand old game with analytics running wild. The Nerds have had their way and their way has ruined the game pretty much across the board.

The Yankees lead all of baseball with a .737 winning percentage as they went back to scout-based decisions, put a premium on defense and pitching, stretched the starting pitchers out, allowed creativity in the rotation with Nestor Cortes, whose fastball sits at 90, and other baseball-first decisions.

Then come the Mets and Buck Showalter, who has brought a team mentality to Queens with a .655 winning percentage; just watch him throughout the game talking in the dugout to his players. Just watch Jeff McNeil take the pitch the other way. The Mets are followed by the Astros (.643) and another wise old baseball soul in Dusty Baker to steer the ship and then the talent-rich Dodgers at .636, led by Dave Roberts, who gets his players to play hard every night. The Blue Jays are hovering around .600 ball.

So many other teams are rudderless and run only by numbers and it shows in so many ways.

“Everybody is doing the same thing and it is all wrong,’’ one of the best talent evaluators in the game told BallNine.

That is gold.

That is something I have been harping on for years. Baseball has gone from true coaching to measurement coaching and in the process has lost its way.

I propose every team should hire a VP of Common Sense and let that person call BS on all the BS. I recently was sent a video where a minor league team was “working on base-running.’’

Sounds good, until you actually watched the video.

Instead of working on actual base-running, players would come out one at a time and take a lead off first base. No coaching was involved in the “drill.’’ But there were nerds with iPads on the field and a series of measurement tripods set up to spout out some type of data. After a run/semi-jog toward second base, a Nerd came over to meet with the player and go over the tabulations.

I showed the video to a running expert and that person immediately listed all the running techniques that were wrong but were not corrected by any coaching.

Just learn to run the bases hard with proper motion, make sure to see where the defense is positioned so you can get a good read on the baseball. I remember when Ruben Amaro Jr., who was a Mets coach at the time, took the entire team base to base at Chase Field in a pre-game session to go over the finer points of base-running at each base.

That’s the thing, there is no baseball in baseball pre-game anymore.

“You rarely see any infield or outfield work now,’’ one scout said of minor league ball. “They take BP in a tee-shirt and shorts, but that’s about it.’’

That’s the thing, there is no baseball in baseball pre-game anymore.

And you wonder why there are all the injuries throughout the game at every level. The players never sprint in any kind of practice and when they do so in a game, oops, another quad or hamstring injury. They over-swing and oops, another oblique.

As for pitchers: it’s forearm, elbow or lat injuries.

Launch angle, spin rate, burst rate (I just made that up) – all these gimmicks – yet Johnny can’t hit run, pitch or field like he once could.

Amazingly, 25 of the 30 teams are hitting under .250.

Check out some of the pathetic numbers. The A’s are batting .209, the Diamondbacks are hitting .215, the Tigers are at .220, the Pirates are .226. The Rays are at .229 as are the Orioles. The Brewers are hitting .230. The list goes on and on.

That lack of action is not making this an entertaining product.

And let’s not chalk this up to great pitching. This is mainly bad hitting, terrible approaches, not using the whole field.

As for the pitching, where is the command?

In the Yankees 10-4 win over the Twins on Tuesday at Target Field, Twins pitchers surrendered nine walks and 14 hits. You give Aaron Judge and the Yankees 23 baserunners and you will be slaughtered. Before we heap too much praise on the Yankees, remember, they did not have the good sense to sign Judge before the season. They did not have the good sense through the years to sign Judge long-term at a discount when they had the opportunity like so many other teams have done with young star hitters.

The Yankees are rolling because of Judge, Anthony Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton, veterans who know how to play the game and their pitchers have come along because they pushed to go longer in starts and helped guide one another, again veterans making good baseball decisions and getting away from the robotic style of analytical play. They tightened up in the infield defense and at catcher. The bullpen is strong.

They are the rare team that has the entire team working in the right direction.

Anthony Rizzo #48 of the New York Yankees rounds the bases on his three-run home run against the Minnesota Twins in the seventh inning of the game at Target Field on June 7, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Yankees defeated the Twins 10-4. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

For the most part, it’s only getting worse. The Angels are in a free fall and Joe Maddon was fired this week but, not surprisingly, the Angels really went heavy into the analytical world this year.

You could sense that there was a disconnect between upper management and the players.

Maddon told Ken Rosenthal as much after being fired, saying, “It’s been kind of difficult overall. I’m into analytics, but not to the point everybody wants to shove it down your throat. Real baseball people have felt somewhat impacted by all of this. You’re unable to just go to the ballpark and have some fun and play baseball. It’s too much controlled by front offices today … In general the industry has gone too far in that direction and that’s part of the reason people aren’t into our game as much as they have been.’’

In other words, Maddon is telling the Nerds to stay in your lane and “Try Not To Suck.’’

Anyone who has been reading AMBS here at BallNine knows this is a drum I have been beating for years and I have many, many baseball people say the same thing to me that Maddon – now that he is no longer manager of the Angels – said so well to Rosenthal.

Earlier this year after one of my tirades about analytics ruining the game and taking the heart out of baseball, yes, it was a day that ended in Y, I got a note from a major league manager who texted me this: “Stay with it … Everything you are writing is what all Baseball people think.’’

I hear something like that every day from Baseball people.

“Stay with it … Everything you are writing is what all Baseball people think.’’

It’s sad, they are crying out because they no longer have the kind of input into the game that they once had and wonder, as Merle Haggard sang, “Are we rolling downhill like a snowball headed for Hell?’’

I would venture to say that baseball is not rolling downhill it is jetting downhill.

Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon speaks at a press conference after a 1-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox, his team's 12th consecutive defeat, on June 6, 2022, at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California. The Angels said the following day that Maddon had been relieved of his duties as manager. (Photo by Kyodo News via Getty Images)

Remember what the Baseball man told me: “Everybody is doing the same thing and it is all wrong.’’

Here is another comment I hear all the time from Baseball people: “What are we doing?’’

The sad truth is that too many people who don’t know baseball are making baseball decisions.

And if you think it is bad in the majors, you should see how the game is being played in such robotic fashion in the minors. A scout was at a game last week where the sun glare off the outfield, combined with shadows at home plate made it so difficult to see the ball. The starting pitcher threw two fastballs to get ahead of the leadoff hitter, who was way behind on each fastball, and then the pitcher went to a mixture of breaking balls to walk hitters and get himself in trouble with a couple home runs – as well as off bad breaking balls even after he would get ahead with fastballs that could not be seen. He never finished hitters off with the fastball, no common sense, and no one in charge in the dugout had the common sense to say, “Hey kid, hitters can’t see the damn fastball with the glare and the shadows, keep throwing it.’’

If a hitter is hitting under the Mendoza line, don’t throw him a 3-2 breaking ball and walk him, which happens so much in the minors.

“You are just saying, what are you doing?’’ the former pitcher said of this terrible new approach.

In the Twins-Yankees game in the fifth inning on Tuesday pitcher Juan Minaya had a runner on first with two outs and then walked Jose Trevino and Joey Gallo, who is batting .186. After a mound visit, Minaya threw a 3-2 breaking ball that was wide and walked D.J. LeMahieu to push in a run.

“He would throw fastballs by them to get ahead but then he wouldn’t throw a fastball after that,’’ a scout said incredulously.

What are you doing?

“And he was throwing 94-95,’’ the scout said. “They weren’t hitting him. Make a good pitch with your fastball. Four straight cutters, go ahead and throw a fastball the other way, see what happens.’’

It is not about trickery, it is about command and often just challenging the hitter. Too often nowadays, the fear factor kicks in from the Nerds and they have the pitchers try to trick the hitter instead of just beating the hitter with a well located fastball.

Juan Minaya #49 of the Minnesota Twins reacts after giving up a walk to DJ LeMahieu #26 of the New York Yankees with bases loaded in the fifth inning of the game at Target Field on June 7, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Yankees defeated the Twins 10-4. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

One fun thing I do is watch the Orioles highlights on occasion and when they hit all those home runs on Tuesday against the Cubs , Jim Palmer was saying on each home run, “A hanging curve ball … he missed with the changeup … a fastball right down the middle.’’

Palmer, a Hall of Famer, knows what he is seeing and so many of those home runs come as a result of a terrible pitch.

And the same deal with the college game. Another scout was amazed by all the walks in college ball, texting me this the other day, “FSU walked 16 guys vs Auburn! 16!!!’’

It is all about the velo, no command. That is the new way, and it is not working.

I remember hitters from Randy Johnson’s day telling me that they hated facing Randy anytime but especially at the Big A in Anaheim because his long left arm would seemingly come out nowhere from a billboard beyond the outfield that made it so difficult to see, and that menacing fastball would be impossible to see at that moment. RJ took full advantage.

Pitch to the environment. Use every advantage.

Don’t pitch according to a script that was put together at 2 in the afternoon by some Nerd in front of some laptop. Use some of the info if you want but …

Watch swings, react to swings. Pitch fearless.

If there is a glare, make the most of it. Don’t be a robot.

“They have all gone too far in what they are doing,’’ one scout said of the Analytics Revolution. “There should be common sense in marrying where the value is to help each individual player and your team be a better team. It’s not just going one complete way.’’

Then this from another evaluator.

“Every year they keep moving the goal posts. Three years ago sinkers were no good, but now sinkers are where it’s at.’’

If, of course, you have guys who can throw power sinkers.

One size does not fit all in baseball.

Remember when stolen bases and defense weren’t important, now it’s “let’s add some athleticism.’’

How about the poor fans of those 19 teams under .500 earlier this week?  “They got nothing to look at,’’ the scout said. “They are selling hope and change.’’

Yet, nothing really changes, it only gets worse. Congratulations Nerds, you have lowered the bar across the board.

Try not to suck.

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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