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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: December 2, 2022 5:04 pm PDT
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BY KEVIN KERNAN

A well located fastball is a piece of baseball art.

It’s a Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover.

A perfect summer night.

Apple pie and a cup of coffee.

And for the most part, it’s no longer in vogue in Nerd ball.

Now it’s about trickery … sequencing. Now it’s about the shape of the pitch. Now many pitchers are simply afraid to challenge hitters with the fastball.

Challenging a hitter with a well located fastball is one of the simple pleasures of the game and it is being taken away. Here at Baseball or Bust we want to bring the well located fastball back to the game. It’s a great way to attack teams like the Yankees who spend much of the game sitting on soft stuff, waiting for that sweeping slider to place itself in the middle of the plate – and boom.

Tired of seeing hang ‘em and bang ‘em sliders after a fastball is thrown right past the hitter? AMBS is too.

There is so much wrong with pitching now, starting with how the fastball is used but also with the latest Nerd fad of bringing in position players to pitch in MLB games; a travesty, but much more on that later.

There is a good reason Hall of Fame right-hander Greg Maddux believed, “Velocity will get you drafted but it’s not going to help you win once you are drafted.’’

Interestingly enough, Pirates pitchers threw enough well located fastballs to shut down the Yankees Tuesday night in Pittsburgh’s 5-2 win over the Yankees, who are making mincemeat of the league. We don’t often praise the Pirates, but they did something right in this game – and don’t forget they swept the Dodgers in Los Angeles earlier in the season.

Bringing back the well located fastball was a part of that success. Starter Jose Quintana got four of his early strikeouts on fastballs against Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Donaldson, Jose Trevino, and Matt Carpenter.

And this wasn’t on 96-97-98 mph fastballs, this was on a 90-91 mph fastball. It’s the location that matters.

Pitchers: don’t be afraid of your own shadow in 2022. Pitchers: don’t consider every hitter to be Aaron Judge.

Start locating your fastball and you’ll have success even against Judge, who struck out looking on a 78-mph breaking ball to end the game, a pitch that was set up by two consecutive fastballs at the top of the zone from David Bednar.

Jose Quintana #62 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during the first inning against the New York Yankees at PNC Park on July 5, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

One of the smartest scouts I know offered this about what’s going on with the falling in love with breaking balls by this generation of throwers.

“You cannot leave breaking balls in the zone, especially with the swing path that these guys have now where they are trying to elevate the ball,’’ the scout told BallNine about what he’s seeing throughout the game. “If it doesn’t have late bite, as a pitcher, you are in trouble.’’

“I believe with the Yankees, I would throw fastballs with two strikes,’’ he said.

Interesting comment. The Astros have certainly challenged the Yankee hitters and they have had the most success against them.

Challenge the hitter physically. Challenge the hitter mentally.

There is a good reason Hall of Fame right-hander Greg Maddux believed, “Velocity will get you drafted but it’s not going to help you win once you are drafted.’’

Maddux also said: “When they’re in a jam, pitchers try to throw harder. Me, I try to locate better.’’

Locate the fastball to make everything else go.

We are living in the Velocity Age in baseball: pitching velo, exit velo, but it is more than velocity. It is location and movement on pitches that make all the difference. Never forget that.

I’ve had recent conversations with Dwight Gooden and Goose Gossage, two of the hardest throwers in the history of the game, and they both insist that there must be more well located fastballs thrown in today’s game to counteract the launch angle swing.

It’s obvious to them.

And this is not just rear back and throw. This is fastballs with a purpose that can be dotted in the strike zone or just off the strike zone. It’s magic when it’s done properly. It’s called pitching.

Why does it work so well? Let’s go back to what three-time World Championship A’s infielder and longtime minor league manager Ted Kubiak told me from his days working in the minors. He saw this coming long before anyone else – and how did he do it? By asking a simple question.

“Why are there so many strikeouts?’’ he asked. “Is the pitching that good? Maybe we should take a look at what players are being taught; they have no strike zones and don’t know what one looks like.’’

Greg Maddux #31 of the Atlanta Braves pitches during an MLB game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. Maddux played for 23 years with 4 different teams was an 8-time All-Star, 4-time Cy Young Award winner and was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014. (Photo by SPX/Ron Vesely Photography via Getty Images)

Here is where that simple question came into play.

“I got dumbfounded looks when I asked the conglomerate of position players I was managing one year to tell me their strike zone. I got no answers,’’ Kubiak recalled.

Imagine that. Hitters are looking to punish mistakes and there are plenty of mistakes made by pitchers; but knowing their own strike zone, that is completely another matter.

Another scout told me, “Hitters will crush a cement mixer slider – but a fastball, often they’ll just foul it back if it’s elevated just a bit. You get hurt a lot more on the slider.’’

Watch any game and you see mediocre sliders that are hit hard.

That’s where pitching scared comes into place. That’s where trickery over substance becomes a problem.

That’s also why we are getting so many games now where position players have to come in to pitch — because the managers who are following Nerd orders do not want to waste any real pitchers in a one-sided game, and usually have some relievers in the bullpen that day that are there only as a hood ornaments.

My friend former major league player Jeff Frye pointed out to me on Wednesday that five position players pitched in Tuesday’s games. What used to be a once in a while occasion is becoming a regular thing in Nerd ball and it’s just another example of the way the insidious nature of Nerd philosophies are ruining the game.

“I’m not positive but I’m sure it’s a record when 5 position players pitched in MLB games yesterday,’’ Frye noted. “What an embarrassment!’’

It is an embarrassment and we have seen it so much, a position player comes in and lobs it over the plate and then everyone on the field smiles.

Let the kids have fun. Let the Nerds have fun.

Thirteen pitchers are not enough on a roster for their liking.

The Nationals, who embarrass themselves on almost a nightly basis, used shortstop Alcides Escobar for an inning on Tuesday, trailing the Phillies, 11-0. He got through the inning without allowing a run but it was just another indication of the game being turned into a joke.

Alcides Escobar #3 of the Washington Nationals throws a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies in the bottom of the eighth inning at Citizens Bank Park on July 5, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies defeated the Nationals 11-0. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Essentially, this is happening because pitchers can’t pitch and don’t challenge hitters enough with the fastball. The constant nibbling leads to elevated pitch counts and before you know it, the starter is out of the game and there’s a parade of relievers.

Using a position player to pitch should be a last resort move and it says so much about the game and where it is at in 2022. Instead of being humiliated, teams getting crushed 11-0 are laughing it up. I’m waiting for the day when a lob-throwing position player starts a game for a pitching-poor team as a Position Opener.

Another brick in the wall of shame that is so often MLB 2022.

All this is yet another reason I want to see the well located fastball being taught again to pitchers. Don’t just take off and throw your fastball like you’re at one of those pitching mph factories or at the Jersey Shore boardwalk in Seaside Heights trying to win a stuffed animal by the speed gun.

Bring back pride to pitching by locating those fastballs as Bednar did. Geez, maybe the Pirates will trade him to the Yankees like they traded Clay Holmes who has become Mariano Rivera, using a power sinker instead of Mo’s cutter.

It wasn’t too long ago that the power sinker was not favored by the Nerds but it’s making a comeback. It helps when you have pitchers who can actually throw the bowling ball power sinker. I want to see the well located fastball reappear.

Come on pitchers, you can do it. Get a backbone. Get out of the weight room and get on the mound and work on your command. It may act as kryptonite to the launch angle crew of hitters you face.

One scout who observes the minor leagues said there are way too many pitchers with 5.00 ERAs.

“How are you that bad?’’ he asked before answering his question.

“Other than the fact that you walk guys and when you get in trouble you don’t have the competitive fortitude to make a pitch and get a freaking out,’’ he explained. “They are scared to death. Everybody throws a breaking ball 3-2 now.’’

The irony is many have good fastballs.

New York Yankees relief pitcher Clay Holmes (35) pitches during the New York Yankees game versus the Baltimore Orioles on May 18, 2022 at Orioles Park at Camden Yards, in Baltimore, MD. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“They just will not use it,’’ the scout said. “Because they are scared to death to throw them because of the analytic data. Like the other night, I’m watching a kid who has a shutout going and he’s throwing 94-95 and he throws a 3-0 breaking ball to a guy hitting .160. Then he walks in a run with a 3-1 breaking ball and I’m going, how does that happen?’’

That is shoes in the ballpark knowledge, folks.

That does sound crazy but it is happening night after night after night.

Imagine if a few years ago you announced that on a certain Tuesday night in the near future you will have five – not one, not two, not three, not four, but five – games in which position players pitch on the same night in the major leagues; people would have thought you were crazy.

But that’s what is happening because people in charge of the game now have no “dirt in their shoes’’ clue. Every week something absurd is happening in baseball (e.g. triple play on a fly ball to center) and we are bringing it to your attention. The lack of command of the well located fastball has led to much of this absurdity. Stick your velo in your back pocket.

Going into mid-week, those Nationals gave up 456 runs, the most runs allowed in MLB, one of only six teams to surrender over 400 runs so far this season as we close in on the All-Star break. The other five are no surprise. It’s kind of a who’s who of teams that struggle: The Reds follow the Nationals with 440 runs, then come the Rockies at 438, the Cubs at 420, the Royals at 411, and the Pirates, who managed to shut down the mighty Yankees Tuesday night, are at 409.

Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros in action against the New York Mets at Citi Field on June 29, 2022 in New York City. The Astros defeated the Mets 2-0. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Those teams also own the six worst ERAs in the majors with the Reds at 5.45, the Nationals at 5.15, the Rockies at 4.99, and the Royals at 4.98, followed by the Cubs and Pirates at 4.70.

If you want to see how to pitch without fear just watch the Mets’ Max Scherzer. On Tuesday night, his first start back in the majors in seven weeks, two at-bats stuck out to me. Both times he froze the Reds’ Matt Reynolds on fastballs on the outer half for strike three, and both fastballs were up. After the second strikeout looking, Reynolds went back to the dugout in a walk of shame actually talking to himself.

Same pitch. Same result, a fastball-looking strikeout. So many hitters now are guessing, you can freeze them with the two-strike fastball over the plate if you have the guts to throw that pitch, in or out.

Be bold. Even against the mighty Yankees.

“The Astros have a pretty good idea as to how to pitch the Yankees it seems like, as opposed to everyone else,’’ one scout said.

Justin Verlander has something to do with that. The Yankees and Astros appear to be heading toward another October showdown. “Verlander is a smart guy when it comes to that,’’ the scout said. “The scouts talk about it all the time; the fastball is still the best pitch in baseball, a well located fastball – but for some reason we have walked away from that. We have fear of it. We have a fear to throw it. We have a fear to attack hitters. Never in our history have hitters been worse, yet we are more fearful to throw them anything over the plate or fearful to throw fastballs.”

“What Bizarro World am I living in?’’

MLB The Show 22.

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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