BY KEVIN KERNAN
This is my favorite time of the baseball season.
The World Series is complete. The on-field play is done until spring training. The off-season is upon us. This is much more than the off-season. There is a better term for it, a much better description.
Welcome to Hypocrisy Season.
This is the time of year when those elites in charge of baseball teams tell us they are going to fix what’s wrong with their teams. They tell the hungry and starving-for-a-championship fans that needs will be addressed. Starting pitching is a top priority, of course. Fundamentals will be stressed. Accountability is important and we all know: “Accountability comes from within.’’
Then these elites will do what they want to do, not what the fans want them to do. Sure they will sign some starting pitchers along the way for untold millions and try to rebuild ravaged bullpens but they will go back to making the same mistakes, especially with the starting pitchers.
This group of current GM’s will be forever known as the group that killed starting pitching.
It’s been a long, slow death, starting with the implementation of ridiculous pitch counts from rookie ball on up. First they took away innings from the starting pitchers and the ball and now they have taken away their pitching souls.
Like Stepford Wives starters are often taken out while spinning a gem and they just mindlessly hand over the baseball and walk off the mound and take all the congratulations in the dugout. It’s one thing to happen during the season, but when it happens in the postseason, or as the elites are fond of saying, “The Tournament’’ it is quite another.
Aces need to start holding their ground.
More games are lost, more tournament series are lost, more World Series are lost because of the mad dash to remove starting pitchers.
Here is what I have to say to starting pitchers. Grow a pair. Stop being okay with being taken out. The baseball media was put on this earth to run with quotes like: “I couldn’t believe he came out to get me.’’
Hint to pitchers, never say “the manager’’ because the manager really doesn’t manage those kind of decisions. Just say “He.’’
That also makes it clear you are not giving respect to management in that instance. “I couldn’t believe HE came out to get me.’’
Try to finish what you start. Time to start channeling your inner Bob Gibson. Be a man. Stand your ground for your game. If you are exhausted or arm weary, by all means come out, we are not looking to ruin careers. But if there is still more in your tank, if you feel you still can do the job, even if it is the third time around the order, don’t leave without making it clear you are not okay with that decision.
I bring up the late Bob Gibson for several reasons. First of all, November 9 was his birthday. Gibson would have turned 87 Wednesday. In all my trips to Cooperstown for Induction Weekend, I would make it a point to sit with Gibson for a few minutes in the far-right corner of the Otesaga Hotel lobby, where Gibson would hold court as he sat on the comfortable couch that was positioned in that corner. That was his throne, and all the Hall of Famers would come through at some point to say hello to the King. Gibson was Baseball Royalty. He could be intimidating but you had to hang in there, just like the batter tried to hang in with Gibson.
St. Louis Cardinals pitching ace Bob Gibson and his wife, Charlene, happily take possession of a 1965 sports car (Chevrolet, Corvette). Sport Magazine awarded the car to Gibson as their editor's choice as the most outstanding player of the 1964 World Series. Gibson won two games as the Cardinals defeated the Yankees in the Series. He also tossed a record total of 31 strikeouts.(Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)
The main reason I am bringing up Gibson’s name is because he made nine starts over three World Series. Back then the World Series was The Tournament. He made those nine starts and completed eight games. Let me say that again. Gibson made nine starts and pitched eight complete games. In his final World Series, Gibson made three starts in 1968 and finished all three games. This was after a regular season when he pitched 28 complete games for the Cardinals. The next season he threw another 28 complete games.
Gibson made 482 starts over his 17-year career and completed 255 games as he posted a 251-174 record with a 2.91 ERA.
In those nine World Series starts, three each in 1964, ’67 and ’68, he finished with a 7-2 record and a 1.89 ERA.
That’s pitching. Eight out of nine for complete games. That’s rising to the challenge.
Wondering when was the last World Series complete game?
The Royals’ Johnny Cueto pitched the last World Series complete game back in Game 2 of the 2015 World Series vs. the Mets, a 7-1 Royals victory – with Cueto allowing only that one run on two hits. Here is another Amazin’ fact, and I was there at Kauffman Stadium, Cueto only struck out four. And he did it all in 2:54.
Then came the Nerd Revolution.
Not one complete game over the last 47 World Series games. I sense a trend.
Starting pitchers never finish what they start, but can they at least go a bit deeper into games, especially World Series games when the whole world is a stage for baseball.
Before you get onto the argument, the postseason is much longer now, yes it is and I am not expecting anything like those Gibson numbers, but I am expecting in a game or two where the starter is dealing he stays in there longer than the Nerds want him to stay in there. It may not be a complete game, but it could be finishing the sixth, seventh or eighth inning.
St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Bob Gibson greets Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter prior to the home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium on April 11, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
More games were lost this postseason by poor pitching decisions, decisions that people assume the manager makes. The manager isn’t making this decision. He may tell you that but he is not making the decision. Decisions are pre-made, that’s another big problem with the game, just as they are pre-made all during the season.
Heart and toughness are not taken into account or the will to win or what is actually happening in the game in front of the Nerds.
The latest boondoggle was the Phillies taking out Zack Wheeler with runners on first and third with one out in the sixth inning of Game 6 in Houston. The Phillies needed the win to force a Game 7 and were up 1-0 with their horse on the mound who was pitching a tremendous game.
In 1968 Bob Gibson was 32, the same age as Wheeler now. And like I said, the next season at the age of 33 Gibson fired another 28 complete games.
I’ve known Wheeler since minor league days in 2012 and he is one tough pitcher. There is a fire that burns within. I’m sure Rob Thomson knew that as well but after a hit batsman, Martin Maldonado essentially got on top of the plate because he knew he was overmatched and leaned into one to start the inning. After Wheeler got Jose Altuve on a forceout, Jeremy Pena, who was on fire in the Series, did a nice piece of hitting and hit a hopper up the middle for a single to put runners on first and third.
Panic time for the Phillies. Thomson took the ball and handed it to lefty reliever Jose Alvarado, who was about to face Yordan Alvarez for the fourth time in the series. Clearly, the Phillies had decided that it was going to be Alvarado vs. Alvarez in any key matchup. Up until that point, Alvarez was hit by a pitch by Alvarado and popped up twice when Alvarado got in on him.
This time Alvarez won the battle because Alvarado missed big and put the 2-1 pitch right on a tee for Alvarez who smashed a three-run home run to center that traveled 450 feet. He was waiting for his pitch and got it.
Starting pitchers can’t see the lineup for a third time but in a series a reliever can face the same big hitter four times? How come the Nerds didn’t do the math on that one?
Zack Wheeler #45 of the Philadelphia Phillies walks off the field after being pulled from the game against the Houston Astros during the sixth inning in Game Six of the 2022 World Series at Minute Maid Park on November 05, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
This is much different than a three-game series during the season. This could be seven games and give the hitters credit, they can make an adjustment on the designated pitcher that is to face them in a designated big moment.
That’s on you, Nerds. Thomson, a good man, took the hit and he made the pitching change officially so he has to wear it. By the way, Alvarado’s ERA for the four World Series appearances was 10.80. I’m no math genius, but that’s not good and he was the big arm you counted on in that spot. Fascinating.
What I want to see is a little pushback from pitchers, starting in spring training. Plant the seed then that the goal is to pitch deeper into games during the season and during the season make that a true goal instead of the throw as hard as you can for as long as you can style that is in use today.
Wheeler has been working on that part of his game and he deserved the moment there against Alvarez. He said he was surprised when he saw Thomson coming to get him. That’s a start. And I saw him bring his glove to his face as he walked off the mound. He was not happy.
Aces need to start holding their ground. A similar thing happened to the $324 million ace of the Yankees Gerrit Cole when Nerd-runner Aaron Boone pulled him from Game 3 of the ALCS with the bases loaded in the sixth inning at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees removed the $324 million man in favor of reliever Lou Trivino. That’s absurd.
It’s all absurd but it has become kind of the pitching law these days as starters are taken out way too early, especially in the postseason. Remember when Blake Snell was removed by Kevin Cash, doing the bidding of the Rays Nerds against the Dodgers in the 2020 World Series?
A golden opportunity was lost and I will be surprised to see the Rays back in the World Series again for quite some time. The Dodgers do it all the time, take out the starter too early, and pay the price, outsmarting themselves time and again.
You know what team pushes their starters and gets more length from them than other teams in the postseason, you guessed it, the Astros. It works for them. It works for Dusty Baker. It used to work for Bruce Bochy with the Giants when they won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014 and in the 2014 World Series Madison Bumgarner even pitched a complete game.
The Nerds are so locked into their formula of what I call Russian Roulette Relief that they lose games because of the formula. Counting on a battalion of relievers to come through time and again in a postseason series (and the regular season night after night) is madness.
And again, I am not talking about getting a full nine innings from your starters but I am talking about six innings at least, saving some of the bullpen arms along the way.
This Nerd one size fits all system is pretty much doomed to fail. Baseball has always been about the success or failure of the starting pitching. The Nerds spend so much money on starters, too, call it starters inflation, but rely on relievers in the most critical times.
Starters must stand up for themselves to turn the tide. I often talk and text with scouts about the disappearing starting pitcher and they agree the Nerds have created a Clown Show imbalance, always going to multiple relievers.
One longtime scout who is an expert on advancing other teams, especially in the postseason, sent me this text the other day because he is so fed up with the game of today and the usage of starters, you know, the guys you pay the most money to but don’t let them do their job.
He wrote: “Watching Baltimore-Philly ’83 Series game! What a difference! Good pace, real baseball, starting pitcher in the 8th. Wow!!’’
The pendulum does not have to swing back to the Bob Gibson days, but the mindset can swing back.
Pitchers, managers, Nerds and owners can start expecting more innings from their starters and demanding more innings like the Astros do in The Tournament. Since 2017 the Astros have two Tournament Championships, otherwise known as World Series titles, otherwise known as the Rob Manfred “Piece of Metal’’ trophy.
And yes, I know the Astros hitters cheated in 2017, but save it, especially you Yankee fans, the Yankees have had multiple chances to gain their revenge and failed each time, this time being swept away in four games, this time with their $324 million ace chased from the mound without a whimper of an argument only to be replaced by a rather average reliever, who quickly flushed the game down the Bronx toilet.
“Boonie did a great job,’’ by the way, so said the GM Brian (2009) Cashman, who has put all these Nerd ways into place with the Yankees, but I don’t want to get sidetracked.
This will only get worse unless starting pitchers have the baseballs to stand up for themselves and start demanding to stay in the game longer and they can do that long before the manager trots to the mound, they can say that face to face between innings in the dugout. They can say it beginning in their bullpen work in spring training. Push for more innings with the “pitching strategist’’ in charge.
Bob Gibson would not stand for the quick hook.
Ironically, many in this current trophy generation doesn’t really know how to win trophies and what it really takes to win a World Series trophy. Demand to bring the front office Nerds into the conversation too.
That would be fun. Starting pitchers, you may not start what you finish but at least attempt to see the seventh inning every once in a while.