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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: February 7, 2023 1:45 pm PDT
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BY KEVIN KERNAN

I don’t do resolutions columns anymore.

Instead, I do hangover columns. Chances are you have a hangover reading this on this New Year’s Day and the last thing you need to ponder are resolutions, yours, mine and others.

Let’s examine why teams give us headaches and that brings us to my annual hangover column. Consider this another form of the hair of the dog.

Here’s our first hangover, the annual Pandora’s Box that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred brings to the table each season with new rules.

This year there will be some massive rule changes, including enforcing where infielders must position themselves in an effort to rid the game of the shift and there are new speed-up rules, bigger bases, the pitch clock and the amount of times a pitcher can throw over to first base or step off the rubber. More on the stolen base situation later.

Hitters – and I use that term loosely – were too stubborn to naturally take advantage of the shift so the new shift rule had to be made the letter of the law. Creativity, for the most part, is out the window in baseball. Most teams act the same, just look at how hitters can’t wait to run back to the dugout to look at their iPad after, of course, they walked off the field with their heads over their back shoulder already having watched the big screen replay of the result of the last at-bat.

This is the ‘Gram Generation of ballplayers as in the one and only Instagram. Or you could call it TikTok Baseball, even though they just lived the moment, it really doesn’t count until the players see the picture/video.

Former MLB catcher Gary Allenson reached out to BallNine and made this interesting point: “I really don’t get it,’’ Allenson said in a text to me of life on a major league bench these days. “You have two-thirds of the hitters looking at their iPads and not watching the pitcher pitch.’’

Exactly. It makes no sense. You have the pitcher right in front of you. Study this real time happening, yet hitters’ eyes are glued to a screen. There is plenty of time to look at a screen before and after games.

Allenson offered this prediction: “The game will be a shit-show next year with the pitch clock. Pitchers and hitters will get ‘banged’ big time, except for the ‘elite’ players, you watch.’ ’’

I have no doubt this will happen.

The concept of the pitch clock is a good one, it’s much like trying to beat the shift. You can beat the shift, if you want, but outlawing the shift had to be legislated. Same for a pitch clock. Why can’t a pitcher just pitch quicker? Why does it have to be regulated?

We are living in the Sheep Era of MLB and to some degree that mimics real life. Baaaa!

No one has a bigger hangover headache than Red Sox fans. These are fans who experienced Red Sox success, four World Championships between 2004-2018 so in some ways they can now relate to the Yankees fan of previous generations, 27 World Championships but only one over the last 22 years.

The Red Sox have gone the high and mighty analytical route and I know it is heresy to question the value of analytics, which is exactly why I am going to question it with the words from a former top baseball executive.

Again, this former executive reached out to BallNine. In fact, a lot of MLB people reach out to BallNine. This is a happening site for people in the game.

Which gets us back to the Red Sox and their fans who are getting a little dose of humility and what life is like on the other side of the baseball tracks this winter after a last place finish in 2022. Talk about a hangover.

This person dropped this excellent question on me.

“I am of the opinion that ‘analytics’ in baseball (or ‘Moneyball’) might run a close second to FTX as one of the leading scams we have ever seen.

“My question: Has any team heavily reliant on analytics ever won the World Championship with a payroll at or below the median Major League payroll?

“(For obvious reasons I don’t count the 2017 Astros).

“Off-hand it seems to me that if a team is reliant on analytics it also needs a very substantial payroll in order to be successful. And, if teams are going to be signing the contracts they have been; who needs analytics? Did one need analytics to figure out Xander Bogaerts is a good player?  Aaron Judge? Jacob DeGrom? Bryce Harper? Verlander or Scherzer?

“The contracts are insane but who didn’t know that the above-listed were good players?

“And, recalling that (according to B. Beane) analytics was supposed to be the evaluation/discovery of undervalued assets … something has gotten off track.’’

Indeed, something has gotten off track.

The Nerds want it both ways, as always. The owners fall for their spiel. You still have to pay the players to win a championship. The A’s, just a friendly reminder, have never won a championship in the Beane Era. And an A’s team that could have won a championship was led by the Big Three pitchers of Hudson, Zito and Mulder and had a star named Tejada at shortstop, something that did not get a lot of play in that Moneyball movie or book.

Numbers have always been part of the game, they will continue to be a part of the game -but they cannot be the be all, end all.

Which gets us back to the Red Sox and their fans who are getting a little dose of humility and what life is like on the other side of the baseball tracks this winter after a last place finish in 2022.

Talk about a hangover.

As my friend Dan Shaughnessy wrote in his Sunday column:

Remember the 1970s Red Sox of ‘25 players, 25 cabs’? In 2023, the Red Sox strive for ‘25 players, 25 one-year contracts.’ It’s a way to save money and assemble a roster that will turn over every 12 months. Great for fans, no?’’

Clearly the Red Sox owners don’t want Chaim Bloom to spend big money and don’t forget when the Red Sox won in 2004 they were spending big money at the time with a $127 million payroll and by 2007 that was up to $143 million.

The plan used to be to win championships. Now the plan is to “get in the tournament.’’ 

As I’ve noted here before the Astros won it all this past season because they had the good fortune of having Dusty Baker, a baseball man, as manager and Dusty did some anti-analytical things such as insisting Jeremy Pena hit in the No. 2 spot. Pena was ALCS MVP and World Series MVP. In addition he hit the home run in the 18th inning that beat the Mariners, 1-0 and sent the Astros to the ALCS.

All that was part of the Pandora’s Box opened by Rob Manfred who has instituted the Fake Runner (Mr. Snuffupagus) rule in extra innings during the regular season. As a result, teams have no clue had to push across a run in extra innings of a playoff game because they are conditioned to have the Fake Runner at second base to start each extra inning in the regular season.

Rob (Be Careful What Your Wish For) Manfred has changed the game for the worst and this is just the beginning.

Baseball as we once knew it will never be the same.

And if you don’t spend the money, you have no chance. Imagine being the Marlins in the mighty NL East with Uncle Steve Cohen going wild in New York with the Mets’ spending spree and Phillies owner John Middleton trying to keep pace and is even taking a chance on Craig Kimbrel now. Say this for Phillies baseball boss Dave Dombrowski, when he gets on the scent of postseason, he is a bloodhound.

The Marlins fans are starting the season with a hangover and that is never a good thing.

The only way this can go bad for the Mets is if injuries slam them … and Cohen will just go on another spending spree. At this point there are no hangovers for the Mets and Yankees because money talks, the Yankees had to re-sign Aaron Judge and they had to add left-hander Carlos Rodon just to keep pace with the Mets who have two $43 million a year pitchers in Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.

Same goes for the Padres and their owner Peter Seidel who has stepped up to the plate and added Xander Bogaerts and Ray Davis of the Rangers who landed Jacob deGrom.

Still, even with the great additions in pitching a lot of these teams have made it still remains a question how these pitchers will handle the new pickoff rules. That’s a big question mark that no one is really talking about.

To reiterate: In 2023 pitchers will be limited to just two “disengagments’’ per plate appearance. Two chances to pickoff or step off the rubber. Unsure about a runner’s lead, just step off.

No more is that always possible and the really smart teams will take advantage on the base paths and that will create an incredible hangover for some teams. Just think of this, command has never been more important than it will be in 2023.

Essentially, if you walk a batter that becomes a double because that base-runner should be able to get a decent lead, especially after two disengagements, and that runner should be able to steal second base. I expect some players’ stolen base totals to double and that is going to be a hangover for pitchers, catchers and managers.

That’s why I expect the re-signing of Brandon Nimmo to pay off in a big way for the Mets if Nimmo takes advantage of his speed and the new rules. That’s what I love about what Keith Hernandez told Mike Puma: “I stole 19 bases in 1982. If I can steal 19 bases, Nimmo can steal 25. I have seen Brandon get on base and the pitchers don’t have to worry about him. It lets the pitchers focus on [Starling] Marte. If Nimmo is stealing 25 bases, and he can do that by just picking his spots — with his speed, he will find success — then Marte is going to get more fastballs to hit.’’

Baseball talk, not Nerd talk.

Again, the teams that understand baseball ramifications, and not just toss out numbers, will give headaches and hangovers to teams that can’t comprehend this all in a baseball manner. Don’t forget it was the Nerds who basically killed the stolen base.

Consider the value of a walk now. With a decent runner a walk can become a double. Now look at the worst teams issuing walks in 2022, it is a who’s who of crappy teams.

Here they are starting with the most walks allowed.

Reds: 612 walks allowed.

Royals: 589 walks allowed.

Pirates: 586 walks allowed.

Rangers: 581 walks allowed.

Nationals: 558 walks allowed.

Cubs: 540 walks allowed.

Angels: 540 walks allowed.

Rockies: 539 walks allowed.

White Sox: 533 walks allowed.

Red Sox: 526 walks allowed.

Just looking at that list will give you a baseball hangover – and now consider a lot of those walks will mean a runner will be at second base. To think of it in a more Manfred Way, a walk now can easily become a Fake Runner at second base.

The repercussions of this new rule will be a huge hangover if teams take athletic advantage of what is right in front of them. Will they do that? Will they steal more bases? I think they will, they certainly should, but teams and hitters did not take advantage of the shift the way they should have and Nerds hate the idea of a stolen base to begin with but the stolen base will take on new importance next season.

One small but interesting statistic. During the regular season, the Phillies’ Kyle Schwarber stole 10 bases, yet in the postseason he led all base stealers with three stolen bases. He’s certainly not a speedster but he is a smart baserunner who knew when to pick his spots. In the postseason every run is vital and the Phillies made it to Game 6 of the World Series. Schwarber also walked 15 times in the postseason with 18 Ks in 55 at-bats. So with the new rules he should be able to steal many more bases in 2023.

Of course, a catcher with a strong arm becomes that much more important as well so there is a lot going on here. Trea Turner stole 27 bases for the Dodgers last year, imagine the damage he can do on the base paths with the new rules for the Phillies. This can even help sluggers. Aaron Judge stole 16 bases last season and I expect him to greatly improve upon that next season.

There is a lot to think about Nerds and hopefully your organization has great base-running instructors, you know, baseball people who can help you out in 2023, and pitching coaches who can help their pitchers be the best they can be or else you are headed for a Huge Hangover.

Happy New Year!

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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