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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: February 26, 2024 3:21 am PDT
Clock World - Dali

BY KEVIN KERNAN

We’re rolling now.

Spring training is off and running, even though no one is running the bases at full bore because they are risk averse and there’s not much hitting in the new Clock World.

TV replays have to be quick as well.

Games are moving along so fast because no one is hitting and I bet some pitchers are kicking themselves and asking, “Geez, why didn’t I pick up the pace earlier in my career?’’

Should have listened to the Old Dudes.

Here are things to look for when you visit spring training to see if your team has a chance in the new speed-up ways of MLB. If you are in major league camp, pay attention – you will learn a thing or two, and the same goes for amateur players.

The built-in excuse makers are working overtime, saying it’s going to take time to get used to the changes; but don’t believe them. This should be like riding a bike for the players, if they put any off-season energy into what really matters in the game; especially the hitters who should have seen this coming and accelerated their actions.

As for pitchers, it’s not just about being quicker – it is about being more accurate; command is king now more than ever.

In speaking with an experienced baseball man this week he dropped this on me, regarding those in charge of the game. He was talking about everything from those at the MLB offices to those running teams.

“Nothing that matters, matters,’’ he said.

Brilliant. Truer words have never been spoken about the game. Four words tell you where the game is at this moment. ”Nothing that matters, matters.’’

That’s the bad news; but we are here for the good news at The Story.

It’s time to go back to basics – and I think that is why some teams have smartly reached out to hire veteran baseball people who have seen it all and heard it all from past generations.

The change may not occur overnight, but there will be change in these teams with Brian Sabean going back to the Yankees, Carlos Beltran returning to the Mets, Bruce Bochy managing the Rangers, and the Marlins hiring a slew of baseball knowledge in the likes of Terry Collins, Dave Wallace, Jim Riggleman, and Dan Radison. Dusty Baker remains the key Astro and Buck Showalter plays that role with the Mets and now has more front office help in Beltran.

Those teams should post a sign in their offices that says: Baseball Spoken Here.

They are just some of the hires that have intrigued me; and when I visit spring training I will be looking forward to talking baseball with baseball people instead of talking metrics with metrics people, who really have no clue what it is like to be in the box facing a major league pitcher or on the mound facing a hitter.

Anyone who has followed me knows that I have been saying the speed-up rules will be much more difficult on the hitters than the pitchers even though MLB tried to help the hitters with the changes. The clock (there was never a clock in major league baseball before this week), the bigger bases, the disengagement rules from the mound, and so forth and so on, including the banning of the shift. The games will be faster, but they have to be better, that is the challenge.

This is not speed dating.

Pitchers, this is pure gold for you, even though MLB added this rule to add more offense to the game and make your life more difficult.

Here is a primer for teams and players on how to take advantage of the new rules.

Follow some of these simple tips and your team will be better.

In the ultimate small sample size, baseball did not get off to a smooth start with the speed-up rules when it came to hitters on the first day these were put in place. But again, that is a good thing for teams that are paying attention. Make an adjustment. The other way is not going to work anymore.

In this age in which changes were made to help the hitters, teams hit a collective .186 with runners in scoring position (8-for-43) on Friday and that is counting facing college pitchers for the Red Sox. In the three games played, there were two stolen bases even though it is much easier to steal a base. One of those stolen bases came against the college team, so that doesn’t count. This tells me that the metricians in charge are already scared of someone pulling a hammy – instead of working their way to being comfortable with sprinting to steal bases so you don’t pull a hammy in the process.

Hitters, let’s start at the beginning.

The first thing to do is get batting gloves that fit snugly. This may sound simple, and it is simple; so simple that whenever Tony Gwynn, eight-time batting champ, gave a talk to young hitters, the first thing he would say is this, snug gloves, and I just double-checked this with a video Tony made years ago.

Tony, of course, is no longer with us, but he is offering incredible advice in this video: “How to Improve Your Hitting with Baseball Pro Tony Gwynn.’’ Find it, watch it, have your kids watch it; you will not be disappointed – again, AMBS is here to help.

“The first part we are going to talk about is batting gloves,’’ Gwynn says on the video. “You want to get a pair of batting gloves that doesn’t have wrinkles, doesn’t wrinkle. It’s very important that they fit snugly and the snugger they fit, the better you are. If you get wrinkles in them, you get blisters. As a hitter, that is the last thing you want.’’

Pitch Clock

A shot of an Official Rawlings baseball on the field with a pitch clock in the background as new rule changes are demonstrated to assembled media during the On-Field Rules Demonstration at TD Ballpark on Wednesday, February 15, 2023 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

This is stuff Nerds don’t know. This is real baseball. Snug batting gloves. You don’t have the Nomar Luxury to tug at your gloves all the time anymore. No more Nomar.

It’s simple but important.

Nothing worse than watching a batter step out of the box, readjusting his gloves as he gets his mind “right.’’ When you see that as a fan it’s a subliminal command: “You have time before the hitter is ready to hit, look at your phone.’’

For fun, watch how many people behind home plate in the most expensive seats do not watch the game but are looking down at their phones.

I saw a guy in the first row at the Padres game Friday in Peoria looking down at his phone the entire time Manny Machado was being hit with the first “time strike’’ in the history of the game. You missed history, dude, but you were able to check your phone, which hadn’t been checked in maybe 10 seconds and we all got a good look at your new Padres cap.

I’m being facetious when I say history, of course – it’s amazing what passes for history these days (in life too, not just sports, but you get the point). As a fan, you have to pay attention. As a player, you have to pay attention. Get your batting gloves right in the on-deck circle.

Hitters, you better wake up.

Pitchers, this is pure gold for you, even though MLB added this rule to add more offense to the game and make your life more difficult.

And as I pointed out on Twitter the other day, the best thing about the speed-up rule is we won’t be having to listen to TV analysts chirping for 20 seconds about what the next pitch is going to be 300 times a game. This will change the TV game. No more three replays between pitches. Analysts may actually have to analyze the game and also show the ability to add a touch of humor to the broadcasts. Maybe tell a funny story instead of droning on and on about spin rate like a boring, tenured college professor.

Kenley Jansen in front of a pitch clock

A blurry Boston Red Sox closer Kenley Jansen throws in front of a pitch clock, new to MLB this season. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

I spoke to a former pitcher about what is right in front of the pitchers now and here is what he had to say. (This is why you come to BallNine, for real baseball.)

“Guys like Jim Kaat, Jim Palmer, and I, we had the whole scenario on what we wanted to do to the hitter before the guy ever stepped into the box,’’ he said. “And you are working off the reactions to each pitch. It’s not rocket science. Stop turning it into rocket science.’’

The new geniuses in analytics are looking to derail the former player at every turn.

“They are trying to protect how smart they are and how stupid guys like me are; bleep that, when it comes to common sense I’ll put your ass to shame.’’

Exactly. Common sense baseball.

“When you put a hitter on his heels,’’ he said, “he’s now not digging in. The way you put them on their heels is by working quickly, attacking them, they now know you mean business – and the other thing is pitching inside.’’

By pitching inside that hitter is not going to dive into the ball as much.

If you don’t pitch inside, the hitter has the advantage because he knows he’s facing someone who is not going to come in on him.

It’s so simple and if the pitchers pay attention here they can clean up on the hitter. And stop with the 0-2 meatballs that I continue to see every game. Get the hitter off the plate.

This generation of hitters has not adjusted and has not been forced to adjust; but now the pitcher can take advantage of that by attacking, working quickly, and commanding the baseball.

Our man said it’s more important than ever for teams to have mental skills coaches who “actually understand the game,’’ he said. “Keep a guy confident and to me, when you do the work, you’re confident. When I studied hitters I was confident in my approach. When you don’t, when you let somebody else do all your thinking for you, you never have sureness. A pitcher will know that something is true if they do the work.’’

That is such a vital point everyone is overlooking. This generation of “leadership’’ has created a generation of robot pitchers and hitters who follow analytical commands. Everything is spelled out for them instead of doing their own research and combining that with other information.

Think for yourself.

Joe Martinez doing Manfred's bidding

Joe Martinez, MLB Vice President of On Field Strategy, explains the new pitch clock rules that pertain to a pitcher to the media during the On-Field Rules Demonstration at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale on Tuesday, February 14, 2023 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

A course in Baseball Reality should be part of every team’s prep work. And it is not just about making adjustments, it’s about making the opponent uncomfortable. With the pitch clock I can see pitchers getting extremely comfortable in working their rhythm while hitters will be uncomfortable because they can no longer have the same routine. You have to quicken your routine or you’ll find yourself at 0-1 on a fake strike because you weren’t set or engaged with the pitcher at the eight-second mark; and that is what happened with Manny Machado in his first at-bat Friday. Afterward he laughed and said, “I’m going to have to make a big adjustment not to be down 0-1 a lot.’’

Manny will make the adjustment. Will others?

Here is something else for hitters to get pitchers out of their comfort zone. Drop a bunt here or there, make that pitcher move off the mound so that he gets a little gassed with the clock running. Teams need to run like the wind when they can; that also will change the pitcher’s comfort zone when he knows he is limited in how he can hold the runner on at first or second base.

And dare I say it? Will any baserunner have the courage to steal home? – because now the rules of engagement have changed and you should be able to get an explosive lead. That lead can happen at any base, so catchers are going to have to be able to back pick to try to get that leaning runner or at least keep him honest. And pitchers, you must quick pitch here and there simply to get that hitter overthinking. The hitter is already in a bit of mental funk, knowing he is being rushed; so when you really rush him, you create a little more anxiety.

All that will work to your advantage.

catcher in front of pitch clock

Washington Nationals catcher Keibert Ruiz (20) waits for a pitch as the newly implemented pics clock counts down during spring training workouts at the training complex on February 16, 2023. (Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

How does the hitter fight this off? It would help if he wouldn’t swing from his ass every swing, and it is encouraging to hear that Aaron Judge has been crafting a new two-strike approach.

Now more than ever: put the ball in play. Not only should teams be doing more infield and outfield practice, but hitters should be bringing back the time-honored practice of playing pepper to get their reflexes working faster; so when they feel rushed they can revert to making simple contact and driving the ball the other way.

All these options are out there for the pitchers, hitters, and catchers. It’s up to them to make use of all this. Can I make it any simpler than this? Play baseball.

You might enjoy it. I know I will. And as for that fan constantly looking down at the phone, watch the game. Something might actually happen in Clock World.

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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