BY KEVIN KERNAN
There is only one question baseball should be asking itself.
And it’s not this one: Are the games faster?
No, the question is this: Are the games better? Is the product more like baseball than Nerd Ball?
So far the answer is a resounding no.
New Pitch Clock. Same old problems.
Some awful, awful play.
Remember that commercial:
“It’s a very big bun. Where’s the beef?’’
In the Giants-Yankees first two games there were a combined 54 strikeouts by the two teams. On Saturday at Yankee Stadium the Giants (16 Ks for the second straight game) held on for a 7-5 win but the ninth inning featured not one, but two Pitch Clock violations on San Francisco closer Camilo Doval, the 11th pitcher of the game. Doval was trying to fix the wet mound both times and two batters started with 1-0 counts. Ridiculous. There also was a PitchCom issue in the inning. Doval was lost, but Giancarlo Stanton grounded into a double play on a 2-0 count (one free ball) with two runners on base to end the game. The Yankees left 10 men on and were 4 for 14 with runners in scoring position.
And pitch clock or not, the time of the game was 3:12; one of four early games Saturday that ran past three hours.
The same mistakes are being made: an 0-2 hanging slider seems to be a staple to the Nerds pitching repertoire. Too many errors. Throws from the outfield are pretty pathetic. Hitting with runners in scoring position? Even more pathetic. There were only five games Friday and three of the losing teams did not muster a hit with RISP. Teams are still striking out way too much. With the infield shift being eliminated, teams are not taking full advantage – as the hitters are still trying to lift everything. In the Padres’ first two games of the season the offense was a pop-up machine.
The Giants win Saturday was a prime example of really bad baseball on both sides. If it wasn’t Alex Cobb throwing a Stanton double-play comebacker WAY into centerfield, it was Stanton ice-skating around in right field or Giants centerfielder Mike Yastrzemski making like the Red Sox Jarren Duran, misplaying a fly ball in centerfield. It was ugly.
“Three New Rules. More Great Action.’’
For those who swear the pitch clock will fix all that ails baseball, and we’re talking to you Rob Manfred, baseball can only be fixed by having good coaching and good scouting and letting those teachers teach the game, not turning the game over to Ivy League leaders who promptly ruin the game and then make a pitch clock rule, bigger bases, only two disengagements on the mound, and shift limitations; and then having them say they fixed everything they had screwed up over the last baseball generation when they made what used to be a great game with great skills all about the home run, strike out, or walk – and not about baseball, pitching, defense, making contact, and running the bases well.
Alex Cobb #38 of the San Francisco Giants gestures toward the catcher during the first inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on April 01, 2023 in the Bronx. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
All you have read is how much better the game is with the pitch clock because people can leave 15-20 minutes earlier than last year; but no one is telling you how it’s actually better. Just because the pace has been picked up doesn’t make it a better game.
Skills have to be better to make the game better. Defense has to be better to make the game better. Just because you limit where the infielders play and that they must have their spikes in the dirt doesn’t make it a better game.
Instead of focusing on the Pitch Clock, focus on Fundamentals. But there is the rub, because the Nerds know nothing of fundamentals so how are they going to make the players better at the game? The fundamentals once taken for granted have been lost by this generation of players because they were never emphasized as important, the way the players of the ‘70s, 80s, and 90s treated those fundamentals. Sure you have a few players who play the game right; but not like in the past.
Yes, it’s early. I’m willing to give the players time to get their act together; but having just dropped into the season, other than saying the games are a bit faster, really nothing has changed other than a good public relations act put on by baseball and their media cronies who march to the Manfred drum.
You see, it’s not just by running a pitch clock that the game will improve. Hitters, who kind of ruined a good thing by taking way too much time and endlessly stepping out of the box, still have not found their timing in this Pitch Clock Era. The same is true for pitchers. Some are struggling with the new pace. I’m also going to throw umpires in there. They are so worried about getting the buzzer on a violation, they are a bit less focused on the strike zone.
There are unintended consequences everywhere.
They are trying to create a baseball version of AI; but there is no actual “I” there, no Baseball Intelligence. Yet there is plenty of Artificial.
My biggest concern is that all the things that make baseball BASEBALL continue to be thrown out the window; and that includes the ability of the fans to talk strategy between pitches. That used to be half the fun. What’s going to happen here?
Now, everyone is transfixed by the constant presence of the Pitch Clock and the game has become more of a countdown to lift-off (4-3-2-1. Hey, was the batter set at the 8-second mark?); but when the rocket is launched there is still not a lot good happening.
MLB, a game of distractions, has created another distraction – all in the name of progress.
I can’t wait until the automated ball and strike comes calling to make it even less of a human experience. So far from what I’ve seen from the Nerds, they are trying to create a baseball version of AI; but there is no actual “I” there, no Baseball Intelligence.
Yet there is plenty of Artificial.
Now there is this ridiculous notion being pressed by Manfred that the Nerds were so successful doing their thing, they made the game too hard to succeed and be entertaining at the same time, so these changes had to be made.
More hogwash from Manfred and his minions.
In so many ways they have taken away the human element – and by human I mean proper teachers throughout organizations, proper use of scouts and what they add to the game, and much more; and giving the pitcher and hitter time at the end of the game to get right when the drama is at its highest.
Now they want the fans to be robots too, not just the players and umpires. They want fans to spit out numbers, look at graphs, charts, and computer printouts of all the home run info to go along with win probability swings and watch the Pitch Clock run down instead of watching a baseball game.
How about letting me have a hot dog and a cold one and wonder if the hitter will try to hit the pitch the other way instead giving me a NASA printout?
Again, like the old commercial said: “Where’s the beef?” We know where the Pitch Clock is but where is the beef?
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is a guest on Good Morning America on Tuesday, March 28, 2023 on ABC. (Photo by Paula Lobo/ABC via Getty Images)
In the Mets 2-1 loss to the Marlins on Friday all three runs came on solo home runs. The Mets were 0 for 3 with RISP. The Marlins were 1 for 8. Jorge Soler made two terrific catches in the outfield to set the game apart. Good defense is exciting. Let’s see more of that. The Padres were 0 for 6 on Friday with RISP against the Rockies. The Dodgers were 0 for 7 against the Diamondbacks with RISP.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. In those five games with the bigger bases and the shorter distance between bases and the pitcher only having two disengagements, teams still do not run as much as teams did in the past. The Nerds remain risk averse to stealing bases – and that must change.
And this isn’t just me.
“Nothing has really changed,’’ one top talent evaluator told BallNine on Saturday.
They did the bigger bases and only two disengagements so they could convince the Nerds to steal more bases. Every team should have had it locked down in spring training, how to steal more bases. But they are so concerned with soft tissue injuries (another column in itself) they didn’t push the stolen base envelope.
This is like a high school varsity shortstop going down to JV and running on a weak-armed catcher. It is so easy to steal bases.
I asked the talent evaluator: “Is anyone teaching situational hitting?”
“Not enough,’’ was the quick response.
“They’re still chasing the home run. You know what, Earl Weaver loved the three-run home run but you better have some guys who ain’t going to hit home runs do the other little things.’’
And that is still not happening in baseball in the home run or bust mentality of the Nerds.
You can’t get that three-run home run without two guys making their way on base, something else that is a lost art these days. “If you are striking out all the time and popping out, then the three-run homer doesn’t happen.’’
It’s a solo shot and that is the way it is still going in the beginning of this season.
Jorge Soler #12 of the Miami Marlins throws the ball to second base against the New York Mets during eighth inning at loanDepot park on March 31, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
Some other early observations: Gerrit Cole is throwing more of a tight slider and that is more effective than a “sweeper.’’ Good for him.
“Gerrit Cole was very good,’’ said one scout who was at the opener, a 5-0 Yankee win. “What I think ended up happening is that he morphed his slider toward his cutter and it became more powerful; not a sweeper, but a hard, late, sharp small breaking pitch, not a big breaking ball.
“I was taught that a slider is a power pitch off your fastball. They are teaching everybody to throw these slurves and as soon as you slurve, your hand does not look like a fastball anymore. So the better hitters will lay off that big sweeping breaking ball.’’
They recognize the hand position.
“That’s the thing, you have to teach your hitters to read the ball better,’’ the scout said.
The Giants did not read it well from Cole, despite their army of coaches.
Call it the Win-Reality method of hitting where you are training your eyes to read the ball out of the pitcher’s hand as quickly as possible.
Here’s a tip to MLB, too, in their advertising. In talking about the promo where plump Daniel Vogelbach is thinking about stealing second base and Buck Showalter is not giving the green light, the scout with the sense of humor said, “They really should have played up the aspect of the bigger bases by putting a pizza box at second base.’’
That would have taken the ad to new heights and would have reminded me of the days when I covered the Padres and I’d come back late, after writing after a game, with another reporter to the team hotel and we would run into John Kruk in the elevator, with Kruk carrying a late-night pizza back to his room.
As for those bigger bases.
I had to laugh when I saw Manfred’s comment this week reported by Evan Drellich when Manfred said, “The only one who said anything other than talking about safety with the larger bases was Theo (Epstein). And Theo said, ‘Well, it’s bigger, it’s (three) inches each way, there’s gonna be more stolen bases.’’’
Theo Epstein on Oct. 7, 2016, before Game 1 of a National League Division Series at Wrigley Field. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
In trying to put Theo on a baseball pedestal Manfred showed how all the other geniuses in the MLB offices, you know, all the elites, never had it cross their minds that they were messing with the hallowed 90-foot length from base to base by committing to much bigger bases.
They are truly clueless.
These are the people making the command decisions about the game. This is why I always say the biggest problem with baseball is the people running baseball don’t know baseball.
Just another example of Manfred World.
And, of course, it’s not just the bigger bases; it’s the curtailment of throwing over that should eventually lead to bases being stolen left and right, once the Nerds commit to stealing bases.
It should stop the garbage analytics of “don’t give away an out with a stolen base or don’t give away an out with a sacrifice bunt,’’ the scout noted.
Speaking of bunts, I watched the Cardinals attempt a sacrifice bunt Friday and it was bunted right back in the air to the pitcher; and the Cardinals eventually lost the game by one run, a run they would have gotten if there were a successful sacrifice bunt in that situation.
Which leads to my question: How come teams were not over-practicing bunting this spring knowing the bunt would be back in play? They don’t work on what’s important when it comes to the little things and that would never happen back in the day when true baseball teachers ran the camps – and not some Ivy Leaguer who was once a team manager.
It’s really this simple folks, something I’ve been saying from Day 1. The game needs fewer analytics and more practical coaching, generational teaching, and scouting. Let those people do their jobs. Maybe some owners are waking up to the fact with their bloated analytics departments, that they are the ones guilty of putting baseball on the back burner.
Wake up owners, you are being played.