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Mudville: September 21, 2023 4:27 pm PDT

The Four Flops

BY KEVIN KERNAN

The thing I admire most about the Nerds is their arrogance. They can be shown their system isn’t working and they will not bat an eye.

They double down.

They make things worse and act as if you’re in the wrong to call out their mistakes. And they are not just mistakes.

These are time-honored truths of The Game that they turn upside down and then act as if they are the most brilliant people on Planet Baseball.

This year has been especially telling.

And before we move forward, let’s get something straight: most of the things the Nerds act like they invented have been in the game all along. They just give it a fancy new name. On-base percentage, slugging, and batting average were pillars of hitting before they arrived. It’s not like spin rate was never looked at before. It’s not like velocity wasn’t important.

Now they have come up with some new stuff that makes no sense, especially with the favorable offensive rules of today’s game. Stuff like: Strikeouts don’t matter. And base-running doesn’t need to be addressed – so no need to practice running the bases hard, someone might pull a hammy.

The game is about putting the ball in play. Base-running matters. To get doubled off second base on a popup in front of the dugout like Joey Gallo did in extra innings the other day matters so much, it might be the worst base-running mistake I have ever seen in the majors.

But let’s explode another myth right now.

Pitchers threw hard in the past, à la Nolan Ryan and J.R. Richard. You don’t get the nickname Sudden Sam McDowell because you threw junk. Yet the way they measure pitching velocity is so different today, with the kind of radar guns used. The first thing a veteran scout or pitching coach will tell me when I talk to them is, “By the way, you know they measure the ball out of the hand now, not when it crosses the plate.”

Yes, more relievers throw harder than in the past, but the truth is there were always flame-thrower relievers – like Goose Gossage. In the past those relievers could go more than one inning, and also had much more command. The starting pitchers went deeper into games, so an army of wild-armed relievers was not needed every night. A lot of relievers now have ERAs through the roof.

But let’s get to today’s most important number – because it’s important to throw numbers at the owners, since they live in a world of numbers and are easily mesmerized by things like BABIP.

Let’s start with the Four Flops: the Yankees, Mets, Padres, and Red Sox.

Going into action on Wednesday, the Four Flops, the Yankees, Mets, Padres and Red Sox, were a combined 81.5 games out of first place in their respective divisions.

Now the Red Sox still have a sliver of a chance of getting into the Fake Wild Card, much like the Fake Runner in extra innings in Rob Manfred’s World. I don’t think they will make it, though, because of flaws created the past few years by GM Chaim Bloom; most notably, there’s a reason why fielders wear gloves.

Defense is important, Chaim. Anyone can’t just play anywhere.

Going into action on Wednesday, the Four Flops (yes, AMBS was a big fan of the Four Tops), the Yankees, Mets, Padres and Red Sox, were a combined 81.5 games out of first place in their respective divisions. The Yankees and Mets are New York, New York last place teams while the Padres and Red Sox are next-to-last.

Isn’t that rich? Those teams can’t see first place with a telescope.

Some of the richest payroll teams in baseball are 81.5 games out of first place and the men who lead those teams still strut around like they are geniuses.

As for that gift third wild card Manfred created on a whim, the Four Flops are a combined 34.5 games out of the wild card race. That’s ugly, too.

These teams have been doubling down on their mistakes while a lot of good baseball men remain on the outside looking in at the mess the Nerds have created. There is not a lot that makes baseball sense anymore.

One of Yankees GM Brian Cashman’s double down moments was trading Jordan Montgomery for Harrison Bader. Bader was the designated centerfield savior when Cashman made the deal with the Cardinals – and don’t forget Bader (.239) had to save centerfield because Cashman’s $70 million centerfielder Aaron Hicks was a washout.

Now Bader is on waivers and the Yankees clearly are creating space for the 20-year-old Jasson Dominguez, who will join the Yankees in Houston on Friday.

Cashman, an expert on controlling the narrative, is once again controlling the narrative and will have the media focus on The Kid instead of on the fact that Cashman’s last two centerfielders (you know, the position Mickey Mantle once patrolled at Yankee Stadium) were dreadful.

Aaron Judge saved them last year for much of the year in centerfield, but Judge’s toe injury this year exposed the Yankees’ multitude of flaws, especially in the outfield.

Here are some of Cashman’s outfielders and their batting averages this year with the Yankees: Bader (.239), Jake Bauers (.205), Willie Calhoun (.239), Hicks (.188), Oswaldo Cabrera (.212), Billy McKinney (.227), Isiah Kiner-Falefa (.249), Greg Allen (.210), and sometimes outfielder Giancarlo Stanton (.203).

A Cashman outfield solution last year was Joey Gallo, who batted .159 as a Yankee.

At some point, if you didn’t know better you might think that Brian Cashman is punking Yankee fans with that assortment of “talent.” But no, those were solutions in his mind and in the minds of his battalion of Nerds, who guide him every step of the way.

Maybe someone is finally tallying up all the mistakes made by Cashman, Nerd & Co., where they don’t take a player’s personality into account in their mathematical formula for success and the fact that numbers like batting average actually mean something; you know, like why trade for Josh Donaldson (.142 this season) and then why hang onto him for so long before finally pulling the Donaldson plug this week? Donaldson was just one of many arrogant moves made by the Yankees.

You might remember Cashman’s comment about Donaldson replacing Gio Urshela, who was beloved in the clubhouse, a true leader.

“We appreciate what Gio has done, but he’s not Josh Donaldson,’’ Cashman said.

No, he’s not.

That goes right up there with Cashman’s comment about the “legendary bat speed” of Where Are You Now Clint Frazier, who was once the fifth pick in the MLB draft by a team that was called the Indians in 2013. Frazier owns a lifetime .235 batting average, legendary bat speed and all.

Bader was one of a number of players put on waivers this week. He is batting .075 over his last 13 games.

“These teams,” one top evaluator told BallNine, “you know you fall out of it and you just try to dump salary, hoping that somebody claims them.”

What does it say about the talent evaluation of the Yankees when they want a player like Bader so desperately one year and then a year later they desperately want to get rid of that player? I call it the Joey Gallo Syndrome.

“It’s an organizational failure at everything they are doing right now,” the evaluator told me of the Yankees.

“The Yankees waited far too long on Donaldson; it was obvious by the end of spring training they should have cut ties with Donaldson. You still had to pay him, but at least you would have paid him for not clogging up a roster spot, clogging up Oswald Peraza’s opportunity to be in the Big Leagues or whatever. It’s just such garbage.”

Peraza went into Wednesday with only 89 plate appearances and a .147 average.

As for a read on where Dominguez is right now, one scout who has followed him this season said, “I might go a little bit ‘shame on him.’ He played like he was bored all year in Double-A. Somebody must have told him, ‘Get yourself going, we want to move you up to Triple-A’ and he has been hitting really well.’’

Challenge Dominguez, who is hitting .444 in eight Triple-A games, this September with major league play and see where the chips fall.

Perhaps Hal Steinbrenner is finally realizing that you really need baseball men making baseball decisions. I doubt it … but there is a weird vibe coming from the Yankees right now. Perhaps there is someone in the Yankee organization who is awake and is saying, “you know what, we better know about our own young players in this organization, that’s something we have not done well in the recent past; let’s take a long look at Dominguez in September.”

Yankees development has not shone and there have been some bizarre 40-man roster decisions the last few years.

Maybe something’s happening where they will put a baseball man in charge above Cashman.

The Mets are the classic case of a team that was exposed in the postseason in 2022 – and then doubled down on that team by making it even worse in getting rid of functional starting pitchers and not filling the hole in the bullpen when Edwin Diaz went down in the WBC. And the offense wasn’t there.

Take a bow, Billy Eppler. So what does Steve Cohen do? He doubles down on Eppler and allows him to craft a fire sale they would not call a fire sale. To compound that issue, home run-hitting and fan favorite Pete Alonso now is in limbo with the organization and may be traded in the offseason. Looking ahead to next season, the Mets have pulled out the tried and true tactic of let’s honor two past heroes, Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, because we are probably going to be bad in 2024.

“Just horrible money spent, no pitching, no idea on how to build a club,” the scout said of the Mets.

As bad as it is for the Yankees this year, can you imagine if the Mets had gotten their act together, made the playoffs and had a decent postseason run? That would embarrass the Yankees to no end; and New York would belong to the Mets, except for Yankee diehards. If that had happened, Hal Steinbrenner would not have been so complacent and arrogant.

Who can forget this Hal dandy?

“I’m a little confused this year, being the third week in June, why they’re so upset,” Hal said of Yankee fans to Michael Kay.

That’s the definition of an out of touch owner.

As for the Padres, as I noted in a recent column, the owner there Peter Seidler said GM A.J. Preller, a favorite of the national media, is “excellence.” He’s so excellent he put together a team that does not like one another, their talents don’t mesh, and they are locked into some terrible contracts.

You, too, take a bow Mr. Preller. Just keep doubling down – the Padres on Preller, who, much like Cashman, has a lock on GM for Life even though the team continues to struggle. One statistic puts this team in perspective: The Padres are 0-11 in extra-inning games this year.

A scout perfectly diagnosed the Padres, saying they are an “underperforming team with complacent arrogance.”

That is quite the indictment.

The Red Sox are a little bit like the Mets. They have found a way to lose, even though both teams have excellent managers, Alex Cora with the Red Sox and Buck Showalter with the Mets. Not as much was expected this year of the Red Sox as the other three flops, I get it; but they are a team that was a major force from 2004 on, before Bloom.

The Red Sox have played Rent-A-Centerfielder this season. Their best centerfielder, Jarren Duran, whom you might remember lost a ball last year in centerfield at Fenway and did not bother to retrieve it, underwent toe surgery on Wednesday. He hurt the toe when he decided to make like Spider-Man and climb the wall at Yankee Stadium on an uncatchable home run ball by Gleyber Torres. Not a smart play.

And while we’re at it, you’d think someone might tell Red Sox star third baseman Rafael Devers to maybe get in shape for next season. The Red Sox also have an Alex Verdugo problem that Cora has tried to correct; but some players just don’t get it. Personality is big in baseball. After watching the Red Sox this year, I really wonder if Bloom knew anything about Fenway Park or the makeup of players before being given the job.

Owner John Henry certainly fits into the arrogant owner class as well – so they make quite the team – and you can see the pattern here that arrogant owners, not in touch with the personalities of their teams, and led by the nose by their GM, make for trouble and that is how you get the Four Flops, a combined 81.5 games out of first place.

It’s the Same Old Song.

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.

Comments
  • Another upper-decker!

    August 31, 2023
  • Frank

    As a diehard, engaged Yankee fan this is a column thatneeded to be written. Cashman became mesmerized by the promise of “analytics “ . So he brought in data analytics whiz kids from Yale and MIT and they sold him on the HR+BB approach. I knew when they started relying on exit velo and barrel rate as key metrics stats and an overarching approach at the plate of “Hit Strikes hard” they would get what they got. Perhaps success during a season long schedule but utter failure in the post season. When Michael Kay asked Jeff Nelson after the Yanks got swept by the Astros “Why did the Yankees strike out so much?” “The Astro pitchers saw how the Yankee batters swung and easily carved up” . “Hit strikes hard” my ass.

    August 31, 2023
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