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Mudville: March 2, 2024 9:15 pm PDT

Widget World

BY KEVIN KERNAN

The great thing about baseball is that there are some days when even the numbers guys can’t hide from their numbers.

And let’s get this clear, they are not general managers or presidents of baseball operations, they are asset management. But more on that later in Baseball or Bust.

Tuesday was one of those days when the numbers guys couldn’t hide from the numbers. Chaim Bloom, who was going to build the Red Sox into an assembly line of talent, much like the Rays (his former employer), once again was shown a hard truth. It’s beyond me how Alex Cora can keep his cool in Beantown watching all this unfold.

In a doubleheader against the Yankees at Fenway Park, the Red Sox were a combined 0-for-19 with runners in scoring position, 0-for-4 in the first game and an incredibly bad 0-for-15 in the second game. There have been plenty of low points in the Chaim Bloom regime, including the shoddy defensive team he has assembled; but for me, this is one of the lowest.

The first game ended in this fashion: After a struggling Yankee reliever Clay Holmes walked the bases loaded with one out and the Yankees leading 3-2, Alex Verdugo, the key piece for the Red Sox in Chaim Bloom’s trade-away of superstar Mookie Betts, swung at the first pitch and grounded into a game-ending double play.

In the second game, a 4-1 loss for Boston, the Red Sox got plenty of baserunners against Yankee starter Carlos Rodon and a running on fumes Yankees bullpen, but could not get a hit with runners in scoring position, or a sacrifice fly, or any kind of contact that would bring runners home.

But batting average isn’t important, right? Putting the ball in play isn’t important? Betts batted .455 in August for the Dodgers with a 1.355 OPS.

I’ve been watching Yankees-Red Sox games forever and these were two of the most boring games I can ever remember in what used to be The Greatest Rivalry in sports.

AMBS was there for the Aaron Boone walk-off home run in 2003 in the ALCS. And also when Jason Varitek made Alex Rodriguez eat a catcher’s mitt sandwich; and of course, the Red Sox ALCS miracle, the 2004 curse-breaking comeback. And I’ve seen so many other games like game No. 163 in 1978, the Bucky Dent Game.

Somehow Chaim Bloom and Brian Cashman have managed to turn the greatest rivalry in sports into a Royals-Tigers affair. Just think about that for a second. You know how hard it is to take all the emotion out of such a rivalry and replace it with Widget World?

The numbers totally back how they have ruined their teams as they fight for the AL East basement – but numbers only matter when they can be used to their advantage. Truth-telling numbers are ignored and the game continues to suffer. Bloom let his quality hitting coach Tim Hyers get away to the Rangers in 2022. I covered Hyers with the Padres when he was a player and even then he had a good understanding of hitting and putting the ball in play.

By the way, the Yankees entered play on Wednesday night batting .225. That’s significant because that’s the lowest mark in MLB, tying the Oakland A’s, who are a major league team in name only.

Legendary franchises have become number-crunching jokes – like the once proud San Francisco Giants, a platoon obsessed team that can’t do any of the little things right, and a team with not much power.

Let me also be completely clear: this runs much deeper than Yankees-Red Sox. Look at what is going on in so many major league cities. Legendary franchises have become number-crunching jokes – like the once proud San Francisco Giants, a platoon obsessed team that can’t do any of the little things right, and a team with not much power.

And speaking of never learning, there are the Padres. Fernando Tatis Jr. declared in 2021 he was going to change how we all view the game; and then he had a series of downfalls, and this year his team self-destructed – and, of course, he was not the only culprit. The numbers say Juan Soto is having a good year; but from what I’ve heard there are plenty of clubhouse issues with the Padres, and Soto hasn’t helped the matter. But that’s on A.J. Preller, a collector of assets who doesn’t understand how a winning team is put together.

I haven’t even touched on dreadful teams like the Tigers, Royals, Rockies, Nationals, Pirates, and Cardinals; just about anybody in the AL Central, and the Angels and A’s. Even teams in the fake wild card race make the strangest of moves – like the Diamondbacks allowing the potential winning run to steal second with two outs by playing behind the runner on Tuesday night. But of course that was against the hapless Mets, so it worked out to a 4-3 Arizona win.

Still, let’s credit Mets broadcasters Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez for going bonkers over the Diamondbacks’ strategy: “What are they doing?”

A base hit would have won the game, but Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo popped up in this era of the pop-up swing. With the tying run at third on a steal of third base and one out, Daniel Vogelbach then struck out looking (of course he did), because it’s better to strike out looking on a close pitch than not getting your A Swing off on a well-executed pitch.

Don’t even bother to put the ball in play.

Noted one scout watching the ninth inning proceedings, “What am I watching? What are we doing?’’

It’s not baseball.

The Mets, a solid 28.5 games behind the Braves, are a case study in front office foolishness; but it’s all going to be great now with David Stearns in charge – or at least that’s what they tell us. We’ll see, I am not convinced. I feel for Buck Showalter who probably is in his final year with the Mets because Asset Management will go in another direction on the leadership front.

A brilliant talent evaluator has seen all this coming for years and he told BallNine a hard truth. Listen closely to his words – they were not said in anger, but in complete understanding of what has happened to the game and why baseball is nothing close to the National Pastime that it was in the Glory of Their Times (and those times were not too long ago).

“All these young GMs, they look at their players as nothing more than assets,” he said. “They don’t care how they handle them. They don’t care that they are human beings. They don’t want to get to know them. They don’t want to have a relationship with them. They just want to have their assets.”

Every season different GMs are designated geniuses.

“None of them are geniuses,” the baseball man insisted. “They are all about assets and liabilities. What they are, they are a liability to the game. The people who run it – they are our biggest liability.”

Truth.

And it shows itself every night; and there is no indication they will give a little on the things they are wrong about, where the numbers don’t back them up. They just fire back with another set of numbers. Before you know it, batting average doesn’t mean anything. Command doesn’t mean anything. Sling it and spin it and bring in the next slinger.

Swing it as hard as you can hoping you hit strikes hard. Strikeouts don’t matter. Defense doesn’t matter. Base-running doesn’t matter. Ban the shift to help the inept hitters, and they still can’t hit. Get rid of the pitcher’s ability to hold runners to get rid of the aversion to stealing bases. Make the bases bigger. No one can situationally hit, so add a fake runner in extra innings. The list goes on and on. Shrink the strike zone. Create a generation of hitters who must put their A Swing on the pitch or not swing at all.

I mentioned this a while back in Baseball or Bust, and it’s still true; there are only nine hitters batting above .300 in the entire major leagues and there are only 21 players in all of baseball hitting over .280. Wow.

Yet, look what the Braves have done: cut down on their strikeouts, and who absolutely ran away with the NL East. The Astros won a World Series last year with pitching, length from their starters, and putting the ball in play.

Some more truth-telling numbers. In the four-game sweep of the Yankees in the ALCS, Dusty Baker’s Astros batted .238 to the Yankees .162. The Astros struck out 25 times, the Yankees struck out 50 times. In their six-game win over the Phillies in the World Series, the Astros batted .240. The Phillies hit .163. The Astros struck out 57 times, the Phillies struck out 71 times.

Numbers, numbers, numbers.

Injuries are also a cost of doing business. The Dodgers have run through an entire starting staff this season. Same with the Rays.

Look how pitchers are physically run into the ground with all the emphasis on velocity and spin and zero interest in the mechanics that will keep a pitcher healthy. Look at the Yankees. Reliever Jonathan Loaisiga is back on the injured list yet again.

Loaisiga needs to throw a curve ball where there is MPH differential from the fastball, noted one scout. “Use your changeup,” he said. “Don’t just sit out there and throw fastballs down the middle and hope that they run underneath a guy’s bat because you got pretty good sink on it.”

To do that was once called pitching. Now it is just fire and spin and hope that a rocket isn’t hit directly back at you, because most pitchers after they do their hard release are in no position to field the baseball.

On Tuesday night Red Sox announcer Kevin Youkilis, who knows a thing or two about hitting, said this during Yankee rookie Oswald Peraza’s sixth-inning at bat, soon after Yankee rookie Austin Wells’ at-bat – Youk noted, “You can kind of tell what the mantra has been in the Yankees’ system in a lot of ways; a bunch of these guys have a lot of uphill swings.”

Indeed they do. That partly explains the .225 team batting average.

Hal Steinbrenner will put his A Team of outside evaluators on the case to dissect what went wrong this year and in past years, but do you really think anything is going to change with the Yankees? They are wedded to a system. Hal Steinbrenner, like most owners, is a numbers guy who loves systems; and the owners are making so much money through the gambling and the escalating worth of their franchises that the entertainment value is secondary at this point.

The first casualty of such a system is the loss of fundamentals. Fielding fundamentals were the first to depart with the use of shifts. Every fielder was pretty much the same. Get to your spot. Outfielders can’t throw and if they do manage to reach home plate they are off-line. Next came the loss of hitting fundamentals. Bat control is out the window.

Hard, upper cut swings rule the day.

“Anthony Volpe nearly falls down now; there is no balance,” said one scout. “There is no body control. The beauty of Bryce Harper, and Jim Fregosi first said this about Harper’s swing when he saw him as a kid, he said, ‘That’s controlled violence. He has complete control of his body because he has done it that way his whole life and he’s so strong and he has such good muscle memory that he is under control swinging that hard.’ Most of these guys, they are not capable of doing that. Bryce Harper is a freak. He’s a freak of nature.”

Harper can go the other way with the ball when he has to, and they are pitching him in that direction.

After this year’s embarrassing downfall, the Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr. is now saying, “I know for sure that next year is going to be a monster year, not only for myself, but for the team.”

Doesn’t sound much different than his MLB The Show 21 comments: “Apparently I’ve been breaking the unwritten rules of baseball. I’m sorry if things got too exciting and this isn’t the game that you remember. But here’s the thing, we’re never going back.”

Unfortunately he was right about that. They are never going back.

This version of the game appears here to stay.

“Anybody who thinks it’s turning, it’s not,” our baseball man said of where the game is heading. “They can’t wait until the truth speakers get out of the game because nobody wants to hear the truth.”

No they don’t.

And by the way, Fernando Tatis Jr. is hitting .259 and his OPS, which was .975 in 2021 for the real show, is down to .781 this season. Pretty exciting.

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
  • Well said, again. Keep hammering, Kevin.

    September 14, 2023
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