The Parting Glass
BY KEVIN KERNAN
That’s the question I have today for baseball fans. Why watch?
The latest example came Tuesday night when Blake Snell, the likely NL Cy Young winner who has never completed eight innings in a start, was removed after seven innings, pitching a no-hitter with 104 pitches. He was fine with it, of course, with a monster payday ahead as a free agent.
All I can say to the team that signs Snell to a ridiculous amount of money is this: make sure to beef up the bullpen too, because you are going to need the help – especially on the days Snell takes the mound. Snell has put up tremendous numbers this year and is a product of the times; but going the distance is not his thing.
Padres fans who have nothing to cheer about from this season of selfish, look-at-me players, and a GM who loves his fantasy team that’s really not a team, could have seen a no-hitter against the Rockies and had one great collective memory – but that was taken away, too.
No no-hitters for you.
“They are stifling greatness,’’ one top evaluator told BallNine on Wednesday, on what is happening in baseball. “Seems like every day we take a kid out of a no-hitter or a shut-out and he really doesn’t have that many pitches, it doesn’t matter.’’
Greatness doesn’t matter anymore. Greatness is out the window.
Numbers of pitches should only matter if the lower numbers of pitches have stopped injuries from happening. And that is not happening.
The Snell Game says so much about today’s game.
Instead of greatness, there is another reliever-oriented game even when the starting pitcher goes seven no-hit innings but is taken out – and he happily takes his seat on the bench. The Rockies and Padres were a combined 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position, another telltale sign of MLB 2023.
True baseball fans can’t have nice things. Sure, they can have WAR, spin rate, and exit velo; but a no-hitter, no way, the pitch count is simply too high. And wins aren’t important anyway, so a lot of the new breed of pitcher don’t really give a hoot about wins.
On top of all that, hitters, why bother even trying for a clutch hit? Swing from your heels.
A “W’’ for the starter used to mean your team won, so it was kind of important. No more.
Snell famously came out of a deciding World Series game against the Dodgers with a 1-0 lead with one out in the sixth inning, so this is not new for him. The Rays lost the game and the World Series. They have never won a World Series.
“I’ve always been a firm believer that the game has never belonged to the owners,” – Johnny Vander Meer
I could buy all this over-protection of pitchers if it actually worked – but check out the astronomical numbers on Spotrac.com for injured players and lost money.
What the Nerds are selling isn’t working, but owners are still buying it. Pitch counts have not saved the day.
If you’re betting games, that’s one reason to watch – and that is the new ideal MLB fan. That’s who the game is made for now and all you have to do is watch any team’s telecast to see it is the bettor that matters; every bettor is important, except for Pete Rose.
Bet the over/under, bet the strikeouts, bet the hits, mindless parlays, and so much more. Don’t dare go to the game thinking like generations of fans used to think when they entered a ballpark, “You know, today I may see a no-hitter.”
Not much of a chance of that happening.
There have been 322 no-hitters in all of baseball history and when the Phillies’ Michael Lorenzen threw the latest one on August 9th, the joy at Citizens Bank Park was something to behold. The joy his Phillies teammates displayed for Lorenzen made for a lifetime memory for Philly fans. Those who attended the game will never forget that moment. I watched on television and got a big kick out of it; and I’m not a Phillies fan but it was exciting to watch a pitcher overcome so much in his life to pitch a no-hitter with his wife Cassi, baby daughter June Elizabeth, and mother Cheryl living the dream with him, all in attendance.
The one record that will never be equaled, much less broken, is Johnny Vander Meer’s back-to-back no hitters from 1938. One of my favorite baseball quotes is from Vander Meer because it says so much about baseball and the hope of the game and the hope of life.
“Kids are always chasing rainbows,” Vander Meer said, “but baseball is a world where you can catch them.”
Johnny Vander Meer caught two baseball rainbows.
He also said this – and consider these words from baseball long ago and where we are now with the game:
“I’ve always been a firm believer that the game has never belonged to the owners,” Vander Meer said. “It has never belonged to the ballplayers. It belongs to that guy who puts his money up on the window and says, ‘How much does it cost to sit in the bleachers?’ That is who owns baseball and it has to be kept that way.”
God bless Johnny Vander Meer for saying that, and it’s a good bet many players in today’s game have no idea who Johnny Vander Meer was; but he is a major part of baseball lore – and right now the pitch count is Johnny Vander Meer’s best friend.
No one will equal his record.
I want to make it clear that I am not running down Blake Snell’s accomplishments. He’s a pitcher created by these Pitch Count days. Snell has the terrific 2.33 ERA, but did anybody stop to think that one reason his ERA is so low is because he doesn’t hang around long enough in games to figure out how to get through the toughest of innings? It’s a grand ERA for the times, where the third time through you are through.
Not for the fundamentals. Did you happen to notice in that 0-0 game, the Snell Game, that the Padres’ Juan Soto got picked off third base with one out in the sixth, by only about 10 feet so it was close; and that Fernando Tatis, Jr. ran into the first out of the bottom of the eighth inning at home on a simple ground ball to third – just another terrible base-running play in a long line of terrible plays by the Padres this season.
So in a 0-0 game, just to recap, superstars Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis, Jr., two faces of the 2023 game, made Little League base-running mistakes and no one seemed too bothered by that. Details, details, details. “And you want to know why they lose?,” said one scout who watched the game.
The Padres did manage to win this particular game, on what else but a walk-off home run by Xander Bogaerts. Why score when you are 90 feet from home with a sac fly or base hit when you can win on a walk-off homer? The Padres were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.
Are you still wondering why the Padres did not make the playoffs, and have become one of MLB’s biggest flops of all time even with the playoffs having never been easier to make? They don’t do team things.
And they really aren’t playoffs anymore under Rob Manfred; this is a baseball tournament. Similar to a showcase event like the WBC.
Why watch? Maybe just to see the incredibly bad baseball that is on display nearly every night.
Blake Snell could have least hung in there for the eighth inning and maybe have a seven-pitch inning. But no, not pushing it.
Snell was happy to come out, saying, “I understand my body really well and I understand the risk-reward of injury with pushing it and with how hard I was throwing today, it’s just not worth it. I understand a no-hitter is an amazing accomplishment and it is so hard to do, but I also understand how much I value health and I am just not going to push for that. That’s an individual accolade. It’s good for the team when you get a no-hitter but it’s good when the bullpen can come in and we trust them and they shut it down like they just did … I’m not going to put myself in a risky situation just to go two more innings.”
Just for a no-hitter to give the fans a memory, no way. The fans have given the Padres tremendous support this season. On this Tuesday night, 39,809 fans showed up at Petco Park.
In other words, Snell basically said (and, again, I get it, it’s a business decision), “I’m a free agent soon and I will be 31 years old; not pushing it, baby.”
“This game will be forgotten after tomorrow’s game,” Snell noted.
That’s what happens when you are 75-78.
In that game Snell walked four batters and struck out 10. Of the 104 pitches he threw, only 62 were strikes. The lefty has walked 93 batters this season. Wouldn’t it be great if he made some adjustments so you don’t burn up your pitches early … like every start. Pitch more to contact. Max velocity will wear you out earlier; make an adjustment so it is not all about chase rate.
Blake Snell is a pitcher for our times. Risk aversion is what it is all about these days.
What this does show is how great pitchers were in the past, those who broke through the 200-inning limit and much more.
Blake Snell has never thrown 200 innings. He is still looking for his first complete game after 190 starts and his first shutout. He won the AL Cy Young in 2018 with a 1.89 ERA and 21-5 record with the Rays, pitching 180.2 innings. He will win another Cy Young this year, this time in the NL. He is sitting at 174 innings. Good for him.
I bring all this up because on Wednesday I spoke to Luis Tiant’s son Dan, once again wondering why Luis Tiant is not in the Hall of Fame. Over his career El Tiante pitched 187 complete games and threw 49 shutouts as he totaled 229 wins and a 3.30 ERA.
Pitchers from that era went deeper in games, so their ERA was not protected like in this era in which they don’t go deep where they might be more vulnerable. It’s just a fact of life in today’s Nerd Game. Like I said, it’s all about risk aversion.
One other tidbit about El Tiante. There are only three pitchers in the history of the game who put together a season with a sub 2.00 ERA, at least 250 Ks, and nine shutouts.
Those three pitchers are Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, and Luis Tiant. Good company.
Tiant pitched 19 years in the majors and between 1964 and 1979 Tiant averaged 204 innings a season. He was creative in his windup. He had flair.
“He added different movements to his windup until he perfected it,” Dan said of his father, who is beloved in New England and lives in Maine. “He’s always been an intense guy and has always worked hard at pitching, it was his career, it is what kept the roof over our heads and he really took a lot of pride in it.”
Tiant never pitched a no-hitter. He threw three one-hitters. Dan, a baseball agent, believes many of these injuries today are because “everything is upper body. Nobody uses their legs, it’s very robotic, one movement. They are all the same. I’m all for change but the things that have changed in today’s game have not made the game better. A pitch clock? You don’t need a pitch clock. I looked at some of the games my dad pitched and he worked faster than they work today. Everybody wants to strike everybody out instead of putting the ball in play.”Those are great points. It used to be called pitching. Now it’s throwing to a pitch count.
Greatness was stifled again on Tuesday night at Petco Park.
Systems and numbers, not baseball, rule the day.