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Mudville: April 16, 2024 1:46 am PDT

No Strings Attached

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Hey baseball,you reap what you sow.

If you stop teaching the art of pitching, if you make every pitcher use pretty much the same windup, if you limit their pitches in their development, if you make them throw as hard as they can for as long as they can (and not learn how to actually pitch), and if pitchers don’t learn to read swings and work accordingly, you will find yourself with a bullpen game in Game 4 of the World Series, and much worse.

Thanks Nerds, your so-called market efficiency makes for some terrible baseball.

I’ve been warning of the collapse of the game because of the over-reliance on analytics and not relying on good, experienced coaching; and now, it is coming to fruition. Eleven teams could not even muster one complete game in 2023. They can’t pitch deep into games because they’re being programmed that way by the Nerds in charge of teams – and yet, nearly every time there’s a leadership opening, another Nerd takes the place of the Nerd who just sent the franchise into ruin.

That is some business plan you’ve created, Rob Manfred; and now you are whining about the lack of deep starting pitching being hurtful to the game. Try taking a look in the mirror. I warned about all this again last week in my October Art column with Manfred’s clueless assessment of the “diminution’’ of starting pitching.

Hey Rob, how about having a few more baseball people in the game, teaching baseball?

I’m all for the diminution of front office people who care only about percentages and probabilities and have no clue about teaching the game the right way.

It’s nice that finally others in the media are starting to wake up to what’s been created and how it’s terrible to have a bullpen game in Game 4 of the World Series, baseball’s premier event. You’re all a little late, but that’s okay; at least you’re beginning to recognize things I have been warning about for years.

Mix all this together and you also have the lowest-rated World Series; but, more importantly than the not watching, is the not caring. The pure entertainment value of the game has been tossed into the big dumpster that is marked Manfred.

It’s time to start over. It’s time the owners – who are the ones really responsible for destroying the game by constantly looking for cost-cutting measures and empowering those who don’t truly know the game, and don’t know the meaning of the word competition – it’s time they take responsibility for lowering the bar across the board and creating this pitiful situation.

When the bar is lowered and a 100-win team is knocked out by a wild card entry, the 100-win team and their fans whine that playoff life is unfair. No it’s not. Play better. Spend the money like the Rangers did to rebuild their team to add starting pitching, and then add more starting pitching when the first set of starting pitchers, such as Jacob deGrom, come up injured.

While you’re at it, create starters who can go on short rest in the sport’s premier event, something that was done regularly throughout baseball history.

Stop using trickery as a means to find success and get back to solid work, solid coaching, solid base-running techniques, and practice, practice, and more practice.  But you must practice with people in charge who know that practice is important – and how to practice.

That is the blueprint of success.

A parade of relievers is not entertaining as much as FOX tries to make it entertaining: “That bullpen door will be swinging open tonight.’’

Boots on the ground make the difference, not algorithms in the air.

Go out and find more pitching and create methods of success for that pitching.

All these bullpen games have been going on throughout the season and everyone barely noticed; but now it’s an issue because this is the World Series. Once upon a time, it used to be important to develop a No. 4 starter.

Let’s go back to 1998 when the Yankees could utilize someone as dynamic as El Duque as a fourth starter.

Folks, this is the way they do business now – and one of my astute baseball friends who works in the game made this fantastic point about the Tuesday night pitching travesty in the desert. Why be surprised that it happened on the last day in October when it happens all season long?

“This is when, during the regular season, six of those (pitchers) get optioned to Triple-A, if they have options, and they bring up another six arms to get through games,’’ the learned baseball man told BallNine. “That’s such a disgraceful joke.’’

The system, their Nerd system, created this.

The system caught up with MLB in the Rangers’ 11-7 Game 4 victory. And you have to wonder why the D-Backs didn’t start Ryne Nelson, who was stretched out, and just roll the dice like the Rangers did by starting Andrew Heaney, yet another former Yankee finding postseason success.

The Rangers beat the Diamondbacks, 5-0, Wednesday night to win their first World Series.

A parade of relievers is not entertaining as much as FOX tries to make it entertaining: “That bullpen door will be swinging open tonight.’’

Yeah, great, let me change the channel.

Plus the Rangers have seen so much of the D-Backs relievers who appeared Tuesday night there was no mystery to the move. On every level this was wrong.

The big question is, why can’t teams find more starting pitching?

The answer is simple. The Nerds will not let them. They won’t let pitching be developed because of the scary Pitch Count Monster.

“No one allows them to develop, nobody teaches them how to pitch, and we’ve lowered the bar and the expectation level that guys are only capable of throwing an inning,’’ our pitching expert said.

The Rangers under Chris Young and old school manager Bruce Bochy went out and got more starters. Heaney and Jon Gray have come up big this postseason – and, of course, Jordan Montgomery.

This is a problem throughout baseball. No one has enough starting pitching. Just wait until expansion takes place; the game will be further diluted if teams continue down this path of trickery and pitch count fear mongering over substance, like learning how to pitch.

You know money is behind the issue. This is the thinking of ownership in the game.

“If we only have to pay three quality starters, the relievers cost a lot less,’’ they tell themselves. That is the wrong approach.

“No,’’ our baseball man said. “Have five starters. You created the problem by overpaying because you couldn’t develop pitching anymore, so you [have to] overpay for it.’’

They created a constant loop of losing in the pitching war.

Again, you reap what you sow. This didn’t just happen in a vacuum.

When the Braves had their great Leo Mazzone starting staffs, those pitchers threw two bullpens between starts to improve on their craft. But these were not max out bullpens, these were go at 60 percent bullpens to get a feel for the ball and your stuff and command. And this approach goes all the way back to the great Johnny Sain, a true pitching guru.

If you think the starting pitching in the majors is bad, you should see the starting pitching in the minors and how those pitchers are coddled instead of pushed to success.

“Yep,’’ remarked one scout who sees the minors nearly every night, “you stop pushing pitchers in the minor leagues, so you can’t even develop a fourth starter for the World Series.’’

But you have a stable of pitchers who can throw 100 without command and wind up on the Injured List.

Now it’s all about the Pitching Labs.

With teams having so many Pitching Labs, you would think there would be pitchers developed in those pitching labs.

But all that’s missing in the pitching labs is pitching.

Relievers are done after one inning, most times.

As long as I have been around baseball, and that is a long time, I have never heard one fan say, “Hey, I’m really excited about the bullpen game tonight. Can’t wait to see the bullpen game.’’

Maybe the bettors are excited because there is more action, more parlays; but it certainly isn’t good for the game.

One top baseball scout told me of a bullpen game: “I don’t want to watch that. I like watching the warriors going out to compete. I liked watching Zac Gallen. I liked watching Merrill Kelly. I liked watching the kid Brandon Pfaadt. I liked watching Nate Eovaldi and Jordan Montgomery and Andrew Heaney, [and] Max Scherzer; those are warriors.’’

Injuries happen. Especially with older pitchers – but this is ridiculous.

My Hall of Fame friend pitcher Jim Kaat, who learned how to pitch by staying in games in the minor leagues and working on his deficiencies, made this revealing comment about where the game is with pitching right now.

“Out of respect for Bruce Bochy and Torey Lovullo and their players and coaches I am going to refrain from airing my thoughts on what has been responsible for the ‘dumbing down’ of starting pitching,’’ Kaat said in a Facebook post. “These men worked hard to achieve what they achieved this season. They didn’t create this way of playing the game, they’re doing what the system gives them to win a game.

“To think people paid a lot of money to watch a World Series game and they got the equivalent of a March spring training game. These players and managers deserve better than that.

We as fans deserve better as well. The ‘propeller heads’ think they’re saving arms. They’re not.’’

And they certainly are not saving the game.

Everything is risk aversion in MLB now and that has created what I call “victory aversion.’’

Kaat learned to pitch as a kid in the minors when Jack McKeon, his manager and catcher, came out to him one day with the bases loaded and said, “You got yourself into this mess, figure out how to get out of it.’’

McKeon then spit a tobacco juice on Kaat’s shoes and was on his way back behind the plate.

Jim Kaat figured it out. It all worked out for Kaat, who managed to last a quarter of a century in the majors. Not bad, kid.

In back-to-back losses in Games 3 and 4, the Diamondbacks, at home, made crucial mistakes, too. Both happened to involve Christian Walker. There was the bad base-running in Game 3 and the critical error at first base in Game 4. But the bullpen door was flying open and that certainly affects a defense. More changes, more pitchers, more time on the field to be on your heels instead of on your toes.

Did any of the geniuses in charge think of that?

You watch base-running clips from previous World Series, especially back in the day, and you can see those base-runners and those coaches had the system down pat. What’s changed?

There’s no base-running practice any more. When was the last time you saw runners practice at full speed or saw anything close to a sliding pit? Even in spring training it’s all a jog, never a sprint.

Here is something else that has changed.

Using guide strings in bullpen sessions used to be standard operating procedure until the iPad crowd got involved. Some of the old stuff was really good for the game and really good for developing pitchers. Talk to pitchers of the past and they will tell you that’s how they learned.

Here is why something as simple as strings is worthwhile.

“It gives you a target to throw through,’’ explained one former pitcher, who became a pitching coach. “The key is you don’t throw to a target, you throw through it. Because when you throw to it, you start to aim. You throw through it and you throw through the glove and the catcher, in that area, then you are learning how to command with maximum stuff, too.’’

Sounds so simple. And it works. It’s worked forever and the Mets, during the Rick Peterson era, used bands in a similar fashion to have the pitchers focus on the lower part of the zone. Peterson used it in Oakland, too, for Hudson, Zito, and Mulder, who might have had something to do with the success of the “Moneyball’’ A’s – although they were not big mentions in the book or movie.

I remember conversations with veteran pitching coach Guy Conti about the strings method and he recalled a couple of Dodgers pitchers using those strings to improve way back when, in the early ‘60s.

Their names?

Just a couple of guys named Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.

Perhaps the Dodgers, who were swept away by the Diamondbacks in the NLDS, should go back to some of the old ways. I suggest the pitching labs look into it.

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
  • Mike Saunders

    So much to digest. All I know is that watching today’s baseball is nothing like the game (since 1960) I grew up with and grew to absolutely love. The dumbing down of baseball is a microcosm of the dumbing down of our society. Mediocrity has become the Gold Standard. I try to love today’s game, but unfortunately, I compare it to the game of the 1960’s. Where have you gone Mel Stottlemyre, out nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

    November 3, 2023
  • Gordon Blakeley

    Stick Michael would always talk about starting pitching with us and GMS listened

    November 4, 2023
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