BY KEVIN KERNAN
When icons speak, AMBS listens.
This has been a fascinating few days, with Hall of Fame-bound Max Scherzer sounding off about the pitch clock contributing to severe injuries for pitchers this past season. You were warned. Here at Baseball or Bust from the moment the pitch clock changes were announced, we sounded the alarm that there would be unintended consequences.
In their haste to speed up the game, the owners opened another Pandora’s Box; but that is what happens when numbers, and not common sense, rule regulations. The game could have been sped up by just making sure batters stayed in the box and pitchers remained on the dirt portion of the mounds.
Pitching injuries and the overall weakness of starting pitching are so detrimental to the game; and it keeps getting worse.
“When are these people going to wake the f-up and try to develop starting pitching? We just had a World Series with a bullpen game,’’ one of baseball’s top talent evaluators said to BallNine about the state of pitching heading into the 2024 season.
Starting pitching is going backward, not forward, and Scherzer pointed out that the pitch clock is a part of the Rubik’s Cube that has to be figured out.
Analytics have never figured out how to measure the heart and soul in a player or that you may not be getting 100 percent of a player on a certain day because that player may be dealing with something going on in his life, or an injury, or something beyond his control.
Good managers understand that, however, and work accordingly.
The good managers realize, “Whatever I get of you, I need that to be 100 percent of what you got that day,’’ the evaluator said of the secret sauce.
That’s such a smart point.
“It’s the old saying, when you warm up in the bullpen, one out of every three starts you have your best stuff, the other two you got to be your best of what you have that day – and analytics cannot measure any of that. And that is the human side of it,’’ he added.
Bruce Bochy certainly understands that and that is how he was able to guide the Rangers to their first World Championship this year. Chris Young, a former major league starter, understands that as well; and that is why he hired Bruce Bochy, a proven winner, to lead his team. Scherzer got his second World Championship ring this year.
The key is having a manager who knows what he is doing and letting him lead.
We are in the numbers era of pro sports – all sports, not just MLB – everything is based on numbers and probabilities. The NBA has become a three-point shooting contest. Major League Baseball continues to push analytics down everyone’s throats with the numbers ruling the sport; except, of course, for the team that just won the World Series: Scherzer’s Rangers.
The funny thing about the Competition Committee is that there really is no competition in the competition committee. It should be renamed The Owner’s Committee or The Manfred Men.
There continues to be a brain drain of starting pitching because of how they are developed in this era – or should I say, not developed.
The Rangers went the other way than most teams and gathered as many starters as they could and pushed those starters; and maybe others will copy that in this copycat league. The pitch clock isn’t the only problem for pitchers – and it looks like two more seconds will be shaved off the pitch clock next year, because that is what the “Competition Committee’’ is proposing.
The Competition Committee usually gets its way, so instead of 20 seconds on the clock with men on base it is going to be 18 seconds.
Are those two seconds worth it?
The funny thing about the Competition Committee is that there really is no competition in the competition committee. It should be renamed The Owner’s Committee or The Manfred Men. It’s staffed by six owners, four players, and an umpire, so essentially anything the owners want they get because they have the voting block. How the players ever agreed upon this system is beyond me…
The Nerds have devalued starting pitching for years and are now paying the steep price in many ways, including huge paydays for starting pitching. The Phillies were the latest to pay the price, re-signing their own free agent Aaron Nola to a $172 million, seven-year contract this week. And Nola reportedly could have gotten more from other ball clubs, but wanted to stay with the Phillies. Dave Dombrowski is trying to do what the Rangers are doing, building up the starting rotation; and he has an ace in Zack Wheeler, a starter the supposedly pitching-rich Mets let get away at the time. Another huge payday is coming for Wheeler, too. Just wait and see what Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto signs for this off-season.
MLB Executives on the Competition Committee (Clockwise from top left): Toronto's Mark Shapiro, Seattle's John Stanton, St. Louis' Bill DeWitt, Colorado's Dick Monfort, Boston's Tom Werner and San Francisco's Greg Johnson.
By cutting the innings and pitch counts of pitchers in the minors, by not pushing those pitchers in the minors, the Nerds have created this starting pitching shortage. They lowered the bar to such a degree that starters are never even remotely considered finishers any more. They are fortunate to get through five or six innings.
Add to that the max effort on every throw (I won’t call it a pitch because it is more throwing than pitching), and the lack of guiding through true pitching mechanics from true pitching coaches – not just the pitch sequencing coaches that seem to be everywhere – and it all adds up to a shortage created by those in charge.
Certainly sounds familiar, doesn’t it, as baseball mimics real life.
Even the wildly popular NFL has been delivered a warning shot from one of its own icons with legendary quarterback Tom Brady saying this week on the Stephen A. Smith Show: “I think there is a lot of mediocrity in today’s NFL. I don’t see the excellence that I saw in the past. I think the coaching isn’t as good as it was. I don’t think the development of young players is as good as it was.’’
Sounds like he could be talking baseball, too.
The analytics generation in charge of sports and their fans will say that Brady is now just another old legend yelling at clouds. That’s always their big comeback, instead of looking at what’s wrong with their teachings. It’s the old man yelling at clouds syndrome, not the young man not knowing what the heck he is doing as he re-invents the sports wheel.
That Brady warning sounds a lot like what was being said about MLB not too long ago, when the league was shifting completely over to Nerds and started dumping veteran scouts, coaches, and managers who tried to do baseball the right way.
Just this past week a Nerd team got rid of a scout I have known for decades, a scout who beat the bushes like no one else to find major league talent in out of the way places. C ya!
It never ends, as good baseball people are tossed overboard.
There are many who will criticize Scherzer, too, for his pitch clock comments; but I’m asking them to step back and listen to what he’s really saying. I’ve known Scherzer a long time and he truly is a student of his craft, and works out in a way in the off-season to keep himself in good shape – and can keep up with the cardio of today’s pitch clock ways.
I will admit a lot of pitchers were not prepared for the change in physical activity with the changes in the pitch clock. Just think of some huge, and I mean huge, pitchers who have failed this past season. They failed because they were not in shape, so that is on them.
Here is some of what Scherzer had to say – and he is all for cleaning up the “dead time’’ in the game and so am I. The last thing we need to see is batters constantly stepping out of the box, fixing their batting gloves, staring at their bats to get in the zone, and all that. Just get in there and be prepared to hit. Take a timeout when needed; but timeouts should be limited to one, not never ending.
“At the end of the day I will never say we need a clock, we just need rules; 90 percent of what the pitch clock has accomplished is just making the hitter stay in the box,’’ Scherzer said on the podcast Foul Territory with my man Todd Frazier co-hosting. I have known Frazier since he was 12 years old and he is devoted to the game of baseball and is a hitter all the way and he was on the same page as the pitcher Scherzer.
“Yeah, some pitchers were slow but I don’t feel like that was a huge component of where the pace was, I feel 90 percent of this problem was on the hitters.’’ Scherzer said.
Again, I agree with Mad Max.
“When you start to talk about where we need to shave more time off the clock, especially with runners on base, I don’t get what the scope of that is,’’ Scherzer said. “Why are we even talking about this?’’
Scherzer went on to say this is not just him talking but this is the result of conversations he had with renowned surgeon Dr. Keith Meister, who had talks with Dr. Neal ElAttrache about pitching injuries.
“The elbow injuries this year just got way more severe,’’ Scherzer said. “The severity of the injuries are much more problematic and (that is) from Keith. Neal ElAttrache is saying the same thing. Both of them saw an uptick in severity. So it makes you start scratching your head, what’s unique to 2023?’’
“When you make the game go faster, I’ve lived it, your form just fatigues faster,’’ Scherzer added.
I’m hoping baseball and The Manfred Men listen to Max Scherzer. There are not enough pitchers anyway in the game and baseball can’t afford to lose more. And just cutting down the number of pitchers on a roster will not suddenly make teams go deeper into games with their starters because there are one or two fewer pitchers; teams will just use the minor league shuttle system more often, bringing in new pitchers when the night before other pitchers shot their bullets.
For the most part, the Nerds in charge look at players as widgets. You need more widgets, you reach down into the minors to get more widgets. It is why pitching numbers have expanded on rosters but the pitching has not gotten better; and certainly the starters are not as successful and chewing up innings like they once did.
Don’t fix the problem, just create a bigger problem and try to beat it with numbers.
How about hiring back some of the baseball expertise that was let go and rely on them to develop pitchers better than the almighty numbers coaches have developed pitching. Teach pitchers to leave something in the tank so they can maneuver through the middle innings and the dreaded third time through a batting order.
I would create a School of Pitching, and bring in former accomplished pitchers and pitching coaches to guide any team’s pitching. Certainly if I had a team, and all the money that Steve Cohen has; why doesn’t he just build his own School of Pitching? Not a pitching lab, a School of Pitching. He has a pitching expert at his games nearly every night in Ron Darling who could offer valuable wisdom and insights to enable pitchers to go deeper into the games. And other teams have that kind of expertise too, so use it.
Don’t just change numbers on a pitch clock, do something substantial at the base levels.
Don’t just make it about the School of Hard Throwers, make it a School of Hard Knocks where pitching wisdom is taught.
One other smart paragraph by Scherzer got my attention.
“For starting pitchers they are trying to pitch 100 pitches and you are going through that fatigue and you are over-gripping the baseball to try and combat that fatigue and that’s a very plausible reasoning for the severity of the elbow injuries,’’ Dr. Scherzer explained. “There are multiple factors in all this but why would we ever have the clock be a factor. If there are a couple seconds here and a couple of seconds there to make sure the pitchers are okay, I think we should take that. Like we should never be stepping through a pitcher’s elbow to accomplish an agenda piece within the game. If you actually think where are the most stressful pitches, it’s when you are out of the stretch. So if you are talking about with runners (are) on base we are going to pitch faster, why are we not even taking the pitchers’ health into account on this when we have both of the top surgeons in the game quoted publicly saying MLB needs to take a look at this?’’
That’s real life experience speaking folks; nearly 3,000 major league innings pitched, regular season and postseason. That’s a real number to pay attention to, MLB.