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Mudville: June 18, 2024 4:45 am PDT

Groupstink

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Buck the trend.

Get away from doing it exactly like everyone else is doing it. Most major league front offices talk the same, dress the same, come from the same educational background and make their teams the same. It’s not good.

Get away from Groupthink, which is defined as “the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group that discourages creativity or individual responsibility.’’

When a POBO, president of baseball operations, offers up this standard quote, run for the hills: “We all have to be better.’’

No, you have to be better. You are in charge. You are the one making the command decisions and encouraging or discouraging creative thinking.

MLB 2024 is in the throes of Groupthink. Groupthink is Groupstink.

Groupthink is the death of real baseball.

The AL Central and the NL Central are what you get with Groupthink.

Groupthink is why Joey Gallo can bounce from team to team and still make millions. I have nothing against Joey Gallo, and if a desperate team wants to take a flyer on him, go right ahead, just be careful how much money you give him for the production you are going to get.

Over his 10-year career, Joey Gallo has made more than $36 million. This year he is hitting .128 for the Nationals with 10 hits and 46 strikeouts in only 78 at-bats. The Nationals are paying him $2.5 million and have an $8 million option for next season.

Gallo played two years with the Yankees when they were going through their Groupthink stage. The Yankees have decided on baseball players this year – and not Groupthink players – as they lead the AL East with a 32-15 record. The Phillies are another team getting away from Groupthink and they have their starters going deep into games. As a scout noted to BallNine: “Their starting pitching is dominant and their average fastball is 92.4, but we never see anything on TV about them getting hitters out with 92.4 mile per hour fastballs. We only see someone throwing 100.’’

Joey Gallo #24 of the Washington Nationals walks back to dugout after striking out during a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Nationals Park on April 25, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

If you are rookie phenom Paul Skenes 100 with location, that is special – but he is a generational talent, who should have been up with the Pirates at the start of the season. Pittsburgh would not be five games under .500 in the NL Central if that were the case.

I love to see young players make baseball adjustments.

Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe got rid of the Groupthink launch angle and is more focused on contact. He is riding an 11-game hitting streak and is batting .270. He hit .209 his rookie year when the Yankees were in what I call their HSH Era of hitting.

That would be the “Hit Strikes Hard” Era.

Juan Soto, traded for in a walk year, a classic baseball move, is tearing it up in the No. 2 spot and has the ultimate protection in the form of Aaron Judge. Soto hit two home runs in the 6-1 annihilation of the dreadful White Sox on Saturday. Soto is a star, but is a baseball player first.

I’ve always said that Judge is a classic No. 3 hitter and by acquiring Soto the Yankees are no longer re-inventing the wheel, hitting Judge No. 2 like it’s Little League.

Hitting sluggers No. 2 is a Groupthink thing and it is wrong. Soto is a No. 2 hitter, right where he belongs and Judge is a No. 3 hitter, right where he belongs. It’s working as they have combined for 23 home runs.

“Soto will get more pitches because people are afraid of Judge,’’ one scout told me.

Yes, they are.

Judge also gives Soto protection in the lineup and in the clubhouse; this is Judge’s team so Soto can just be himself on the field and not worry about trying to be the player that runs the clubhouse.

Juan Soto #22, Aaron Judge #99 and Alex Verdugo #24 of the New York Yankees celebrate after defeating the Chicago White Sox 6-1 at Yankee Stadium on May 18, 2024 in The Bronx, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Another good thing the Yankees did was adding left-fielder Alex Verdugo, who definitely is a little different but has baseball skills – and has made a difference, too. He recently put down a push bunt to forge a 9th inning winning comeback when the Yankees were getting shut out.

Imagine that, a baseball play. Soto and Verdugo bat lefty, which is a good idea to have left-handed hitters in Yankee Stadium, something the Groupthink Yankees did not do.

By the way, a push bunt is a great weapon these days with tilted defenses, including my favorite: “Let’s play without a third baseman.’’

Verdugo has cleaned up the left field situation. The Yankees had gone through 15 left-fielders since Brett Gardner as they went with the Groupthink:” You know, anyone can play left field, even infielders.’’

The Nerds think anyone can play anywhere and hit anywhere. Nerds don’t get nuances. They get data.

“They think it is easy to play in the Big Leagues if you had a couple of good months in the minor leagues,’’ one scout said.

Players need to shy away from Groupthink and start thinking for themselves. Ask the right questions. Seek out experience even though experience has been muzzled in many organizations.

Owners too need to get away from Groupthink.

Thankfully, for the Yankees, it sounds like Brian Cashman or Hal Steinbrenner is listening a little more to baseball people. Getting away from Groupthink.

Same goes for injured ace Gerrit Cole, who is out but is doing a terrific job essentially as the Yankees pitching coach, bringing a voice of wisdom and experience; and you can see he loves sharing his knowledge as he did on Saturday with Luis Gil, who struck out 14 White Sox swingers, not hitters, while allowing only five hits and one run. Cole was talking with Gil about mechanics and that made a difference. It’s not just about pitch shaping, it’s about mechanics and perfecting the pitches you throw, breaking your hands at the right point in your windup.

You don’t need such a big toolbox, either.

Groupthink is around us in so many ways these days, and not just in baseball, in real life -and never more so than during the Covid Shutdown, you know, the days of “safe and effective’’ and stopping people from exercising. Some interesting information on that medical Groupthink stage is coming out nearly daily now.

Like I said, get away from Groupthink.

The beauty of baseball is you don’t have to do it like everyone else. You can be the Go-Go White Sox from a bygone era or the Blake Street Bombers. The 2024 White Sox are the Go-Away Sox.

The Arizona Diamondbacks got away from Groupthink last season and made a surprising run to the World Series.

The Rangers got away from Groupthink, hiring a real pitching coach in Mike Maddux and a real decision-making manager in Bruce Bochy – credit Princeton and baseball educated Chris Young for those decisions – and won their first World Series.

I recently did a column on Willie Mays’ 93rd birthday and as a player, Willie did it his way, including the basket catch. Willie was not into Groupthink as a player.

Did you know he used the basket catch, not only as a way to make running catches, but he realized he could get rid of the baseball on a throw so much faster, essentially eliminating a step in the process of throwing with the basket catch because he was already near a throwing motion when he caught the baseball.

That is baseball creativity at its best.

Outfield arms have been wrecked because of Groupthink and the emphasis on only hitting, not defensive work and the lack of long toss for fielders.

Greg Maddux is a baseball genius as well and did it with incredible command. I remember one day, when Groupthink was starting to rear its ugly head, when suddenly pitching was all about velocity and size, I remember asking Tom Glavine, the Hall of Fame left-hander who won 305 games: do you think you would be drafted today?

Glavine was a second round pick of the Braves in 1984, the 47th player selected.

“I would, because I’m left-handed,’’ Glavine told me. “But Greg wouldn’t get drafted.’’

Yikes!

Math isn’t scouting and scouting isn’t math.

Maddux did not have the size or the fastball to wow people coming into the 1984 draft. But the Cubs made a brilliant draft pick, selecting Maddux in the second round, the 31st pick overall, two picks, in fact, after the Mets had selected catcher Lorenzo Sisney – yes that Lorenzo Sisney – a player I had never heard of until five minutes ago when I checked Maddux’ draft status at Baseball-reference.com.

The Cubs’ intel on Maddux came from area scout Doug Mapson, who went to bat for the 5-foot-10, 155-pound wise guy right-hander from Valley High in Las Vegas.

In his scouting report Mapson wrote, “I really believe that this boy would possibly be the No. 1 player taken in the country if only he looked a bit more physical.’’

Nailed it. Maddux won 355 games on his way to the Hall of Fame. In 1993, Mapson was hired by Brian Sabean with the Giants and helped the Giants come up with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Brandon Belt and others to win three World Series. Brian Sabean is a senior advisor with the Yankees now as they begin to get back to some baseball ways.

Not a coincidence, in my mind.

Baseball people know baseball when they are allowed to do baseball.

Too many decisions nowadays, too much Groupthink comes from the front office while sitting in front of a laptop in a conference room with other Groupthinkers sitting around the table, all sipping their Starbucks.

More decisions, especially in scouting, need to come from those people sitting on aluminum benches watching games or sitting in major and minor league ballparks watching games. Sadly, experience is mocked instead of celebrated by the Groupthinkers.

Math isn’t scouting and scouting isn’t math.

Get away from Groupthink. The Yankees made one of the great scouting finds of all-time when they selected Aaron Judge with the 32nd pick of the first round of the 2013 draft. With the 29th pick, the Rays selected pitcher Ryne Stanek. The 30th pick was a shortstop named Travis Demeritte to the Rangers and the 31st selection was a pitcher the Braves grabbed named Jason Hursh.

Greg Maddux looks on during a Texas Rangers spring training team workout at Surprise Stadium on February 15, 2023 in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Ben Ludeman/Texas Rangers/Getty Images)

Then came Judge, and here we are 269 home runs later. Judge owns 12 home runs this season. Soto has 11. Volpe, the leadoff hitter, was the 30th selection of the first round of the 2019 draft and just like Judge six years earlier, in the three picks before Volpe, teams selected two pitchers and a shortstop. At 27, the Cubs selected pitcher Ryan Jensen. The Brewers were next at 28 and took pitcher Ethan Small then the A’s at 29 grabbed shortstop Logan Davidson. Volpe had to battle through the Groupthink style of hitting the Yankees employed and is beginning to blossom as a leadoff hitter with a new hitting philosophy that most of all keeps it simple.

Get away from Groupthink, especially in player development.

That continues to be a major problem. At one minor league game this week, and you know I love highlighting minor league games, a scout told me that it took 11 pitches before the starting pitcher, a Red Sox prospect, threw a fastball. And when he threw his first fastball, get this, it was 98 mph. So it’s not like he doesn’t have a fastball.

“If I have a 98 mph fastball,’’ the scout said, “I’m pitching with it. I’m pitching with it at 94, 96, wherever I want and I am going to get people out all night long without getting hurt.’’

But in the Groupthink World, everyone has to manufacture a frisbee slider and other pitches to go along with max velocity.

Ouch, my elbow hurts.

“I’m not going to throw a bunch of sweepers, and a bunch of cutters and a bunch of changeups to guys who are hitting .220,’’ the scout said. “I’m sitting there watching all this and saying, what are you thinking?’’

The Yankees had a prospect pitching as well in the game. He was throwing the ball 92-95 last season.

That was before he was taken over by Sweeper Madness.

“This year he is throwing 75 percent sliders and curve balls and sweepers and he is now 89-92,’’ the scout lamented. “He pitched behind the whole game and ended giving up three home runs on hanging breaking balls. He’s not getting better. Use it or lose it.’’

In the Groupthink World the reality of what is right in front of you doesn’t exist. It’s about the data you create, not the baseball created and that continues to be a massive problem in the game.

Another scout sent me a note earlier in the week of a High-A game he was at where the starter threw 64 pitches … in 2-plus innings.

And you wonder why there is a serious shortage of quality starting pitching in the major leagues. It’s like earlier in the week when I addressed One Knee Down and that Groupthink that is destroying the position of catching.

It’s how they are being taught. Again, getting back to the MLB Yankees it’s such a bonus to have Gerrit Cole in the dugout to help guide their young starters, a voice of experience. Smart teams should enable their top pitchers to address other starters, not just some pitching coach who went to industrial park baseball factory to learn his pitching coordinates.

Every team used to have that voice of pitching experience.

As one former pitcher told me recently, “You know how much I learned from Jim Palmer, Scott McGregor, Dennis Martinez and Steve Stone? It was like being in school.’’

Yes it was and he learned the art of pitching from pitchers who did it. And that is what Cole brings to the Yankee party now that he is sidelined. That is not Groupthink, that is an example of being there, being present in the moment and teaching the art of pitching from true experience.

Always remember this: Groupthink leads to Groupstink.

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.

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