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Mudville: June 17, 2024 11:45 pm PDT

Skill of Winning

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Note to Nerds: Winning is a skill.

It doesn’t just happen, it’s not a matter of luck.

It is definitely not expected batting average.

Yes, (xBA) is just another scam embraced by Nerd World. Hitting into tough luck is part of the game, it has always been that way, and that is why these words were said so long ago by Wee Willie Keeler.

“Keep your eye on the ball and hit ‘em where they ain’t.’’

Wee Willie didn’t say: “Swing from your ass every time no matter the situation and don’t be embarrassed to take strike three right down the middle.’’

But that’s what the Nerds in Charge have been saying for a long time now and that’s why batting average is in the circular file and that also is why winning, like batting average, has been completely devalued.

Devalue batting average and devalue winning and you get bad baseball teams. Welcome to MLB 2024.

And, by the way, if batting average doesn’t matter, why should we care about expected batting average?

Expected batting average is baseball’s version of unicorns.

Not real.

Batting average is just part of the problem, a symptom to what is wrong with baseball under Rob Manfred. Building the skill of winning is lost now too for so many ballclubs.

This all started with the publication of the book Moneyball in 2003, and then really grew in 2011 when Moneyball the movie came out. Only one team is hitting .260 right now.

In 2003, 21 teams hit .260 or higher. In 2011 the Rangers led all of baseball with a .283 average. The Padres are the only team with a .260 average right now and the team numbers dip all the way to .215 with the Chicago White Sox. The Reds aren’t much better at .217.

Batting average is just part of the problem, a symptom to what is wrong with baseball under Rob Manfred. Building the skill of winning is lost now too for so many ballclubs. Bad decisions are made left and right that impact the team, not just bad trades, bad decisions in development, in the amateur draft in every phase of the game.

A longtime baseball man told BallNine, “I’ve seen some of the dumbest decisions. Hey, we are all going to make mistakes, baseball is a game of failure no matter what … player, coach, scout, front office, broadcaster, writer, but when you are just making these mistakes that are just blatantly obvious because you are out-thinking yourself, I’m sick and tired about hearing about all the smart people in baseball.

“Decision making and intelligence are not the same thing. And when these owners figure that out, that is when things will change. There are certain people in this world who are good at making decisions and baseball decisions are their own entity. There is no other business-like baseball decision making and that is what is so fascinating.’’

Ozzie Guillen blew his top Saturday with Nerd Ball a day after the dreadful White Sox allowed 23 hits in a 12-5 loss to the Brewers.

“The analytic guys are a bunch of Nerds with a bunch of computers telling people what to do and what to say,’’ he said with baseball passion. “Those guys never played the game … Put the computer down and go down and be a coach and manager.’’

Hallelujah!

Noted one of the top evaluators in the game to me on Saturday, “You better get some baseball players playing baseball again and knowing how to play. If you just go to the ballpark like they do now and measure stuff with TrackMan and Hawk-Eye and all the other bullshit, it tells you nothing about whether or not the guy has any baseball instincts.’’

And that is where the game is failing across the board, except for a few teams.

The overall dumbness of teams is at an all-time high because so many people running teams simply have no clue about baseball. I watched the Yankees beatdown of the Giants on Friday night and I witnessed a talented Giants catcher on one knee with runners on second and third. He’s on one knee to “steal’’ strikes, not to catch the ball.

They are called catchers for a reason. They are not called strike stealers.

Young Patrick Bailey didn’t steal a strike and he didn’t catch the baseball or block it. The inside pitch zoomed past him and before you knew it two Yankees, Gleyber Torres and the always heads-up Anthony Rizzo scored on the misplay.

It is just one lowlight that shows how far south the game has gone and no one bats an eye. That is the amazing part.

Winning teams take advantage of dumb plays like that, so good for the Yankees.

Bailey also got doubled off first base in the game on a short fly to centerfield. He misread a simple fly ball that was caught easily by Trent Grisham. Teams don’t work on situational base-running anymore and it shows. They don’t work on reading the baseball off the bat or even bother to look where players are positioned and Bailey is a catcher, so I’m sure his plate is full with all kinds of Nerd nonsense to begin with. Even though the Giants have improved their coaching staff this year they still have the same overall leader in Farhan Zaidi who always does it his way with no real input from baseball people.

Winning isn’t just about hitting home runs and the Yankees have that advantage with Aaron Judge, who was nearly handed on a silver platter to the Giants when he was a free agent, but the Giants were so inept they couldn’t get the deal sealed.

Then Hal Steinbrenner came to his senses and realized Judge is the heart and soul of the Yankees, something I have said since he arrived in New York.

New York Yankees CF Aaron Judge (99) shares some laughs with his team before the game between the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants on June 2, 2024, Lou Gehrig Day at Oracle Park in San Francisco, CA. (Photo by Larry Placido/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Judge is a winner, and this year he clearly has more influence on how the Yankees run their team. In his Northern California homecoming Judge homered twice against the Giants in that 6-2 win with the Yankees getting those two bonus runs because the Giants were trying to “steal’’ strikes.

Both home run pitches to Judge were basically in the same place.

In both at-bats, a total of 13 pitches, the eye level of Judge was never raised by the pitcher Jordan Hicks. Judge is such a smart player he figured that out early and zoomed in on location and made the most of it.

Winners do that.

That was the Yankees 40th win. The Phillies also reached 40 wins on Friday night. Both teams have a superstar leader who highlights winning baseball. Both Judge and Bryce Harper changed positions too for the betterment of their team.

Both are hitting monsters. Both are good teammates. Both have created a festival of winning.

After the win, Judge was asked about the base-running of Rizzo and noted that Rizzo “always has his head up running the bases.’’

That reinforces to all the players the value of base-running. It’s a small point, but it is what winners do. Keep your eye on the ball.

The Nerds have gotten so caught up in the minutiae of the game, minutiae they created almost as a sideshow, there is no true understanding of what creates a winning atmosphere and winning team. And those who do know those lessons in different organizations are pretty much neutered.

It is not even on the radar of the Nerds that winning is a teachable skill that has to be nurtured.

So many teams are just muddling along and all you had to do was watch the .500 Giants Friday night or the 27-32 Pirates and 28-30 Blue Jays slog along in their 14-inning sleep fest, just terrible situational hitting even with the Fake Runner.

There were 10 Fake Runners inserted into the Pirates and Blue Jays game with the Blue Jays wearing their City Connect uniforms, quite the concept since you could not really make out the numbers on the back or the logo on front of the jerseys. It’s all about the marketing though, not baseball.

The Blue Jays were 2-for-19 with runners in scoring position, the Pirates were 1-for-15. Ten runners were just gifted second base because they made the last out the previous inning.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays forces out Oneil Cruz #15 of the Pittsburgh Pirates behind Tim Mayza #58 during the twelfth inning in their MLB game at the Rogers Centre on May 31, 2024 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

The POBOs keep running their teams into the ground.

Yet the owners continue to allow these presidents of baseball operations, who don’t know baseball and don’t know operations, to guide their teams into baseball hell. It’s a terrible cycle but it is also great for those few teams that focus on building winning ways all throughout their systems.

“Winning is not emphasized in any way in the minor leagues,’’ one scout said bluntly

All you have to do is look at the box score.

Starting pitchers are constantly being removed before they qualify for a win even if they are dealing on the mound. The almighty pitch count monster is there every game so even if the pitcher is close to a win, they can’t get over the hump of the scripted pitch count.

That sends the message that winning is not important.

Winning is irrelevant.

And have you noticed, everything is a collaboration in this 2024 world of baseball? The individual achievement of carrying a team on your back is no longer considered important in development.

If players are not put in situations where they learn that one little thing can make the difference between winning and losing how are they going to learn to excel in those situations?

How come no owners are asking that question?

Teams beat themselves on a regular basis, and I haven’t even mentioned the Mets yet. Following his Statue Strikeout Francisco Lindor looks a bit more engaged in the game the last few days and is not just acting like he is hosting baseball talk show at shortstop. On Saturday the 24-35 Mets celebrated Darryl Strawberry, who knew how to win and was part of the last Mets championship team 38 years ago, with a 10-5 loss to the Diamondbacks.

I’ve noticed that focusing on the task at hand is getting more difficult for players today and I believe that is because of all the distractions in the game, distractions with everything they do being measured every second of every game and every single hit is over celebrated even during ugly losses.

Players seem to be losing their concentration like never before and that is a direct result of not having leadership on the top step of the dugout, whether that be a veteran player or the manager or the coaches, to remind them what’s important.

Judge leads though. So does Harper.

Let’s flash back to Friday night one more time.

The Angels’ Kevin Pillar, representing the tying run, was tagged out at second base on a steal attempt after being caught off first base.

That was the final out of the game. Imagine that.

Jo Adell, who hit a grand slam in the seventh, was left standing dumbfounded at the plate. That’s terrible baseball. It is also unfocused baseball and trying to do too much baseball.

The Mariners fired their bench coach/offensive coordinator Brant Brown this week. I can see offensive coordinators in football but not in baseball. The level of middle management is off the charts in baseball just look at the bloated front offices. I did hear a sound bite from Brown and it was cringeworthy but it was spoken in the manner that these POBOs want their employees to speak.

Asked about his position earlier this spring, Brown said his job was a collaboration with two other coaches, there is that word again, collaboration. “Being able to diversify our strengths where we can split up our bandwidth,’’ is how he phrased it.

Geez, could you imagine those words ever coming out of Don Zimmer’s mouth when he was Joe Torre’s bench coach when the Yankees were winning four World Championships.

The Mariners definitely have a bandwidth issue because they are batting .222, 28th in MLB, only the Reds (.217) and White Sox (.214) are worse. The Phillies bandwidth is good. They are fourth in baseball with a .258 mark. Dodgers are next at .255 and then come the Yankees at .254.

By the way, since the Padres added Luis Arraez to their band, their bandwidth is better. Arraez leads all of baseball with a .340 average and since Arraez came over in a trade from the Marlins, the Padres have the most singles in baseball. In the top of the eighth on Friday the Padres strung together 11 hits, something they haven’t done since 2004 and scored nine runs in that inning in an 11-8 win over the Royals. They followed that up with a 7-3 win over the Royals Saturday.

Fernando Tatis Jr. who was going to re-invent baseball a few years ago, remember  (“We’re never going back’’) according to that ad for MLB The Show 21, is singing a much different tune now, much more of a team tune, noting of Arraez: “He starts the line and we just follow.’’

Now that sounds like something Wee Willie Keeler might have said.

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
  • Garry Madison

    Thank you!!!! I have been saying the same thing for years. Baseball is being run mostly by people that have never played or coached the game.

    June 3, 2024
  • Aris Sakellaridis

    Kevin is one of the few to have the balls to write the truth here. Since ex players don’t qualify to fix what’s going on in between the white lines then Mr. Kernan needs to be hired to tell Uncle Steve to bring back Buck.

    June 3, 2024
  • Joe Neal

    No truer baseball words have ever been spoken!!
    Growing up learning to play all phases of the game, the way they should be played, has made myself and millions of others, sickened to watch this horrible baseball. Lets hope management wakes up or they will have lost the real baseball fan.

    June 4, 2024
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