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Mudville: July 12, 2024 7:45 pm PDT

Dead Sea Baseball

BY KEVIN KERNAN

About eight years ago, I said one day there will be so many people who don’t know what they are doing in charge of teams there will be a sea change in the game, a sea of mediocrity in baseball or worse.

People thought I was being a baseball conspiracy theorist. Well, here we are.

Welcome to the Dead Sea era of baseball.

Going into Tuesday’s games, only four teams in the National League were over .500. Four. Count ‘em, four.

Over in the “much better American League’’ six teams were over .500. Whoop-dee-do.

By changing the game philosophically, physically, and statistically, the Nerds have ruined baseball across the board. And by doing that, by creating terrible teams, not caring or knowing about fundamentals, in a bizarre way they have given themselves job security because basically every team stinks, except for a few elite teams, but all the others can be thrown into the same boiling pot of baseball stew.

So everybody is in the running.

That’s why of the nine NL teams vying for the last two wild card spots, only one was a .500 team, the Padres who currently have the second spot, and the not so mighty other eight were under .500 teams in the “race’’ for those spots in the bloated NL Wild Card. The Braves are four games up for the top wild card.

The under .500 Giants currently hold the third spot as I write this column for Baseball or Bust, then come the Cubs, Reds, Cardinals, Pirates, Diamondbacks, Nationals and even the embarrassing 28-36 Mets are “in the thick of the race.’’

That is a lot of slop in the NL wild card stew.

Jordan Hicks #12 of the San Francisco Giants is taken out of the game by manager Bob Melvin in the fifth inning of their game against the Houston Astros at Oracle Park on June 11, 2024 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Mets are only 3.5 games back going into play Tuesday. It used to be win and in. Now it is stink and in.

You too can play .438 baseball now like the Mets and still have the opportunity to win the World Series in Rob Manfred’s lowered bar world of Major League Baseball.

And it is only getting worse.

Sure, there are a handful of good teams, but the good teams will run into hurdles. Shohei Ohtani is slumping for the Dodgers. Over the last 14 games Shohei is batting .183 with two home runs, 11 hits and 19 strikeouts.

Maybe he is preoccupied thinking to himself: “How did I not know $17 million disappeared from my bank account.’’

I don’t know about you, but if a $17 questionable charge comes up on my account, I’m all over it with the help of Mrs. AMBS. Shohei let $17 million slip away to his gambling translator. MLB gambling is another gigantic issue, of course, but I have too much on the field stuff I want to get to now. The gambling issue will only get worse.

Another good team, the Phillies, got bad news Tuesday when it was announced that backbone catcher J.T. Realmuto underwent right knee surgery, you know the knee that was one knee down in London on that pitch that got away that allowed the Mets to beat the Phillies, 6-5 in the second game of the London Series.

So much for one knee down being good for the knees.

Another day, another injury; the numbers are overwhelming especially when it comes to shredding elbows and shoulders for pitchers. The Reds had a big day in that department Tuesday, but nearly every day is Pitcher on the Shelf day in MLB.

They fail to mention that pitching injuries are some of the biggest things created in pitching labs. Bullpens used to be pitching labs.

As for the never out of it Mets, without that gift of a win when reliever Jose Alvarado was busy walking hitters, hitting hitters, throwing the ball to the backstop in the ninth inning – some great baseball – the Mets would have gone into Tuesday 27-37. Steve (Three to Five Years) Cohen has changed his expectations a bit since purchasing the Mets.

Steve certainly has gone through a lot of employees but now has his man in David Stearns.

For the most part, the presidents of baseball operations (POBOs) run the same game plan. They take over, stink, get some high draft picks and begin the five-to seven-year rebuild. They also dismantle the organization of solid baseball people because they want their way to be the only way. They bring in innovative development philosophies, it’s all about the tech, not the reps. And, of course, the veteran manager has to go.

Not just MLB, MiLB as well, just check out some of those games where fundamentals are a thing of the past. I spoke to a scout this week who just finished up an eight-game series. There were 20 stolen bases. No one caught.

Just for fun I turned on a game on Tuesday and the shortstop on one AA team hit a slow roller to the opposing shortstop and never bothered to run hard, he was out by 15 feet. No one said a word. He wasn’t hurt because in the ensuing inning he was goofing around on a popup, nearly dropped it and in one motion flipped the ball hard to the on-coming outfielder, catching him off-guard and nearly hitting him in the head. The shortstop laughed. It’s all about having a good time.

This is kind of stuff you never used to see in the pro game. Now, no one says a word.

“In the minors, they don’t work on anything anymore,’’ our baseball man said.

But they all build a pitching lab, and the media is usually breathless over such an accomplishment. Ohh! A pitching lab! They fail to mention that pitching injuries are some of the biggest things created in pitching labs. Bullpens used to be pitching labs.

José Alvarado #46 of the Philadelphia Phillies reacts during the MLB London Series match between the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets at London Stadium at London Stadium on June 09, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

In this AA game I was watching, the pitcher fell behind 3-0. He then threw a get-me over slider for strike one. A similar pitch was strike two. A third get me over slider, pretty much in the exact same humpback whale spot, got over the left field fence for a home run.

What happened to the good old well-located fastball?

That’s becoming a dinosaur.

One top evaluator was speaking to another recently and said, “It amazes me the fear of throwing fastballs.’’

The other evaluator said, “I don’t understand it, either.’’

“We were aways taught the well-located fastball is the best pitch in baseball,’’ the first evaluator said. “Because every hitter has a weakness and if you attack weaknesses and you are able to locate your fastball then you are fine.’’

I see the Yankees pitchers throwing fastballs and it seems to be working for them as they have the best record in baseball. Perhaps more POBOs will figure that out and copy their success.

As for the one knee down style of not catching, I wrote about that a few weeks ago and you know how much I despise it simply because it doesn’t work on so many levels.

Former major league pitcher Ben McDonald mentioned something else about One Knee Down the other night on a college broadcast. He doesn’t have an issue with that style but he pointed out that as a pitcher he does not like it that after the target is given by the catcher, the catcher then goes “pancake’’ with his glove – my word, not his – working from the ground up to “steal strikes’’ and as a pitcher who is trying to zone in on a target, even focusing so astutely that he is looking at the strings of the glove, at that crucial moment, the pitcher has no target. It’s gone. It’s a pancake. McDonald said losing the target is not a good situation for a pitcher. I agree.

You tell me how that makes sense.

J.T. Realmuto #10 of the Philadelphia Phillies stretches during a warm up during the 2024 London Series game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Mets at London Stadium on Saturday, June 8, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Perhaps that is partly the reason today’s pitchers can’t locate their pitches.

Who knew they needed a target?

Perhaps that’s why it seems every count goes to 3-2. A good target and soft hands were always the signs of a good catcher, but the POBOs and their nodding yes minions have destroyed that part of the game and much of the media does the same, “He’s such a good pitch framer,’’ they say as the ball squirts to the backstop and the runner comes home from third.

I don’t know about you but I would like for my pitcher to be a good pitch framer, not my catcher. That is the optimum situation.

Here is another thing I’ve noticed. There is more of a general give-up in today’s game. With two strikes, if hitters don’t get the pitch they are looking for it’s a give up strike three, bat on the shoulder and quite often I’ve seen they are giving up on a fastball right down the middle. Stunning.

You tell me how that makes sense.

I believe that is a direct result of those up above in the front office not caring about strikeouts or batting average. The POBOs have made it okay to strike out and hit .220. That has filtered down to the hitter. That foul the ball off mentality, put the ball in play mentality, the choke up and don’t strike out mentality is a thing of the past, so they just give up and no one says a word as they walk back to the dugout to check on what percentage of sweepers the pitcher throws.

The veteran player who used to be that top-step player that would get in your face has pretty much been eliminated from the game.

Some teams do battle at the plate. The Yankees do. They are night and day ahead in that department this year from last year and Aaron Judge is not going to be Keith Hernandez in your face, but he will let you know, do what’s best for the team.

So when you are not giving up at-bats it stands out today, something that used to be a given.

Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees watches from the dugout during a game against the Kansas City Royals in the fourth inning at Kauffman Stadium on June 10, 2024 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

It used to be that if you gave up an at-bat, you were grabbing some pine. Not now. Just look at strikeout totals and batting averages.

There is also the “give-up’ by pitchers and catchers on baserunners. So many times now there is no throw to second or third on the DoorDash stolen base. And if there are runners on first and third, forget about it, the runner on first can waltz to second base.

“I had an eight-game series and in the eight games, there was not a runner thrown out,’’ the scout said in disbelief, noting catchers did not have the arm strength to get the ball to second base. There was no extra work done between games to fix the problem.

“Oh-for the series, I could not believe it,’’ the scout said.

Believe it.

The risk averse POBOs don’t want their catchers throwing and their nodding yes minions go along with the absurdity. Another scout who was at a minor league game recently gave me this boots on the ground report.

“1st and 3rd in minor league games, they just let the guy steal 2nd. Happens all the time now. My son’s 9U team has 3 plays for that scenario. And they execute them.’’

Not in pro ball anymore. It’s simply PitchCom or bust. Steal at will.

You tell me how that makes sense.

But this is all happening in Dead Sea Baseball, something I could see happening years and years ago.

They don’t know baseball and they don’t want to learn.

I caught yet another scout on a bad day. “I just saw a batter who is hitting .180 and he walks on a borderline 3-2 pitch – and he is flipping the bat like: ‘Challenge me.’ ’’ the scout said in an incredulous voice.

“I saw four different occasions, two outs, runners on base, fly balls hit and the runners didn’t run. Two outs. Both teams it happened twice. Players don’t even know how many outs there are even though the base coach is saying, ‘Hey, two outs you are moving on anything.’ They don’t listen. They don’t back up bases. The outfielders can’t throw. It’s a joke.’’

And nobody says anything.

Here is something else. Have you noticed how baserunners are so shoddy now running the bases in the majors, and certainly in the minors – I have, and so have scouts. The Dodgers made a key out against the Yankees the other night at third when the baserunner did not extend his leg sliding into the bag. Both legs were bent, giving the Yankees third baseman time to make the tag. It used to be you extend your leg to the bag and if the glove gets there first try to dislodge the ball. But teams practiced sliding in the past. Sliding only happens now when you slide in games.

And then there is this, too.

“They don’t work on any aspect of baserunning anymore,’’ the scout told BallNine. “They don’t know how to cut the corners. I see guys trying to score from second and I go, ‘Aww shit, he’s almost in the third base dugout.’ “

He couldn’t stop there.

“And the catching, the fact they have all bought into this one knee, steal strikes generation and balls get by catchers like it’s a bleeping sieve.’’

It is. But scouts have been muzzled. They can’t say much. The POBOs don’t want any opposing opinions, just go see the players and pass along the tech numbers.

They don’t want to hear “dis-information.’’

They don’t want anyone to tell them what they are doing isn’t working.

The standings, though, tell the real story.

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
  • If i ran a team, i would draft MOSTLY college guys, who are often taught the game very well and generally paly the game at a high level. They learn how to run bases, where to go with the ball and can play both small ball and use the long ball. I would almost never have any Latin player unless they are an exceptional talent with intelligence or were pitchers or catchers. Most high school kids who are drafted very high are rarely taught how to play the game the correct way. Who was going to tell Clint Frazier in Little League or high school how to play? With a couple exceptions, the Orioles have used the college ranks to fill their current roster, and it shows in the way they play the game on the field and the current standings

    June 12, 2024
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