A True Arteest’s Rendering of a Very Happy Family.
Will the No-Hitter Epidemic Force Baseball to Change?
For the past few years, baseball has gotten a lot less active. Strikeouts are up. Hits are down. Yes, home runs are up. But balls in play are way down. There’s just a lot less action to watch. Things have gotten extreme this year, though. In an attempt to curtail the home run surge, MLB changed the ball. But they did so ignoring that if hitters weren’t hitting home runs, they weren’t doing much of anything at all. So take all those other changes I listed and then drastically drop the home run rate and you’ve got very little offense. In fact, teams are averaging just 7.82 hits per game, the second lowest ever behind 1908, and 8.98 strikeouts per game (the most ever).
In very related news, the league is off to a record setting pace for no-hitters. There have already been six, including two this week, and not including Madison Bumgarner’s 7-inning no-hitter that we all agree was absolutely a no-hitter. Look, no-hitters are great. So fun! Unless your team is being no-hit – looking at you Texas, Cleveland, Seattle – each of which has been no-hit twice apiece. But even as fans of other teams, usually a no-hitter is exciting. One of those weird, rare things in baseball that can happen anytime you show up to the park.
So, is the no-hitter surge a canary in a coal mine? Could it in fact push baseball into making changes that might save itself from this dead offense era?
The biggest problem is the lack of contact. Pitchers are too good. Substances they are using are too effective. Ted Williams once said hitting a baseball is the hardest thing in sports. If he wasn’t right then he sure is now. Seemingly every team now has 5 guys throwing 98+ mph with insane late movement. If players can’t put the ball in play, exciting things can’t happen. So how does MLB combat that?
The most obvious thing to do would be to police these substances pitchers use. Jayson Stark covered this topic this week, and there were some interesting quotes from some unnamed players. For example, this NL pitcher:
“You have hitters who are like, ‘How the f— are we supposed to hit this?’ For big-league hitters to admit defeat is rare. But when you have a guy throwing a fastball that rises 4 feet or a slider that looks like a strike and drops off another foot, it’s like video game stuff. You think (hitters) are just complaining, but then you look at the video and it’s like, holy s—, how are they supposed to hit this? I don’t care what your approach is at the plate, you don’t have a chance.”
And this AL pitcher:
“It is getting out of hand,” said an American League pitcher, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “When you watch some of these guys from the dugout you can almost hear the ball ripping out of their hands. Guys are doing stuff now that you can’t do to a baseball with just your hand. You just can’t.”
Phillies catcher JT Realmuto added:
“I would just crack down on the substances they use on their hands,” Realmuto said. “You see pitchers out there all game long doing this (touching his mitt). They’re not doing anything about it. I think if they cracked down on that, that would honestly help the offense a lot, get the ball in play more often and (result in) less swing and missing.”
I agree – we should start there. I am hopeful it would fix a lot of the problems. If not, then I think MLB does need to take a look at some options I’ve seen thrown around – moving the mound back, shortening the base paths, making the strike zone smaller. Whatever they do, they need to do something. They can’t sit around expecting things to just change. -TOB
Sources: “The Historic No-hitter Pace Is Bad for Fans. But It May Be Just What MLB Needs,” Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (05/20/2021); ‘What Are We Even Doing Here?’: Around Baseball, Players Raise Concerns About Pitchers’ Use of Foreign Substances,” Jayson Stark, The Athletic (05/21/2021); “Why Have There Been So Many No-Hitters in 2021?“, Benjamin Hoffman, New York Times (05/20/2021)
Elderly Man Angry After Man Swings at 3-0 Pitch in Blowout
If you follow sports, you saw this story: the White Sox were blowing out the Twins this week. Late in the game, the Twins brought in infielder Willians “La Tortuga” (Editor Note: LOL) Astudillo to pitch. He proceeded to lob in a few pitches that might as well have been soft pitch softball tosses. White Sox hitter Yermin Mercedes watched three ugly balls go by. In a 3-0 count, he finally got a pitch in or around the strike zone and mashed it all to hell.
This, to me, is the result we should expect. Once you put a position player into pitch, you are throwing up the white flag and saying, “We are basically playing an exhibition game. We just need to get these last few outs so we can go home. Let’s have a little fun and not waste our real pitchers in such an outing.” Well, apparently, not everyone feels that way.
There were rumblings after the game about whether Mercedes should swing up 3-0 with a position player in the game. White Sox manager Tony LaRussa said Mercedes (his own player) “made a mistake” promised it “won’t happen again” and that he was very upset about it. He also said Yermin would face internal consequences. He called him “foolish” and said he doesn’t “got a clue.”
Uh, what. Late in the following game, a Twins reliever very obviously intentionally threw at Mercedes’ legs. And that’s when things got really weird. After that game, White Sox manager Tony LaRussa was asked about Mercedes being targeted and said he agreed with it.
At this point it seems LaRussa may have started a mutiny by not having his guy’s back. After having said Mercedes won’t do it again, Mercedes said he absolutely would.
Mercedes’ teammate Tim Anderson also publicly supported Mercedes, and thus contradicted his manager.
I can’t find the quote, but yet another White Sox player said essentially if you don’t want players to keep playing then either end the game or put a real pitcher in there. I agree. These unwritten rules are so stupid. Just last week, the Dodgers were up 13-0 on the Angels in the 6th. The Angels cut it to 13-4. The Dodgers didn’t stop, scoring another run to make it 14-4, when the Angels put up 7 to make it 14-11 in the 7th. Don’t you think the Dodgers are glad they kept playing?
LaRussa’s reaction reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from The Wire, from Slim Charles: “The thing about the old days, they the old days.”
The heartening thing about this story is that most people seem to agree that Mercedes was right to swing and LaRussa was particularly wrong to not back his player. Baseball is finally starting to get out of its own way on these dumb “rules.” -TOB
Much Ado About Machado
Manny Machado slid and broke up a double play last weekend. That’s not unusual. What is unusual is that the slide occurred about 40 feet from second base.
Machado has a reputation for being a dirty player who does dangerous things on a baseball field. That reputation is well deserved because of things like this in the 2018 NLCS:
As I said, the reputation is well deserved. So when a guy with a reputation like that does something a little unusual, there’s an immediate and natural reaction to say that it was dirty.
Except…I’ve now watched this play a dozen times and I can’t decide if it’s clean or dirty. Machado had nowhere to go and he was trying to avoid the tag and thus the double play. Sure, he could have stopped and gone backwards forcing the second baseman to either commit to the tag or throw to first. But I don’t think this was an unreasonable effort just because there was another option for him. On the other hand, his “slide” was not so much as a slide as it was a leg first dive into the second baseman, and he started the dive extremely late. The more I watch it the more I don’t think you can reasonably argue that he was trying to avoid the tag – he was merely trying to take the fielder out.
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