MLB is having a season much like 1967-68 when pitching became so dominant the mound was lowered. But is it really the pitchers or hitters?
Watching MLB games this year, I often find myself wondering, “Can anybody wearing a major league uniform hit these days?”
Are the pitchers that good, knowing all they need to do is throw their bait in the water and hitters will bite, or are hitters so stubborn they can’s see the forest through the trees.
How dominant is the pitching? These tables show the 1-10 ERA leaders as of today:
These MLB pitchers, with one or two exceptions, share a common thread. Remove Jacob deGrom, Danny Duffy, possibly Tyler Glasnow, and what’s left but a bunch of names that have come out of the woodwork to dominate hitters for the first time this year – and that includes Joe Musgrave, a veteran who even has a no-hitter under his belt this year.
MLB managers and pitching coaches share a common thread this year as well. Plan A is simple. Tell your starter to throw as hard as he can for as long as he can, and then we’ll bring in another guy who throws even harder – and if necessary, another guy who throws even harder than that.
There is no Plan B.
Major league hitters can turn on a fastball, no matter how quick it comes in on them, and we’ve all seen them do it. So that’s not the issue.
MLB Hitters: A Sad Lot By And Large
So what is their problem? Now, in the title, I used the adjective stupid, and maybe that’s overkill, so let’s concentrate on the other adjective – stubbornness.
Right away, we think of a rising majority who truly believe they can hit “through the shift.” Recently forced into retirement, Jay Bruce, for example, is out of baseball because he was never able or willing to adjust to the shift employed so he could get himself out.
All pitchers needed to do was feed Bruce a diet of fastballs on the outer part or off the plate, teasing him with one inside that he’d pull high and far – but foul – before he grounded weakly to one of the fielders on the right side of the infield.
Now, how many true hitters can we count in the game today? Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, DJ LeMahieu, Freddie Freeman, Jose Altuve (when healthy) come to mind, and you can name more, but it’s only a handful who force themselves to adjust game to game and sometimes even pitch to pitch.
MLB’s Worst Job Today: Batting Coach
Of the rest, most have been “Stars” since their days in high school, college, and some even during their time in MLB’s minor leagues.
These are the ones who have it all figured out because – they’ll tell you – how do you think I got here in the first place.
To counter that, all MLB teams have hitting coaches, but how effective are they. Or, maybe a better question is how effective can they be in the face of resistance from hitters who are too lazy to get better (Gary Sanchez comes to mind), or those who are so stuck in their ways they turn a deaf ear to any instruction.
MLB Pitchers Today: A Different Breed
MLB pitchers are a different breed, though. They work hard at their craft, always learning and perfecting new pitches and working on their mechanics.
Pitchers really use their bullpen sessions, the equivalent of hitter’s batting practice, an exercise that’s become futile as a hitter after hitter aims for the seats, as though he’s dreaming of the Home Run Derby he’ll never see.
Jacob deGrom, for instance, tells his catcher to set up in a certain spot and not to move until he’s thrown 25 pitches, counting to himself the number of times he hits the glove before moving to another spot.
By contrast, how many times do you hear of a hitter telling the batting practice pitcher to “pitch to my weakness (inside) because I need to learn to hit the ball up the middle or to the opposite field”? Never.
“Reggie Puts Asses In My Seats”
There’s another element in MLB that needs to be called out as well – and that’s the owners and general managers who insist on drafting, and then paying, sluggers built like a brick s___house to hit home runs, wowing the crowd, instead of athletes with multiple skill sets and ways to win ballgames.
The difference in attitude and approach between pitchers and hitters is not new in baseball; it’s just more pronounced and exposed today.
Recall when George Steinbrenner was asked why he had a love affair with temperamental and egotistical Reggie Jackson – his answer was a terse – “because he puts asses in my seats, my friend.”
And so it is today, and our love affair with the long ball, an episode that by the way was instigated and encouraged by MLB and Bud Selig during the Steroid Era when baseball turned the other cheek, putting the blinders on while fans set new attendance records.
So now, because hitters refuse to or can’t adapt to pitchers, MLB is once again looking into accommodation for hitters that may or may not allow for more offense to be generated in baseball.
MLB: Putting A Square Peg In A Round Hole
Beginning soon, Rob Manfred, MLB’s Commissioner, has ordered the pitching mound moved back 12″ or one foot in the South Atlantic League, one of MLB’s newly created Independent Minor Leagues.
Wow! – are they kidding? is the most common refrain I read about and certainly in the comments received from an article I wrote weeks ago regarding the proposed rule change (story and comments here)
Meanwhile, I guess we’ll have to live with Akil Baddoo, Detroit’s outfielder and this year’s home run poster boy, striking out in half his at-bats (27-60) in return for the pleasure of his four home runs.
MLB: Moaning A Groaning Its Way To Oblivion
MLB can moan and groan all it wants about its lack of growth, dwindling attendance in small and mid-size franchises, and most all, a lack of action on the field.
But until they turn the spotlight on players like Michael Brantley, Xander Bogaerts, Brandon Nimmo, J.T. Realmuto, Corey Dickerson, Justin Turner, and many others who are batting well over .300 this year, with on-base-percentages above or just below .400, the game will not change – even with manufactured rule changes like the one moving the mound back.
I liken it to some of the students I used to teach who didn’t turn in a stitch of homework all year, but when the final exam came around, they’d ace it – a home run in their book but so much lost in-between.
I will never stop watching or being a fan of baseball – it’s in my blood and has been for the last half-century.
But I don’t have to like it when I see pitchers constantly out-thinking hitters – as though – I’ll use the word again – batters are stupid.
I like it even less when I see MLB coddling to hitters with artificial rule changes that are designed to shift advantage their way…