The MLB short season leaves open to intrigue playing through a maze of variables amid a pandemic. Be assured; however, pitchers will decidedly dominate.
The MLB short season in 2020 presents itself as a once in a lifetime (hopefully) experience for players and fans alike.
Fast starts, cold starts, each team will be measured earlier than usual when the season kicks off with a prime-time spectacle on July 23, as the Yankees and Gerrit Cole square off against the defending World Campion Washington Nationals and Max Scherzer.
Typically, hitters need more time than pitchers to reach their highest performance level in a season.
Timing a 99 MPH fastball that follows an enticing slider just off the outside corner takes time, skill, and above all else, repetition in “seeing” pitches coming off the hand of a major league hurler.
Amy, Grab A Glove, Honey
Pitchers can throw against a barn or a backstop, retrieve the balls and do it all over again. Hitters need someone to throw the ball to them, and it’s quite that simple.
Gerrit Cole, for instance, was able to play catch with his wife Amy in the early stages of the season shutdown. Later, he and Yankees manager Aaron Boone became regular visitors to each other’s homes in Westchester County, continuing the process.
In his initial Summer Camp outing, Cole touched 99 on the gun as he effortlessly tossed five innings, reached only by an opposite-field home run off the bat of Miguel Andujar.
Mets lefty Steven Matz spent innumerable hours on local fields, working on his nemesis pitch, a curveball that always seemed to find the sweet spot on a hitter’s bat in a crucial situation.
A three-inning outing on Tuesday brought gushing praise not only from Mets manager Luis Rojas but from Jacob deGrom, who told the New York Post, “That was very impressive to watch, maybe the best I’ve seen him in a long time. It was very impressive.”
MLB Shortened Season: False Starts And Empty Hearts
Major league ballplayers have routines and patterns. With the kind of money on the line these days, they all keep in shape during the offseason, which this year is extended by three months.
Still, they are not equal coming out of the starting gate, even when casting aside the talent levels of individual players.
Two examples from last year should suffice to make the point.
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies
Slow start (15 G): .246/.299/.311, 0 HR, 6 RBI
Fast recovery (30 G): .339/.382/.702, 11 HR, 29 RBI
Ryan Braun, LF, Brewers
Slow start (29 G): .194/.248/.378, 5 HR, 16 RBI
Fast recovery (16 G): .418/.492/.673, 4 HR, 14 RBI
In the MLB short season, we don’t need an actuary to tell us the impact that is likely to occur on their teams should 2020 be a repeat of last year.
Conversely, the Yankees will significantly benefit from Aaron Judge’s demonstrated tradition to open the season on fire only to fall flat after the All-Star break with assorted injuries.
They are, however, the exception and not the rule.
MLB Shortened Season: Pitching Is the Offense
In the early days of professional baseball, a pitcher stood to be fired if he did not allow the hitter to hit the ball. There was even a Rule 9 which stated that the ball must be pitched, not thrown, for the bat.
All hell broke loose in fact when Candy Cummings, as the tale goes, had the gall to introduce the curveball to baseball. A pitch designed, of course, to get the batter out.
Since then, an assortment of pitches ranging from the splitter, knuckleball, changeup, and a host of others have come along, with each designed to put the batter at a disadvantage.
By and large, major league hitters have adapted, and in some cases, even driven pitchers to the end of their wits when “perfect” pitches get hammered by the best in the game.
But one thing holds. The pitcher is the player with the ball in his hand. A hitter can only react to the pitch coming at them in a defensive mode.
MLB Short Season: Will The Hitters “Catch Up”?
Sure they will, they always do. But, in effect, we are talking about a two-month season instead of six.
A season that digests to a sprint of sixty games as opposed to a marathon of 162, together with pitchers who are showing up to camp up, ready to go at full speed – STAT.
This won’t mean that a Gio Urshela or Christian Yelich can’t get hot to carry his team for a couple of weeks. And it is just as likely, the batting champions in both leagues will be names we couldn’t name (now) if our life depended on it.
But as in life, timing is everything in baseball.
Pitching today has one design, and it’s to keep the hitter “off stride” with an assortment of variable speeds and location.
The teams that have the hitters who can quickly come up to speed with the pitching are the teams that will excel in this MLB short season.
They may or may not be the “best teams in baseball”. But in a sport that requires constant adaptation to a changing environment, they will be the teams who have earned their place in baseball’s most unique and challenging season.