Work in Sports
Home runs getting you down?
Posted: Monday April 24, 2000 01:18 PM
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There is much to get to in this week's mailbag, such as why the home run is in danger of becoming boring, A-Rod's address for 2001, what's up with the Angels' young pitchers and assorted other goodies. But let's backtrack a bit to start off. I brain cramped last week talking about the best outfields in baseball. Surely the Cleveland Indians deserved consideration as the best, whether you put David Justice or Richie Sexson next to Kenny Lofton and Manny Ramirez. My bad.
Also, my discourse on the death of the 20-game winner in my weekly column brought at least one dissenting opinion. So let's start the mailbag with a follow-up to that issue.
I see you say Mike Mussina is the best pitcher never to win 20 games ... I'd have to disagree and go with my hometown favorite, Dave Stieb (a half dozen All-Star appearances must count for something). But I'm curious: who do you think are the alltime top 5 starters who never won 20 games?
Hmmm. Sounds like another Blue Jays fan who thought Stieb could have done more with that nasty slider of his. I didn't mean to compare Mussina, who obviously has a lot of years left to win 20, with guys whose careers are complete. So to set the record straight, here are my lists for Best Pitchers Never to Have Won 20, retired and active divisions. All-Star appearances do not include a second appearance in the years when two games were held (two games were played each July of 1960, 1961 and 1962). I placed more emphasis here on longevity and the number of career wins than on quick bursts of near brilliance, which explains why someone such as Don Gullett (109-50) didn't make the cut.
Am I the only one in this world getting bored with home run after home run? Something has got to be done about this. Fix the ball? Raise the mound? Tell me something, anything, can be done. Please?
Go see a game at Comerica Park. It's baseball the way it ought to be. If you crush a ball, it should be a home run. If you pop it up, it shouldn't be (see Enron Field and Camden Yards). The most exciting play in baseball is the triple, not the home run. Everybody on the field is in motion during a triple. Everybody stands around when somebody hits a home run. I believe we really have to reevaluate what a home run means any more. Five-foot-11 middle infielders are going out to dead central these days and nobody raises an eyebrow.
You can blame the ball a little bit. I believe Major League Baseball hasn't juiced it on purpose. But I also believe balls are manufactured better now than they were 20, even 10 years ago. Toasters, remote controls, tires and just about everything else are being made better, even if the core components are essentially the same. For instance, you used to be able to push up the seams on the ball with your fingernails. Now the ball is so tightly made that you can't do that.
Here's what I'd do:
1. Raise the mound a few inches. I think the biggest thing this would do is keep pitchers healthier. The healthier pitchers are, the fewer Triple-A pitchers you'd find in the big leagues.
2. Quit building bandboxes. Listen up, Phillies, Mets, Cardinals, Yankees and anybody else drawing up plans for a new stadium. The 315-feet leftfield wall is as antiquated as scheduled doubleheaders now. The minimum distance should be 335. Watch how many triples, doubles and bunts we get this year at Comerica Park. It's a much better and more interesting game than home run derby.
That leads me to the next question ...
In this offense-enabling era (small strike zone, tightly wound balls and frequent expansion) why isn't anyone hitting .400?
As Dean Palmer of the Tigers said after one look at Comerica Park, "We'll have to learn how to hit now." Ballparks and salaries over the past 10 years have sent an obvious message to players: you will be rewarded for home runs. So players grab thin-handled bats down at the knob and swing at the ball as if they have a titanium driver in their hands and a 100-yard wide in front of them. There is no reward for bat control. How many guys choke up on the bat anymore? Almost none. That's why I get a kick out of people saying, "Give hitters credit. Hitting is so much better now than it's ever been because of training techniques and weight training and nutritional information." What they mean to say is that power hitting is better than ever.
I've read a lot about how the Angels will have a great offensive club this year but have one of the worst pitching staffs in major league baseball. I'm wondering if they've got some sleepers on their staff who can get the job done. What do you think?
Keep an eye on Ramon Ortiz and Scott Schoeneweis. Ortiz, 23, often is compared to his idol, Pedro Martinez. Like Pedro, he's small (6', 175 pounds) and was born in the Dominican Republic. He had great strikeout numbers in his minor-league career (446 in 403 innings), but scouts don't project him to be a No. 1 starter like Pedro. He could be a solid No. 3 guy. Schoeneweis, 26, is the reason why scouts like to say lefthanders need more time to develop. He's a late-bloomer who's off to a big start this year. He's not big, either (6', 186) and has less stuff than Ortiz, but he is lefthanded and has a knack for pitching.
I've been a Kansas City Royals fan for years and I'm excited about the team's start this season. What do you think the chances are of them playing .500 ball or better this year? Also, when do you think we'll see the crop of recently drafted young pitchers begin to seriously make their presence felt?
I think the Royals ought to hold a parade if they finish .500. You'd be talking about a 17-win improvement from last year. While I think this team is headed in the right direction, I don't see them having the pitching depth to keep them afloat over 162 games. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if Dan Reichert replaces Ricky Bottalico as their closer by the end of this season. And I wouldn't be surprised to see Jeff Austin begin to make an impact this year.
With the emergence of young pitchers Russ Ortiz and Joe Nathan, as well as other 20-somethings Livan Hernandez, Shawn Estes and Kirk Rueter, are the Giants poised for pitching dominance in the future? Combining that with Robb Nen, their phenomenal offense season and the fabulous Pac Bell Park, can they contend now?
The rumor going around is that the Giants are ready to move into Candlestick Park. Just kidding. The Giants will get used to Pac Bell and start winning some games there. There's no reason why they shouldn't contend now. Yes, their pitching is young, but with the exception of Nathan they all have good big-league experience and have pitched in big games. Now, I don't think they are another Atlanta staff in the making, but I think Ortiz is the real deal, Hernandez will always be an innings-eater (but probably not a big winner), and Nathan has the stuff to be as good as Ortiz with better control. Estes remains a mystery. Reuter, who has value as a lefty who knows how to win, could easily be traded if the Giants feel like they need to make a deal.
Do you think the Mariners can convince Alex Rodriguez to stay in Seattle and not sign with a new team when he is a free agent at the end of the year? Would a trip to playoffs or World Series do the trick?
There's nothing the Mariners can do at this point. They must respect A-Rod's wish to postpone any talks until he's on the market. And then they'll have to match the big dollars from other contending teams (Mets, Braves, Orioles and Dodgers, to name the most likely). Winning the World Series or coming close to it may be the only way they can keep the guy. Seattle does have a chance, though. If A-Rod sees that Gil Meche, Freddy Garcia and Ryan Anderson are the Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine of the next 10 years, he might come back, even if it's a four-year deal that allows him to test the market again at -- gulp! -- 29. That's what George Costanza would call double-dipping.
Last year the Mets went far despite having very mediocre starting pitching. Now Al Leiter and Rick Reed seem to be back to their top-notch stuff of past years, but now Mike Hampton is folding under pressure and Bobby Jones has been constantly shelled. Am I a foolish Mets fan for thinking that once Hampton finds his stride and Pat Mahomes is put in the rotation (by midseason I predict), this pitching staff will turn it around and be a force into the playoffs?
I wouldn't worry about the staff. I think Hampton will be fine once he relaxes and doesn't try to go 22-4 again. And I agree I'd like to see Mahomes in the rotation. I'd be more concerned with that offense. Righthanded pitching can shut them down and the outfield production is minimal unless Jay Payton just takes over. I don't know if the Mets have enough consistent offense to get to the postseason. But if they do, Hampton alone makes them dangerous because the postseason world is all about pitching matchups. I think the Mets are a worse regular-season team than they were last year, but a better postseason team.
How soon do you think the Red Sox will think about packaging some talent together to get a starter like Brad Radke? It seems to us Red Sox fans that unless Pedro is on the mound, we need to pray for a good outing by the other four starters. Winning every fifth game sure isn't going to do it.
Nothing's happening with Radke yet. You'll have to wait until July. The Red Sox want to see how Jeff Fassero improves -- pitching coach Joe Kerrigan said it would take one to two months for Fassero to get himself back mechanically to where he was in Montreal -- and to see what Bret Saberhagen can give them. I think Boston has enough to tread water in the race for three months, and at that point they may have to make a move.
Is there any proof whatsoever that the reliance on pitch count we've seen over the past few years -- which cut down the number of one-pitcher shutouts and 20-victory seasons -- has made any difference in the quality of pitching, the longevity of pitchers, or the incidence of injury?
There is no tangible proof, just anecdotal evidence that pitchers are better served by throwing fewer pitches than they used to. We may see more injuries and surgeries simply because; 1) there are a lot more pitchers, and 2) sports medicine is light years ahead of where it used to be in terms of diagnosis and recovery.
Pitchers threw way too many pitches in the good old days. One example: Sandy Koufax threw the final game in the old LA Coliseum back in 1961. The game meant nothing. Koufax threw a complete game win in which he pitched 13 innings and threw 205 pitches. He walked three batters and struck out 15. Absurd. Granted, pitchers too often these days throw too few pitches. Greg Maddux comes to mind as a guy who regularly fails to finish games with low pitch counts. Can't argue with his success, though.
I also believe it's much harder to get through a lineup these days than it was in the '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s. There are more stress innings so pitchers just can't breeze through the bottom of lineups the way they used to. I will say this: once box scores started printing pitch counts, managers started managing scared. If a pitcher lost late in the game, everybody could point at the pitch count and say, "See, he was cooked," even if they had no idea how that guy was feeling. The pitch count and the save rule have done more to change the way games are managed in the past 10 years than any other accepted baseball statistics.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci will contribute weekly Inside Baseball columns to CNNSI.com all season. To send a question to Verducci's Mailbag, click here.
The opinions expressed here are solely those of the writer.