Ron Costello

Thursday, September 20, 2018

If you're reading this you must follow baseball and the Phillies. You might even be a member of the Faithful.

Carlos Santana, low average but a ton of base-on-balls.
So here's the skinny on what's going on with the Phillies and major league baseball: some things you ought to know about.

In today's game, hit-and-runs, bunts, stolen bases, singles, rallies, pinch-hitters, and complete games, are dropping like petals from a rose. They have nearly disappeared from the game.

Blame strikeouts. And throw in base-on-balls while you're at it — they're guilty, too. Strikeouts and base-on-balls are up. With walks and strikeouts up, batting averages are down. 

Batting averages are down because defensive shifts are up, way up. Each time a batter comes to the plate, infielders move around like wine glasses on a cruise ship. Outfielders pull cards from their back pockets, peruse them, and move accordingly.

Sometimes vast areas of the field are left open, like the left side with a lefthanded hitter up. Does the batter try to push the ball in the open area? Most times not. That's part of the reason that strikeouts and walks are up and batting averages are down.

Take the Phillies Carlos Santana, for example. He's hitting .233 and making $15 million. But his walks are up. He's second in the NL with 105 base-on-balls, behind the next Phillies centerfielder Bryce Harper, who has 123.

Mr. Harper's average is down, too, and his strikeouts are up. He's fifth in whiffs in the NL with 160. Think he cares? Bryce? He says 'what's a batting average?;' because he's third in home runs with 34, one behind the NL leader Matt Carpenter. Mr. Harper may be the leader, soon. He's also sixth in RBIs.

Averages down, walks up, strikeouts up, home runs up. 

Defensive shift against Bryce Harper.
Am I forgetting anything? Yes. When Harper comes to the plate the whole damn defense moves to the right side of the field. If the diamond were a ship it would capsize.

So does Mr. Harper adjust and try to hit the ball to the left side of the field? What, are you kidding? If he did his home runs would drop and his walks would tumble, and then the Phillies might not offer him that $500 million contract in December.

You think Gabe Kapler will want Mr. Harper to hit against the shift? Get real. Mr. Kapler is the poster boy for the changes in baseball. Before the season ends Kapler wants to start his closer for two innings, that is, if he had a closer. They're disappearing, too.

To Mr. Kapler, all pitchers are equal and the bullpen is simply an area where most of his pitchers sit.
Try to pull the ball through this Dodger infield.

Oh, and because of the ups and downs previously mentioned above, balls put in play are way down. Home runs, popups, strikeouts, and walks being up, means that balls actually hit around the field are down. 

Fewer hit-and-runs, bunts, stolen bases, singles, rallies, pinch-hitters, defensive gems, and fewer balls hit in play, making the games longer. Because hitters — the hitters that use to hit the balls in play? — are working the counts and adding to the length of the games.

Working the counts is why strikeouts and walks are up. Video challenges are up which gives viewers lots of time to check their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

Analytics are up through the ceiling, as well. 

Twenty and thirty-something-year-olds sit in the dugouts with laptops and spreadsheets advising managers, pitching coaches, and players on the defensive shifts and other things, such as what type of pitch to throw to Mr. Harper with the count full.

Laptops and ipads have invaded baseball's dugouts.
Watch how often the catcher looks in at the dugout just before he gives his signs. The manager tells him what pitch to call, ordered up by a thirty-something with the laptop sitting between Jake the Snake and Nick Williams — on the bench because the computer picked the lineup.

And boring is up, too. Boring is significantly up.

Oh, wait, I nearly forgot. Major league attendance is down. 

Hey, do you think I discovered a correlation here? Maybe the Phillies will hire me for their booming analytics department.

Nah, I'm too old.

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