We are three weeks into the season and in case you haven’t noticed there are some phenomenal things happening with the pitching in baseball. For one thing, according to the Elias Bureau, the average 15.2 hits per game through the first 22 days of the season are the lowest since 14.8 in 1910!
There are any number of factors being thrown around for this pitching dominance — the abbreviated spring training, the customary unseasonable April weather, the increase of pitchers on the rosters, humidors for the baseballs in all the clubhouses, to name four — but going into the weekend the composite pitchers’ ERA of 3.69 was the lowest since 1991 and their 1.61 strikeouts-to walks ratio is the lowest since 1997 (1.60).
Certainly, the number of pitchers at each manager’s disposal — last week MLB and the Players Association agreed to extend the 14-pitcher limit on the rosters to May 29 — has had a significant effect, especially in the later innings (7-9) where the batting average of .224 going into the weekend was the lowest ever. So far this year the 9.32 average number of pitchers in a game is an all-time high. As Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci noted this week, the Nationals’ Juan Soto faced 46 different pitchers in his first 83 plate appearances. So, yes, multiple different looks are hazardous to a batter’s average.
Going into the weekend, both the Yankees and Mets sported the best records in their leagues, and it wasn’t any secret as to why: Pitching. The Yankees’ 2.92 ERA was second in the majors, their 1.15 WHIP eighth. As for the Mets, who were third in the majors in ERA (2.93) and second in WHIP (1.04), Buck Showalter, talking about his starting pitchers in particular, summed up their early success with one word: Command. That was the first thing he noticed about Tylor Megill and David Peterson when he saw them for the first time this spring.
“They could both command,” Showalter said the other day, “and to me that’s the most important thing about pitching. I knew we had something.” And left unsaid, he knew he didn’t have to worry quite as much as to when Jacob deGrom was going to be back.
To Showalter’s point, the Mets’ 3.7 strikeouts-to-walks ratio was second only in the majors to the Dodgers’ 3.8. And through their first 18 starts, the Mets rotation had issued only 27 walks in 106 innings, including just three by Megill in his first four starts.
“You can have good stuff but it’s no good unless you have command. Orel Hershiser once said that if you can command one pitch you can get by in a game and if command two pitches you’re going to be a very good pitcher and if can command three pitches you’re dominant,” Showalter continued. “It’s all about command which is what we constantly emphasize with our guys.”
And don’t talk to Showalter about velocity. As far as he’s concerned you can leave the velo to those one-inning late relievers. If there is one thing that galls him it’s this (analytically driven) obsession with velo in today’s baseball that too often comes at the expense of teaching young pitchers command of their secondary pitches in the minors after they come out of the draft.
“Just look at this year’s upcoming draft,” Showalter said. “It’s been turned upside down by all the injuries to the top pitchers. They start these kids at 13 years old building up their velo so they can get the big money in the draft and this is what happens. It just seems the criteria with pitchers today is ‘who is going to get back the fastest?’ rather than teaching them secondary pitches.”
Indeed, Alabama left-hander Connor Prielipp, Connecticut lefty Reggie Crawford, Arkansas righty Peyton Pallette, Duke righty Henry Williams and Mississippi State righty Landon Sims, all of whom were projected to be first-rounders, instead were all felled by elbow injuries and are missing the 2022 season. And last week it was announced that Dylan Lesko, the top-rated prep pitcher who was projected by many to be the overall No. 1 pick, will be undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Conversely, while we were on the subject of command, Showalter blamed the inability of pitchers to command the new baseballs — and not any intent — for the preponderance of Met hitters being hit by pitches this year. A prime theory for the dominance of pitching this season has been the new baseballs that are being kept in humidors and are believed to have been deadened in some way. They are also said to be slicker to the touch.
“Look, I get it that they think they need to pitch our guys high and inside,” Showalter said. “But if you’re going to do that, you better have command or guys are going to get hit in the head — like what’s happened over and over again with our guys. It’s not the pitchers’ fault. They need to be able to get a better grip on the ball. I understand with this sticky stuff a lot of guys took it too far, but there’s a way to solve this. If the batters have pine tar to get a better grip on their bats, give the pitchers a universal pitching rag with an agreed-upon substance which the second base umpire places behind the mound. All the pitchers need is to put something on two fingertips to control the ball.”
If nothing else, Showalter can find consolation in the fact that his pitchers have had few issues with command so far this year.
Check out all this year’s MLB schedules, team rankings and more in our MLB hub. Along with where to watch upcoming games!
Can anyone explain why Angel Hernandez, who continues to embarrass baseball, is still working as an umpire? Last Sunday night on national TV in Philadelphia, Hernandez had another doozy of a game behind the plate, missing 19 calls for a score of 85.3%, including one that missed the plate by 6.47 inches according to Umpire Auditor. Hernandez’s latest horrendous performance was punctuated by the Phillies’ Kyle Schwarber’s epic meltdown after being rung up by a pitch that was clearly off the plate for the second out in the ninth inning. Then, a few days later, Cowboy Joe West, of all people, came to Hernandez’s defense, claiming the internal league office grading system gave Hernandez a score of 96%, which would actually be 2% above the league average! How stupid do they think we are? Millions of people watched replay after replay on TV last Sunday and players from both teams were in universal agreement that Hernandez’s pitch calling was awful. Last May, the Cuban-born Hernandez lost his discrimination suit against baseball in which he complained about not being assigned to the World Series since 2005 and never being offered a crew chief position. The court ruled that no reasonable jury would have concluded Hernandez had been discriminated against by MLB, which had cited Hernandez’s consistently low ratings as a primary factor in his lack of promotions. Yet despite those low ratings and countless egregious missed calls through the years that have brought him national attention as the worst umpire in baseball, Hernandez goes on — nothing new for baseball, which never fires or demotes umpires despite having a grading system purportedly for that purpose. Seriously, in what profession can a person continually do a bad job — as Hernandez has for 30 years as a major league ump — and never have to worry about being fired? The reason is, that baseball just doesn’t care. Forever, MLB has refused to invest in umpire development because they obviously don’t feel umpires are all that important. For what it’s worth, it was announced in February that for the first time in nearly two decades, the minor league umpires would be receiving pay raises — to $3,000 a month in A and AA ball and $4,500 a month at Triple-A, which by my calculation is barely the minimum wage.
This article was written by Bill Madden from the New York Daily News and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
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