Those are the words my high school baseball coach used to say when he tried to get me to use breaking balls more often against power hitters. I didn’t buy into it preferring power vs. power and let the chips fall where they may. Which in a way is what we’re seeing in the game today.
The game of baseball today at its highest level is all about power. the talk in baseball after the All Star Game, and especially after Giancarlo Stanton’s Home Run Derby explosion (video), is this……..what’s up with all the home runs this year?
A degree of panic is setting in as once again MLB has to answer the question yet again – do we have a bunch of juiced up players in the game today?
Commissioner Rob Manfred answered the question while in San Diego this way….”We think it has to do with the way pitchers pitch and the way hitters are being taught to play the game. You’ve seen some unusual developments in terms of home run hitters being up in the lineup to get them more at-bats. So we think it has more to do with the game this time around, because we’re comfortable we’re doing everything we can on the performance-enhancing drugs front.”
Typical spin you might expect from the man hired by the owners who like to see the “asses in the seats” that home runs bring as George Steinbrenner liked to say……except for one thing……
In this case, he’s probably right and here’s why……
To date, MLB has suspended 70 players in the minor and major leagues. They can’t catch everyone (yet) but they have a good handle on it and sooner rather than later the cheaters will be uncovered.
The power we see today from both hitters and pitchers comes not from performance enhancing drugs, but from the human specimen of men who are playing the game. Put simply, we’re growing them big these days….very big…and strong.
Consider this…….Mickey Mantle was 6 feet tall and weighed 185 lbs……Giancarlo Stanton is 6’6″ and weighs 240 lbs. The real home run king Hank Aaron (below)– 6′ 180lbs while Mike Trout stands in at 6’2″ and 230 lbs. Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench weighs in at 205 and was 6’1″ while Kris Bryant is four inches taller and 15 lbs heavier.
These guys today are locked and loaded with pure brutal strength and power.
And it doesn’t stop there……the pitchers are even bigger. Of your top ten leaders in strikeouts, Noah Syndergaard is a daunting 6’6″ and weighs 240, Clayton Kershaw 6’4″ 230, and Michael Pineda at 60 feet away?…..6’7″ 260!
Compare this to some of the harder throwers of the past. Nolan Ryan 6’2″ (above) 195, Sandy Koufax 6’2″ 210, and Tom Seaver at 6’1″ 205 lbs.
To be sure, power translates to $$$ these days. There is no way (too bad in a sense) that Jose Altuve or Mookie Betts will ever sign a contract for $200 million plus even though their agents will fight like hell for it. Make the ball fly high and your salary will soar also. Otherwise, you’re just a cog in the machine who’s paid to get on base.
Moreover – and here’s really the crux of it – the mindset of both hitters and pitchers today is far different today than when Wee Willie Keeler used to yell his credo “Hit ’em where they ain’t” or even someone like Ted Williams, arguably the best hitter who ever lived, would stubbornly wait for his pitch – and if he didn’t get it he’d take a walk.
Not today. These guys are swinging when they roll out of bed. Strikeouts – who’s counting? Home runs and runs produced – everybody is counting that. Plus, they have no fear. You throw it in at 102 and I’ll hit it out at 110mph (thank you Statcast).
And to add to the interesting mix, pitchers now are the same way. “Make ’em hit the ball” is a foreign language to most pitchers today. They’re taught to challenge hitters IN the strike zone. “Painting Corners”? – you try and do that today and your almighty pitch count goes up?……..brace yourself for a mound visit from a very irate pitching coach. Throw strikes and “trust your stuff” is the only axiom managers and coaches preach.
Of course, that creates a problem for pitchers. Miss in the zone at 100+ (high or low depending on the hitter) and you find yourself turning your back to see where this moonshot will eventually land. How the hitters do it – turning on a 102 mph missle in less than a half a second – I have no idea. But, they do and they are rewarded handsomely for it.
So, maybe we (and you too Commissioner) need to calm down a little bit. This is not the second coming of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Mark McGuire.
These players are “real” and they work hard twelve months a year to stay strong and get even stronger the old fashioned way – by working hard and continuously at their craft…….