Dodgers Being Hot Doesn't Change Things 19 Jun 17
by Tony Medley
The Dodgers are
putting on a show not seen since Yasiel Puig broke in with such a bang
in 2013. That was a time almost unparalleled in baseball history as Puig,
for several months, was a tornado like no one had seen before.
Now, rookie Cody
Bellinger, while not equaling Puig’s batting average, is ravishing the
National League with an eruption of home runs that seems to have no
ending. To date he has hit a home run every 9 trips to the plate. Henry
Aaron, the all-time home run leader, hit one every 18 trips to the
Pitchers caught up
with Puig eventually (today he’s batting .247). It remains to be seen
how long Bellinger can continue his assault on NL pitching. Led by
Bellinger and Justin Turner, the Dodgers have been the hottest team in
baseball for the past month, and the best show in town.
However, the more
things change, the more they remain the same. Leading 8-1 going into the
bottom of the sixth inning a week ago, Dodgers’ starting pitcher Kenta
Maeda seemed to be sailing. He had dominated, as most Dodgers starting
pitchers do, scattering only 3 hits, walking only 1 while striking out
5. Even though Maeda was on top of his game, last year’s Manager of the
Year Dave Roberts pulled him, as he is wont to do, for relievers who
went on to allow 6 runs in the remaining 4 innings as the Dodgers barely
squeaked out another win.
The dubious premise
upon which today’s managers rely in denigrating the ability of starting
pitchers to throw more than 100 pitches in the game seems to be that the
third time around in a lineup, batters perform better. Note, there is no
evidence at all that starting pitchers get weaker. No, all these
managers trumpet the sabermetricians’ credo that because batters get
better later in games, the answer is to replace the starting pitcher.
But since starting pitchers rarely are around by then, how can they
prove that the batters’ performance in later innings is due to starting
pitchers getting weaker? Don’t these stats just solidify the opinion
that starting pitchers getting weaker is not the reason for the
performance? In fact, don’t they yell for the proposition that starters
should stay in the game?
There have been 1,188
games played in the NL as of the writing of this column. There have been
only 17 complete games, or 1.4%. This is nothing short of absurd.
I was fortunate to
grow up during the Golden Years of baseball in the 1950s when players
knew how to play the game. They didn’t strike out that much. In fact,
striking out was ignominious. Pitchers’ duels between two starting
pitchers were things to be savored. Now there is no such thing as a
pitchers’ duel. Pitching is so minimized that manager of the year
Roberts actually pulled starting pitcher Ross Stripling four outs away
from a perfect game last year, an action that would have been
unthinkable in prior years.
One thing that has
not changed, however, is that pitching is still 80% of the game. The
problem is that managers now think that pitchers are wimps who can’t
throw more than 100 pitches in a game, so they pull dominating pitchers
and let inferior pitchers determine the outcome instead of staying with
the star. That’s akin to pulling Steph Curry or Lebron James or Russell
Westbrook or Aaron Rogers or Tom Brady in the fourth quarter and let
the bench warmers finish the game.
Despite the fact that
today’s pitcher are so coddled, they are also the most injury prone
baseball players in history. In the days of yore, a pitcher would toil
for 15 years, throw complete games 2/3 of the time, and rarely miss a
turn. Now young fuzzy cheeked kids like Julio Arias suffer serious
injuries at the drop of a hat. Anybody who doesn’t connect the absurd
tenderness of the way pitchers are raised and trained with this epidemic
of serious injuries is whistling a tune similar to “Dixie.”
I put it to you, if
the score is 1-0, who do you want in the game in the eighth and ninth
innings, Clayton Kershaw or Pedro Baez or any other name on the Dodgers
roster? I’m willing to bet that anybody with at least half a brain would
rather have Kershaw out there. But not Dave Roberts or any of the other
29 major league managers. And the game is much the worse for it.