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Murph: Shining a spotlight Verducci’s warning about baseball


© Jasen Vinlove | 2021 Mar 6


Remember in middle school, when you had to write a report and it was really, really tempting to copy the World Book Encyclopedia and hand it in as your work?

Yeah, kids, I would never endorse that.

Until today’s Jock Blog.

The outstanding baseball writer from Sports Illustrated, Tom Verducci, wrote such a thorough, comprehensive, spot-on, dead-bullseye takedown of what ails modern baseball, that I kind of just want to cut-and-paste the whole thing and call it a Jock Blog.

Instead, to give you, dear reader, your money’s worth, I’ll add a few remarks in between my homage to Verducci and his scathing analysis of baseball’s downfall in style and entertainment in the analytics era.

The bottom line is this: I believe in baseball the way Kevin Costner believed in his “I believe” monologue in “Bull Durham”. But I also worry about baseball the way my Italian-American mother worried about all of her kids whenever we left the house as teenage drivers.

I wrote a Jock Blog last year about the perils of the three true outcomes, and Verducci must have read it. (Rimshot, please). Let me introduce to you his key paragraph about Game 6 of the 2020 World Series:

“Over the final 26 minutes of play, viewers saw only two balls put into play. Over the three hours, 28 minutes it took to play the 8 ½-inning game, they saw 32 balls in play, or one every 6 ½ minutes. They saw more pitchers (12) than hits (10). They saw 27 batters strike out, or 42% of all plate appearances”

I’m tempted to end the Jock Blog right there and wring my hands for the next year. But we have to address this. And according to Verducci’s piece, it is being addressed, starting with those minor-league rule changes you may have read about — limits on the shift, bigger bases to encourage stealing (as odd as that sounds), limits on pickoff moves, pitch clocks, robo-umps. I know sometimes my on-air persona can approximate the ultimate 20th-century diehard unable to cope with millennials, but I’m here to tell you that I am *on board* with all of these rule changes.

Something has to be done to get the game back to a crisp, athletic game. Not to romanticize the past, but to romanticize the past: Verducci points out that in the 1980s, games averaged 2:39 (as opposed to a laborious current 3:07) and 10-11 strikeouts per game, as opposed to the current 17 per.

And then there’s the whole idea that the style of play — fireballing pitchers used for just a few innings at a time, shifts stealing barreled-up baseballs, aces and complete games gone the way of the dial-up modem — that your Oakland A’s introduced under Sandy Alderson and Billy Beane is, in actuality, a stinker of a product.

Verducci quotes super agent Scott Boras, and I liked it:

“We have to get rid of the idea that it’s about probabilities,” Boras said. “Because that was never about the fan, was never about the strategies of the game that are most relevant to what we’re looking for as the most appealing game.”

Can I get an Amen, and can I quote my dear pal Howard Bryant of ESPN, who came on our show after the Blake Snell Incident in Game 6 and said: “They have to realize — we’re not here for the score. We’re here for the competition.”

Can I get a double Amen?

And again, I am going to copy the World Book and cut-and-paste Verducci with what might be my favorite paragraph of 2021:

“Analysts instructed managers to play the game in the manner of card-counters in a casino. It was strictly percentage baseball. Every event, like a card turning over, simply informed the next move based on large sample size math. Home runs were face cards. Strikeouts were just another out. Players were no longer players but “assets,” like cryptocurrency, with a designated numerical value, usually in terms of Wins Above Replacement.”

I’m going to get that tattooed on my back. Maybe in Olde English font.

Please, everybody go read that again. 

That’s not baseball.

Problem is, in 2021, it is baseball.

Let the record show the Jock Blog is out here firing flares and warning signs. Take heed, ball fans. Let’s make it better.

 

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