Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Lost Art

There used to be a time when a starting pitcher with over a 5.00 era would get released or sent down to the minors.  In looking back at all those hours spent studying the backs of baseball cards and memorizing players' stats, I don't recall seeing many pitchers with such astronomical era's still pitching at the major league level.

Nick BlackburnTonight the Minnesota Twins (10-26) are in Detroit to take on the second place Tigers (18-18) at 7:05 CT.  Nick Blackburn (1-4, 7.18) is scheduled to take the hill versus Rick Porcello (3-3, 5.18). 

Now, a couple years ago, say like 2009, this match up would be one worth watching.  Blackburn went 11-11 with a 4.03 era and Porcello did a little better going 14-9 with a 3.96 era.  Both were career years for these pitchers who, at that time, were showing promise of being a good number 3 or 4 starter respectively.  However, instead of trending upward, Blacky and Porcello have spiralled downward and, once upon a time, wouldn't even be getting a sniff at a starting spot in the rotation.

But this is 2012.  Times have changed.  Where should I begin? 
  • the mound was lowered in the 80's
  • the strike zone has shrunk
  • the baseball seams are so non-existent that it's like throwing a cue ball
  • mechanics have been overly simplified causing pitchers to use less legs and more arm
  • a new baseball is used whenever one sniffs the ground
  • pitch counts are overly enforced
  • the rotation consists of 5 guys instead of 4
  • knuckleballs, curveballs, and splitters are discouraged by pitching coaches
  • a quality start is considered giving up 3 runs in 6 innings (4.5 era overall)
  • complete games are almost non-existent
  • Tommy John surgery has become an epidemic
  • baseball trainers and agents determine how many innings a guy throws per year
  • batter's were and maybe still are pumped up on 'roids and HGH
....I could go on and on.

My point is, Major League Baseball has consistently made it more and more difficult for the pitcher to succeed, going with the notion that fans want to see lot of home runs, lots of pitchers, and 14-10 ball games.  Ironically, though, at the same time, they are also desperately trying to find ways to speed up the game.  For instance, it's rumored that they will not allow the pitcher to fake a throw to third and look to first when runners are on first and third.  Sure, that'll speed up the game. 

A good old fashioned pitcher's duel where each starter throws a complete game and the score ends up something like 2-1, guaranteed, would only take about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.  A 14-10 game usually takes up to 4 hours or more.  However, Major League Baseball wants the latter with the time of the former?  Don't they also understand that the most boring and time consuming part about baseball is the pitching changes?

All of this, however, doesn't excuse the way that Blackburn and Porcello are pitching this year.  Despite all of the road blocks, there are pitchers out there that still dominate.  They are just becoming more and more scarce.  The gap between the good, the bad and the ugly is widening and the ugly (Blackburn) are still able to hang around starting rotations because, frankly, there's no one else to take their spots.

Pitching has really become a lost art over the years.  It's a scarey trend for guys like me who appreciate a good pitcher's duel.  With the way things are going, let's just hope that Major League Baseball doesn't decide to make the pitcher the guy who feeds the pitching machine.  I think I would have to stop watching at that point.

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