Seated pregame in the dugout next to St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny during his visit to Spring Training this year, Whitey Herzog provided some interesting perspective on today’s game versus those he managed for the team in the ’80s.
Central to the Hall of Fame Manager’s observations is the acceptance of not making contact.
“It’s because a lot of people strikeout too much–and that’s just not the Cardinals,” stated Herzog. “When you strike out 150 times a year and you’ve got a team that strikes out 1400 times a year, you’re going to leave a lot of guys standing still. And I don’t think that anybody in history ever got a raise for striking out.”
Last season, there were six teams that struck out at least 1400 times. Milwaukee and San Diego reached the 1500 mark. By comparison, in 1987 only one team eclipsed 1100. The strikeout totals began to rise in the late 90s as power numbers reached historic levels.
But as baseball has returned to more recognizable power production could that also result in strikeouts declining?
“I watch a lot of baseball, you’ve only got two hitters that I can see in the National League that choke up two-three inches on the bat with two strikes and they’re both outstanding,” pointed out Herzog of Anthony Rizzo and Joey Votto.
“When they get two strikes, they go up on the bat a couple of inches to keep from striking out. Now when you’ve got other guys up there swinging from their tails, especially when there’s a runner on second and all they’ve got to do is hit a ground ball through the middle, when you can get a run without getting a base hit if you do it right fundamentally–early in the game, they’ll play back and concede a run. Most of them will. It bothers me a little bit. The strikeout’s become a very big thing.”
“The ball was jacked up,” he stated. “The ball was flying for crying out loud, I saw that right away. Then I took a ’16 ball apart and a ’15 ball apart–the rubber insert was the same, bounced the same height but you had more glue in last year’s ball. It was wrapped tighter with the twine and so forth over the year before.
“The Cardinals hit 17 pinch-hit home runs–they hadn’t hit 17 pinch-hit home runs in the last 13 years, so that tells you something. But it was amazing how they hit and it was amazing how they struggled the year before when they won 100 games with their great pitching. So we’ll see. Is the ball going to be jacked up again? When the Commissioner wants shorter games? How are you going to have shorter games when you’re throwing 300 pitches now in a ballgame, where we used to throw 250-260 in a 9-inning game.”
GET RID OF RADAR GUNS
Forget about too many commercials slowing the game down. Herzog points back to the difference in the number of pitches being thrown.
“In the 30 teams in the big leagues, we have too many throwers and not enough pitchers,” he said. “One of the reasons for that and I really wish they’d give this some thought, get rid of the radar games in the stadiums where the young pitchers learn how to pitch instead of worrying about how hard they’re throwing.
“You don’t have to throw 95 if you’ve got movement on a 92. And once you try to overthrow, it ain’t gonna have movement. They come in ‘what’s the gun say’? Who cares what the gun says? Get them out. Why do you go 3-2 on every hitter? Because they’re throwers,” continued Herzog. “They’re missing by a foot. Hitters aren’t going to swing at pitches a foot off the plate. Make the hitter make a mistake. Go two inches, three inches outside hard.”
The White Rat then referenced a lesson learned from a fellow Hall of Famer.
“Satchel Paige, who I played with and I used to sit with out in the bullpen and so forth because I was never playing, he said to me more mistakes are made inside than outside,” shared Herzog. “He always preached that. He said when you make the hitter make a mistake, you make him make the mistake outside. I guarantee you talk to Mike Matheny or you talk to Yadi, outside two or three inches off the plate, two strikes, the hitter will swing at that pitch a lot of times.”
photo credit: STLBaseballWeekly.com;