Shame on the players and owners for agreeing to a collective bargaining agreement last year while continuing to stick us with the travesty of September baseball. Commissioner Rob Manfred seems earnest about addressing the pace of action disease that is eating away at the sport, but to continue to allow the pennant races to be muddled with more pitching changes, longer games and less action is nothing short of negligent.
Expanded rosters have always been a competitive travesty, in that the sixth month of the season is played under different rules than the first five months, and teams often compete with an unequal number of active players. But because of the growth in reliever usage, the travesty now is also a commercial one because it is harming the game’s appeal.
On Sept. 1 the Angels and the Rangers played a four-hour, 33-minute slog that didn’t even include a bottom of the ninth. Managers Mike Scioscia and Jeff Banister used 15 pitchers for an average of just six batters faced. Eleven of the 15 pitchers lasted one inning or less. A ball was put in play on average once every four minutes, 12 seconds.
Then, last Thursday, the Yankees and the Red Sox staged an exhibition of everything that is wrong with baseball in 2017: three hours and 44 minutes in which the ball was not in play in 40% of the plate appearances. In addition, New York catcher Gary Sanchez highlighted the foolishness of an unlimited number of timeouts by trudging to the mound for meetings with his pitcher four times in the ninth inning alone.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, September games last year brought an 11% increase in players used per game (from 28.5 in the first five months to 31.6), a 15% increase in pitchers used per game (8.1 to 9.3) and an additional three minutes to play a nine-inning game.
When I asked one senior club executive why baseball continues to allow September baseball to get worse and worse, he said, “It’s easy to fix—just call up as many as you want but for each series designate 25 as active. But the players don’t like it. They’re worried about service time. They think if you limit the active rosters teams won’t call up as many players.”
So for the sake of minor leaguers who become the 10th, 11th and 12th relievers available to managers like Scioscia and Banister, baseball continues to put out an inferior product in what should be the most exciting time of the regular season.
• Matt Harvey of the Mets will make the 97th start of his career on Thursday. He has failed to hit 96 mph (rounding up) only twice, both of which have come in his last two starts. The first of those was his final outing before going on the DL in mid-June with a broken bone in his shoulder and the second was when he returned last Saturday in Houston. The spin rate on his four-seam fastball has dropped from 2,338 rpm in 2015 (16th best among pitchers with at least 1,000 measured pitches), to 2,232 in 2016, to 2,192 in 2017—a below average rate.
• Yankees pitcher Sonny Gray is a tinkerer who is blessed and cursed with the ability to throw many different pitches. For instance, here are his most-used pitches in each of his past three starts: changeup (39), four-seamer (43), sinker (34). His curveball use fluctuates wildly—it’s excellent, but the Yankees can’t figure out why hitters get good swings on it—and now he’s invented a pitch that doesn’t even have a name. He throws a splitter/change hybrid around 90 mph in which he changes the grip, sometimes splitting his index and middle fingers and sometimes his ring and middle fingers. That’s very weird. “I saw him throw one that moved more than any pitch I’ve seen,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said.
• CC Sabathia in 254 starts with the Indians and the Brewers: 117-73. CC Sabathia in 250 starts with the Yankees: 117-73.
• Lookalikes … Through first 158 career games:
Runs Batted In
• Xander Bogaerts hit .140 against the Yankees this year, the fourth lowest ever by a Red Sox player against the Yankees. His .380 OPS was the worst by a Boston player against New York except for Chuck Schilling’s .367 mark in 1963.
• Aaron Judge sure can fill up a stat sheet. He struck out 30 times against the Red Sox this year, the most by any Yankee against any team ever, passing the 28 punchouts by Curtis Granderson against Boston in 2011. Judge also broke Reggie Jackson’s club record for strikeouts in a month back in June (39), tied it in July and broke it in August (41).
• The Yankees have won an MLB-low four games without a home run this year. The record low in a full season is five by the 1999 Detroit Tigers. New York's franchise-record low is seven in 2012.
• How much do Pittsburgh's pitchers love to throw fastballs? The average major league four-seam fastball is 93 mph. The Pirates have outdistanced every other team in the number of above-average heaters (94+) thrown by more than 1,000.
• Here are the MLB batting averages on pitches based on mph: