MLB’s marriage with analytics altering baseball for the more serious

Remember a 1966 hit by the Statler Brothers, “Flowers on the Wall”? It was a clever, sarcastic song about tedium:

“Countin’ flowers on the wall, that don’t bother me at all. Playin’ solitaire ’til dawn with a deck of 51. Smokin’ cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo. Now don’t tell me I’ve nuthin’ to do.”

Those who recall it might now sing it. All day. And I apologize for that. But that song has replaced “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

We’ll start with Sunday, Yankees-Orioles. At 0-0 after five, both starters, Nelson Cortes and Bruce Zimmerman — the former having allowed three hits, the latter allowing four — had been pulled. But these are days of low intrigues and high analytics.

Both managers were content to have the game determined by transient relievers. And Aaron Boone’s side — despite having his bullpen, as he calls it, “all set up” — lost, 5-0, as his three consecutive relievers were smacked around.

What’s more, in an 8¹/₂-innings game, the teams totaled 26 strikeouts. Fifty-one outs, more than half strikeouts. Countin’ flowers on the wall.

Saturday, Diamondbacks-Mets, the score was 0-0 after 4¹/₂, when both starters were gone. Carlos Carrasco went five, allowing three hits; Zac Gallen went four, allowing two. In French, OMG is pronounced, sacré bleu!

Even early in the season — if two-plus weeks is early — such was incomprehensible. When does the pitching season begin? Maybe Thursday, Game 14, when Carrasco pitched into the eighth.

In the roughly 10 years since analytics have replaced common, here-and-now sense, the only daily, demonstrable changes to baseball have been for the extreme worse. The Game is now ruled and ruined by fantasy. Fundamentals — the myriad beauties of baseball — have been sacrificed at the Altar of Sophistry and Sorcery.

Aaron Boone stands on the mound as makes me a pitching change.
Aaron Boone stands on the mound as makes me a pitching change.
corey sipkin

Starting pitchers, paid tens of millions of dollars, must be prematurely pulled to meet the analytical demands that entrust games to here-today, gone-tomorrow relievers, while analytics demand that The Game become a home run-or-strikeout processional interrupted only by batters hitting directly into shifts.

Everyone sees it, everyone knows it, everyone recognizes it’s killing baseball, yet it persists. Baseball is ruled by math based on the broadest possibilities, ones that spread corrosion posed as wisdom.

Monday: Cubs 4, Rays 2, 24 strikeouts in 8 ¹/₂ innings. The designated hitters, added to NL games to artificially infuse more offense and excitement, struck out five times.

Ban the shift? How about a couple of bunts? Swinging the other way for a softly hit double down the unguarded line? That wouldn’t leave an impression? What’s coached and practiced during spring training, just throwing and swinging as hard as one can?

Rays DH Josh Lowe
Rays DH Josh Lowe struck out twice during the Rays’ loss to the Cubs Monday.
Getty Images

Sunday, Brewers 6-5 over the Cardinals in 8¹/₂. Such a game logically used to run about 2:30. But 12 pitchers later, it was 3:51. Solitaire with a deck of 51.

And rather than restore teachable, practical winning baseball to baseball, MLB capitulates by changing the rules to slap Band-Aids on the festering, fundamental deficiencies rather than defeat them by curing them.

Countin’ flowers on the wall … It’s not merely insane, it’s suicidal.

YES fill-in team fills air time with a bunch of no-nos

Sorry, but YES can’t leave Yankees telecasts to the team of Ryan Ruocco and Cameron Maybin, as it did for the three games in Detroit, this week. Simply put, that’s just not right.

Maybin, the newcomer, very much wants to please. Much too much. Not that there’s anyone at YES to provide authoritative good advice and counsel, but he has to learn it’s TV, thus no need to talk after every pitch, trying to explain the self-evident.

He has to shorten up on his swing, speak far less, lose the redundancies and clichés, not force it, stay alert but relax.

Cameron Maybin
Cameron Maybin
Getty Images

As for Ruocco, he again wants to be heard as an unctuous presence. He again seems more eager to be heard speaking for the approval of the Yankees than for the audience, and he grows overly excited, even amazed, by the commonplace.

But perhaps that’s exactly what YES wants and expects for the sophisticated sports city of New York.

How would we grade Rob Manfred on his ability to provide sagacious foresight? What comes below F? Or would we top his test paper with red penciled words that reads, “See me!”

As per the latest CBA, the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon now has an endorsement deal with a sports bookmaking operation as a “Brand Representative.”

But hey! MLB policy states it’s all good, nothing to see here, since baseball players aren’t allowed to promote betting on baseball — no matter if the general public doesn’t understand and doesn’t care about the distinction. Eureka! Problem solved.

Maybe Blackmon was chosen for his NBA and NFL gambling expertise, as opposed to his presence as an MLB All-Star?

Manfred didn’t see this coming? Or with MLB and so many of its teams now slobbering for their cuts of fans’ gambling losses, he’s in no position to blow any whistles? After all, he’s only the Commissioner of Baseball.

We often hear about the importance of catchers “framing the ball” to “steal” strikes. Yet, I’ve never been sure how home plate umps are able to peer over catchers’ shoulders in time to see the “framing.” Don’t they see the ball as it arrives, not as it’s caught?

Why not interview an MLB ump, especially a recently retired one, to ask about the efficacy of framing? Sure would beat a lot of the filler — stats, stats, stats — normally heard on pregame shows.

Keith sees game; Kay doesn’t

Call of the Week: Tuesday, Keith Hernandez, with lefty swinging Jeff McNeil up, runners on second and third: “The Giants are giving McNeil the first-base line. … I don’t like that.” Next pitch, McNeil hit a two-run double down the first-base line. gin!

Non-call of the Week: Sunday, O’s on first and second, no out. Anthony Santander pops to short. Michael Kay applied standard play-by-play: “Gleyber Torres battles it into the glove for the first out.” Santander was out, regardless. As the nearby second-base ump indicated, infield fly rule.

Michael Kay
Michael Kay

When does a come-on become a turn-off? When ABC/ESPN precedes its NBA playoffs telecasts with gasbag and rotten guess-artist Stephen A. Smith performing his standard, self-smitten, “I’m here to tell you!” lard-enriched baloney.

On April 10, when the Mets were 3-1, SNY ran a scroll noting that the Mets were on pace to finish the season “122-40.” Not that he wants to be thought of as a cynic, but reader Mark Yusko suggested, at the time, he has a funny feeling that won’t happen.

Wanna retch? New Jersey’s Ranney School, a private school that recruits athletes, this week defeated Asbury Park High School’s baseball team, 46-0. It was 35-0 after the first inning.

If Drew Brees, now with NBC, wants to be synonymous with a sports gambling operation entirely predicated on the public losing their money on bad-odds bets, he’s on his way. He must be hurting for dough, any kind of dough.

Good to see the Celtics, in Game 1 vs. the Nets, dressed in their traditional black uniforms. Their mascot, Lucky the Leprechaun, now mean mugs the TV camera.


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