Take away tank talk

The Buffalo News - - CONTINUED FROM THE COVER - COM­MEN­TARY

has cre­ated an en­vi­ron­ment where launch an­gle is king and bat­ters are try­ing to lift the ball over the de­fense rather than the hit-em-where-they-ain’t strat­egy we grew up with. And if you’re try­ing to un­der­cut the ball to hit it over the de­fense — or over the fence — what are you more likely to also do? Swing and miss.

Here’s a pos­si­ble fix: Draw a ver­ti­cal line from sec­ond base to the top of the dirt. Two in­field­ers must be on each side of the line. Pe­riod. None of this three guys on the right side, with the sec­ond base­man in short right field and the third base­man stand­ing be­hind sec­ond base.You say the shift is strat­egy. I say that’s not base­ball. We want of­fense, we have to cut way back on the shifts, which we’re see­ing now at Bisons games be­cause scout­ing re­ports on prospects have fil­tered down to the mi­nor leagues.

The in­de­pen­dent At­lantic League is test­ing rules this year in con­junc­tion with MLB and two in­field­ers on each side of sec­ond is one of the changes. There’s more that can be done. The At­lantic League also is mov­ing the mound back two feet. Some­day, MLB may have to lower the mound like it did in 1969 to help of­fenses.

How about the pro­posal that pitch­ers must face three bat­ters? It would ef­fec­tively be the end of the LOOGY (left-handed one out guy) that is now a fix­ture in ev­ery bullpen but causes de­lays in the game with in­ter­minable pitch­ing changes. We only had 42 com­plete games last sea­son. Start­ing pitch­ers av­er­aged less than 5 1/2 in­ning per start. Ev­ery guy comes out of the bullpen fir­ing 95 mph and they’re al­ways fresh. Bad news for of­fense.

The Rays started the trend of “The Opener” last year and the worst thing that hap­pened was they won 90 games. Now even the Yan­kees rum­bled in spring train­ing about go­ing the route of piec­ing a game to­gether with re­liev­ers at times rather than a No. 4 or No. 5 starter.

“Re­peated pitch­ing changes ob­vi­ously take a lot of time,” Man­fred said last month fol­low­ing own­ers meet­ings in Florida.

“They af­fect the pace of the game. That’s one ra­tio­nale. I think the idea of re­liev­ers hav­ing to go longer is ap­peal­ing in terms of pro­mot­ing the role of the start­ing pitcher, en­cour­ag­ing pitch­ers to pitch a lit­tle longer at the be­gin­ning of the game. You talk about player mar­ket­ing. His­tor­i­cally, some of our big­gest stars are start­ing pitch­ers, and you want to make sure those big stars are out there long enough that they are mar­keted, rec­og­niz­able.”

Man­fred also needs some anti-tank­ing ini­tia­tives. Re­ward teams who come close to the play­offs and just miss, and don’t re­ward the teams clearly hop­ing to lose 100-plus games to get top draft picks. That dam­ages fan­dom in cities with decades of great tra­di­tion. What’s there to watch this sum­mer in won­der­ful base­ball towns like Bal­ti­more, Detroit or Kan­sas City? And don’t get me started on what’s go­ing on in Mi­ami.

“Un­less you’re a die-hard fan and you’ve got a date or you just want to get ham­mered on $9 beers, it’s hard to see why you’d keep go­ing to the games of some teams,” Astros out­fielder Josh Red­dick told the New York Times a cou­ple of weeks ago. “It’s a bum­mer be­cause you are sup­posed to want to win games.”

Maybe the worst thing to hap­pen to base­ball was the back-to-back World Se­ries ti­tles by the Cubs (2016) and Astros (2017). In those two long-suf­fer­ing mar­kets, the cham­pi­onships were a cel­e­bra­tion af­ter decades of wait­ing, but it gave too many other teams the idea that tank­ing is the quick fix to win­ning.

And while the Cubs and Astros both ac­quired high draft picks be­cause they were ter­ri­ble, they ac­tu­ally be­came win­ners by aug­ment­ing Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Ge­orge Springer, Alex Breg­man and Car­los Cor­rea with savvy moves around them.In Chicago, think of Jon Lester, Jake Ar­ri­eta, Aroldis Chap­man, David Ross, Ben Zo­brist and Ad­di­son Rus­sell. In Houston, pon­der the ac­qu­si­tions of Brian McCann, Car­los Bel­tran and Justin Ver­lan­der. The in­ter­na­tional free agent sign­ing of Jose Al­tuve. It’s not re­motely all tank­ing.

It’s a prob­lem. It seems base­ball is full of them th­ese days. Good luck to Man­fred fix­ing them all and keep­ing la­bor peace with the play­ers. He has lots of hard work ahead.

Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred has given up on the idea of adding a pitch clock to Ma­jor League Base­ball games, but ex­pect the idea to resur­face in a cou­ple of years.

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