The Yankee-Astros series: a showcase for what’s wrong with baseball

A few numbers from the ALCS...

Let me start by saying that, unlike a number of other sports fans, I don’t hate Joe Buck; I also don’t love him. When it comes to Joe Buck, I’m Switzerland without the chocolate.

On the other hand, I do enjoy listening to John Smoltz. The Hall of Fame pitcher notices the small stuff and points it out, which is what I believe those former-player-now-color-guys are supposed to do, but often don’t.

Nevertheless…

After the Astros beat the Yankees in Game 6 of the ALCS on a walk-off homer by Jose Altuve – an admittedly exciting moment – Joe and John talked about what a great game and series it had been.

Really?

Despite some good moments like Altuve’s home run, when you look at the big picture the 2019 ALCS showcased what’s wrong with the way baseball is currently being played.  

Analytics fans believe numbers reveal the truth, so let’s look at a few.

The games took too long to play

MLB is freaked out by the length of games unless they figure they can make some extra money in the postseason; then they get greedy and cram in as many commercials as possible. They’re like a 300-hundred pounder who knows he needs to lose weight, but then gets handed a box of those previously-mentioned Swiss chocolates.

Take a look at the numbers.

During the 2019 regular season nine-inning games averaged 3 hours and 5 minutes, which everybody thinks is too long.

Game 6 of the ALCS was nine innings long, but took 4 hours and 9 minutes to play; Game 4 was also nine innings long, but took 4 hours and 19 minutes to play.

During the Yanks-Astros six-game series they managed to play only one nine-inning game that took less than three hours and their 11-inning game went 4 hours and 49 minutes or at least that’s what I’m told because I gave up when it went to extra innings and went to bed.

And you can’t blame it all on the commercials.  

Too many pitching changes

These days a lot of managers cover their ass by following the numbers religiously and make pitching changes based on what’s happened in the past while ignoring what’s happening in front of them.

It doesn’t matter if a pitcher is dealing that night; if the pitch count or match-up numbers say jerk him, jerk him. That way if the shit hits the fan or a ball hits the cheap seats the manager can always say don’t look at me, I did what the numbers told me to do.

One of the reasons the ALCS games went so long was the tendency of both managers to go the bullpen at the drop of a batting helmet.

Game 6 required 14 different pitchers, in Game 4 it was 13, in Game 3 it was 10, in Game 2 – the 11-inning game – it was 15. The Yanks and Astros played only two games that required less than 10 pitchers.

Meanwhile, fans had to watch all those guys warm up unless they were watching on TV which meant yet another visit from Flo and the gang that works at Progressive Insurance.

Too much reliance on the home run

If the only thing you care about is home runs the ALCS was just your thing; between them, the Astros and Yanks hit 18 of them.

But relying on the home run meant a whole lot of base runners standing around waiting for someone to hit one and that meant little action on the base paths.

Neither team put down a sac bunt (if you think that’s a good thing, I’ve got a long argument for you that I’ll make at some future date) and between both teams there were a total of five stolen bases in the series.

The 2014 Royals could have done that on a good night.

But as someone once said (OK…it was me) it’s not hitting home runs that’s the problem, it’s trying to hit home runs and failing.

In situations where a single would score a run, too many guys were still swinging for the fences.  In 81 at bats with a runner in scoring position, the Yankees and Astros combined for 11 hits; a batting average of .136.

Too few balls in play

When batters try to hit home runs, most of them have to start their swing early in order to pull the ball and that makes them easy to fool. They’re swinging before they’re sure what pitch they’re dealing with.  

Between them the Yankees and Astros struck out 118 times.

Combine that with the 49 walks and that’s 167 plate appearances without much action unless you count bat flips, arguing with an umpire and glaring at the pitcher while walking back to the dugout.

Bad defense

There were some terrific defensive plays – especially in Game 6 – but over the course of the series the Yanks made five errors, the Astros made two.

To put that in perspective, during the regular season the St. Louis Cardinals made 66 errors in 162 games. If the Yanks made errors in the regular season at the same rate they made them in the ALCS, over 162 games they’d rack up 135.

That’s the overall picture, now let’s get specific. (And if you’re a Gary Sanchez fan you might want to skip this next part because I’m going to pick on him.)

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, catching was considered so important that if a guy was good at receiving and calling pitches, teams would excuse his lack of offense. They figured what he did over the course of 150 pitches was more important than what he did over the course of three or four at bats.

Now it’s reversed; if a catcher hits enough home runs, teams will excuse his poor defense.

Gary Sanchez hit 34 regular season homers so the Yankees want him in their lineup; the home plate umpires standing behind him might not share that feeling. In 2017 Sanchez led the American League in passed balls with 16; in 2018 he did it again with 18.

The TV guys pointed out Sanchez got his number of passed balls down to seven in 2019, but the Yankees catcher still managed two passed balls in the last two games of the ALCS, his third passed ball of the 2019 postseason – the same number of passed balls Salvador Perez had in 2017 while catching 115 games.

Sanchez also missed pitches that didn’t show up in the scorebook because there was no runner on base; it looked like home plate umpire Marvin Hudson deserved combat pay.

The best catchers receive borderline pitches while subtly angling their knees and mitts to make those pitches look like strikes; during Game 6 Sanchez looked he was using a snow shovel to fight off a swarm of rabid bats.

In conclusion

Like I’ve said in the past; if you like the way the game is currently being played, no problem.

But if you don’t like watching four-hour games, batter after batter striking out, shoddy defense, pitcher after pitcher warming up and base runners standing around waiting for someone to hit a bomb, the ALCS was a warning of things to come.

If that kind of baseball wins a World Series, it adds credibility to that approach.

Last Saturday morning I posted a piece that said if either the Yankees or Astros won the World Series baseball would get more boring; last Saturday night the Yankees and Astros proved it.

Go Nationals.