Last week, our distinguished panel discussed the record number of home runs in this year’s World Series.
This week, the subjects turn to pitching, as well as other current trends in the game.
Again, many thanks to:
• Paul Manzardo, former North Idaho College baseball coach and current Lake City High baseball coach. He also coached a Coeur d’Alene Little League all-star team that was two wins away from advancing to the Little League World Series;
• Zach Clanton, former Lake City and Lewis-Clark State pitcher, and current head coach at Wenatchee Valley College. He also played on a Coeur d’Alene Little League all-star team that was one win away from Williamsport; and
• Kyle Johnson, former Lake City and Washington State outfielder, who played in the Angels and Mets organizations, reaching as high as the Triple-A level. These days, he’s executive director of a sports training facility in Post Falls, where he works with younger baseball players.
Remember, they responded to these questions between Game 5 of the World Series on Oct. 29 and Game 6 on Oct. 31. Since then, obviously, the Astros won their first championship, beating the Dodgers in seven games.
What are your thoughts on the pitching in the World Series in particular, and at the big league level in general? Sometimes you see batters take some pitches and foul off others, which runs up the pitch count. There seems to be fewer pitchers that can just blow the ball past hitters. Then once you get into the bullpen, those guys have to nibble because they know if they make a mistake, it’s going to get tattooed. Thoughts?
Johnson: “Professional level perspective — this thought on baseball has changed. It used to be, take pitches to get the starting pitcher’s pitch count up, so he can get out of the game and you get to the bullpen. At the big league level, that’s not the plan. Bullpens are too good, throw too hard, and have nasty stuff. The majority of big league teams have shutdown guys for the eighth and ninth. You don’t want to face them when you’re down. Therefore, the philosophy is to get your pitch and not miss. The reason you see so many takes and foul balls, isn’t necessarily because they’re trying to drive up the pitch count. It’s because they’re waiting for one pitch in their spot. And, once that pitch comes, they crush it. If that pitch never comes, they battle and compete. That’s all you can do.
“Lower level perspective — in high school or Little League, there are only a few plus arms. Therefore, yes, you want to run up the pitch count so you can get to those guys that maybe don’t have the velocity or the command.
“I think pitching in the postseason is interesting. From the manager’s perspective, he’s going to put the guys out there he trusts. Unfortunately, you’re asking guys to do things they haven’t done all season — for example, putting your closer in to throw two innings. Or bringing one of your starters in late in the game to shut down an inning. I don’t like the idea of asking your guys to do things they haven’t done all year. Your job as a coach is to put players in a position to succeed. Asking them to go out of their comfort zone doesn’t support that. However, it is the World Series and you want to pull out all the stops.”
Manzardo: “My view is that the hitters are totally dialed in and extremely confident and focused. This confidence puts the pitchers at a disadvantage, because no matter who comes to the plate they are all confident and hitting is contagious. This excitement is great for the game; spectators want to see good offense and outstanding defense. Overall, I feel the pitching (velocity and location) has been pretty good despite the outcome of the games. The hitters in this series are extremely hot on both sides of the fence.”
Clanton: “We will disagree a little bit here. Having worked at Driveline Baseball (Major League Baseball consultant) this past summer training pitchers, fastball velocity is higher than ever. The average fastball in major league baseball is 92.5 mph; that climbs to 94.5 for bullpen arms. That is a huge part of the emphasis in home runs these days — guys are throwing harder and producing more swings and misses which leads to less chances to string multiple hits together. It’s tough to see based off this World Series because of how good the offense has been, but the pitching is just as impressive in its own right.”
Is this type of baseball good for the future of the game? What other topics would you guys be bringing up if you were gathered together, talkin’ baseball?
Manzardo: “I think this World Series has caused a lot of excitement in our society, because of the number of runs and homeruns by both teams and the ‘refuse to lose’ mentality displayed by both teams. As a spectator it’s hard to dislike any of these teams.”
(Other topics): “Does physical size matter in college or MLB? Drills to improve launch angle and exit velocity?”
Clanton: “I think this is great for the game. Hopefully it’s showing youth coaches that they should jump on board. Jose Altuve proves to you that you don’t have to be the biggest guy in the world but if you swing with a great swing path and you swing hard you can do damage. Selfishly I wish the National League would adopt the DH, so that we can see more of this.”
Johnson: “Are they using harder balls for the postseason to increase rating and the appeal of baseball? Everyone loves homers. Over the last 10 years, teams have gotten away from buying free agents and are focusing on their farm systems. What is the success when built from within vs. landing big-time free agents?”
“Strikeouts are just another out. ... Big league coaches don’t view strikeouts as detrimental as they did in the past.”
“At what age should you start worrying about launch angle?”
“Exit velocity over launch angle for the young player. Hit the ball hard consistently.”
Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@CdAPressSports.