The focus on pitcher workloads–largely through tracking pitch counts–is perhaps the most heated area of contention between old-school baseball people and outside performance analysts. Baseball Prospectus has been a big part of the debate, with Rany Jazayerli and Keith Woolner developing and refining tools that measure workload and investigating the effects, short- and long-term, of throwing a lot of pitches.
At the other end of the spectrum are coaches and ex-players, many of whom have been in the game since before Woolner and Jazayerli were born. These men believe that pitch counts are a secondary tool at best, and at the extreme, proffer the notion that the real problem is that pitchers today are babied, not like the men years ago who always went nine innings. Or 12. Or even 26.
Lost in that line of thought is the fact that pitching is harder now. No one counted pitches 90 years ago because, to a certain extent, there was no need to do so. Pitching a baseball game from start to finish required a level of effort well within the ability of the men assigned to do so. Now, pitching nine innings of baseball at the major-league level requires a much greater effort, one that may be too much for one human arm to handle.
Baseball is full of bounces, and not just the path of a Jacque Jones double as it skips across the Metrodome turf (or a Carlos Martinez homer as it skips off Jose Canseco’s head). Rather, teams can expect a bounce in attendance when they move into a new facility, facilitating a higher payroll, a more competitive club, and ultimately, it is hoped, a couple of pennants to hang on the outfield wall.
Or at least, once upon a time, they could have. The standing-room-only precedent established in places like Toronto and Baltimore and Cleveland no longer seems to hold. Attendance in Detroit, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh has already regressed to the levels those teams had grown accustomed to prior to the opening of their new stadiums. Attendance in Cincinnati is up, but only barely–and this with reasonable ticket prices and a fun team on the field. Nobody expects the honeymoon to last forever, but the reinvigorated relationships between ballpark and city that the new stadiums were supposed to engender have lasted shorter than a Liz Taylor nuptial.
Since the debut of SkyDome in 1989, 13 of the 26 teams in existence at that time have opened new parks. Two more will open new facilities next year. It has been the longest sustained period of new stadium construction in baseball history. Call them mallparks or, as I prefer, Retroplexes. Either way, there’s plenty of evidence that the ball isn’t bouncing quite as highly these days.
There are days when I wonder why I didn’t call this column Under The Needle or something similar. The reason for this is steroids; it seems that no matter what the topic is or where I am, when people talk baseball with me, they’ll bring the conversation back to steroids, and likely to Barry Bonds. Sure, I opened myself to this with my offer to help Barry get tested (which was politely declined by the MLBPA) last year after Bonds said that he wanted to be tested. Why did I offer? I wanted to make a point much different that the Rick Reillys of the world.
I am reasonably sure that Bonds would have passed.
Completely sure? No. Heck, I could have had something in my meatless chicken patty tonight that would trip the light on a urinalysis. The steroid issue is clouded by a couple issues–it’s easier to say ‘steroids’ than Beta-2 agonists or chorionic gonadotrphin, and it’s simpler to explain changes. Ignore new bats, new ballparks, better techniques, dietitans, personal trainers, video breakdowns, and a year-round focus, but blame some drug that’s been lapped by the field. Easy, but wrong.
The Orioles may land two players in the All-Star Game. The Rockies are carrying too many disappointments. The Mets may have rushed Jose Reyes. These and other nuggets out of Baltimore, Colorado, and New York in the latest Prospectus Triple Play.