December 30th, 2013

Yes-The Game Has Changed

I don’t think there’s any doubt that the baseball games we watch today are vastly different than those ten years ago. Well, maybe a bit longer. The point is that the game has changed.

I enjoy it even more now than I did then. And believe me, I loved it then.

How and why has the game changed?

There are countless reasons. I’ll share a few that I think are pertinent. You will likely have many more. But for me, these are the most obvious reasons things have changed in the game we love.

For me, one of the most prominent changes has been the increase in use of the “cutter.” The cut fastball, used by pitchers to get late life on a pitch from the pitcher’s glove side has made a tremendous difference in the way in which a pitcher approaches a hitter. The cutter comes on fastball counts. It comes at any count. And it has that late bite that differentiates it from a slider or a fastball. It’s an awesome pitch. Thank you Mariano Rivera for making it an art form.

Teams employ many more individuals charged with keeping players healthy. More trainers. More specialists. Nutritionists. Mental health experts. Motivational personnel. Each plays a part in keeping a player on the field. And healthy. Fitness and core conditioning are crucial. More today than in the past.

Research and the availability of data has changed the way teams deploy and obtain their players. Especially on defense. “The shift” has taken away common hitting zones for many guys with consistent tendencies. Defensive shifts will increase. They will continue to be impactful.

Research guides teams to players that fit the team’s goals and objectives. Every possible statistic is available instantly. Advance scouting is as simplified as pulling up a computer screen. Knowledge is power. Teams have knowledge.

Showcase and travel team events have exposed players at an earlier age and for a longer period of time than in the past. It is not unusual for a player to be involved in 120 games a year if the player is serious about his future and is on the radar of professional scouts. Marginal players can increase their skills markedly by being involved in games and leagues beyond those available on their high school team’s schedule.

By the time a pitcher is selected in the First Year Player Draft he may have an untold number of innings on his shoulder and elbow. That may be good in some cases. Very bad in others. There is no way to get the toothpaste back in the tube. That is not going to change. Pitchers will come to professional baseball with loads of innings pitched. It’s actually scary. And perhaps why we see so many pitcher injuries.

On the positive side, hitters come to the game having had many, many more at-bats than in the past. Repetition is crucial. Repetition and seeing live pitching refines hitters.

While we have always had good coaches, we have coaches now that are much more aware of the components required to become a good baseball player. Sure, there are bad coaches. But for the most part, ask a professional player about the baseball influences in their lives. “My dad and coach…….” Baseball dads know the game. Coaches know the game. Believe it or not, they may be even more involved today than in the past. And yes, they were involved in the past. But today-playing games in junior high school and high school trumps eating for some families.

Conditioning. Nutrition. Awareness. Most good athletes know what is going in their body from a nutritional standpoint. The research, information and availability of natural foods has helped young athletes mature in a stronger and healthier manner.

Social networking, the internet, and sharing of information between and among peers and coaches has never been as important or more prominent. That won’t change. Sharing of information and learning from one another is here to stay.

Finally- back where I began. Pitching. Relief pitchers throw in the high, high 90’s. In the past, only a few could do that. Most power pitchers were starters. Today, we have power pitchers in the pen that blow hitters away with fastballs in the high 90’s and then throw in the cutter or slider along the way. They have awesome arms.

And yes, it seems to me that pitchers are getting even bigger and stronger. Bigger, stronger and with better command and control. Tougher to hit. Big guys are hitting fewer home runs.

Yes-I agree. Many of these components existed before. But it is the depth and intensity and commitment that I believe has changed our game. For the good. And oh yes, don’t forget the cutter.

Follow me on MLBPipeline.com and MLB.com as well as on twitter @BerniePleskoff.
And as always, thanks for reading my work.

That’s it. I’m done. And please, please have a healthy and Happy New Year.