Keith and Ron are Old
During the sixth inning of last night’s telecast — while John Maine was struggling — Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling suggested that the Mets pitchers have a tendency to lose focus at times, and Darling added that sometimes the pitchers gave too much credit to the opposing batters. Well, I have to completely disagree on both counts.
First, I don’t think John Maine lost his focus during his tough sixth inning — I think he simply ran into some trouble, and needed a chance to work out of it. “Back in the day”, a pitcher would run into one or two innings like Maine’s, and were expected to bulldog through it en route to a 7- or 8-inning outing. These innings of struggle are more noticeable today because pitchers are generally not allowed to pitch beyond the sixth — so the evaluation of their performance is more concentrated and more closely scrutinized.
Maine got two quick outs (one thanks to a throw out on a SB attempt) in that sixth inning, then Chase Utley hit a crazy single that bounced off the first base bag. Maine should have been out of the inning, but instead had to face Ryan Howard with a runner on and a slim 2-0 lead. Predictably, Maine was ultra-careful with Howard, and similarly careful with Pat Burrell, before inducing a grounder from Geoff Jenkins to end the inning. Personally, I don’t see walking Howard and Burrell as “a loss of focus” but rather smart pitching. And I disagree with Darling’s insinuation that Maine gave “too much credit” to those Phillies sluggers — both Howard and Burrell (and Jenkins for that matter) have the ability to blast one over the fence at any time. I’m curious to see (not hear) how Darling would have approached such a situation.
We can excuse Ronnie, though, because today’s game is very different from the era in which he played. Darling didn’t have to face a lineup like all teams have today — if he was in a tough spot, it was unlikely he’d have to worry about pitching around more than one or two guys. Most lineups in the late 1980s / early 1990s had only two guys with 20 homers or more. Today, teams have sluggers from top to bottom, and as a result a mistake by a pitcher is more costly.
But don’t listen to me — check for yourself. Take, for example, the 1988 Mets. Their 152 HRs were by far the most in the NL that year — 30 more than the second-best Reds — and the Mets lineup was considered a powerhouse. Their .256 average was good for second in the league (the Cubs hit .261), and pitchers feared the fact they had three guys (HoJo, Kevin McReynolds, Strawberry) with more than 20 homers. However, if you put those stats into the 2007 season, you have a mediocre offense — about on par with the Washington Nationals or Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2007, ten NL teams hit more than 152 homers (the eleventh hit 151), and all but two teams hit better than .256. It’s no wonder that Mets pitchers give opposing batters credit — the majority they face are dangerous in one way or another.
Ironically, I’m an “old school” baseball guy, who usually agrees with the throwback ideals that Darling and Hernandez spout about during their broadcasts. But on this one point, I have to disagree. The game has changed, and Ron and Keith need to understand that — and adjust their analysis accordingly.