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Juan Marichal and Warren Spahn: Numbers that Mattered

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Pitching today on the big league level, has become all about the numbers. Velocity being the big separator of who is sought over by teams over other quality players. Throwers rather than guys who know how to pitch has become the way of thinking. The snappy, brilliant, Ivy League geniuses who make the decisions on who should be signed and who should pitch in what ever situation, have ruined our game. There I said the magic word. RUINED! Personally, numbers give me the shakes. Seriously, how many of us enjoyed math class.

Besides velocity, we have had to learn a whole new vocabulary of pitching terminologies, to go along with all the batting goobely gob of analytical terms that are in every sentence of everything we read about before and after games. Numbers are used for projection, evaluation and the value of players. For instance, MLB Network, in its effort to inform us about Braves starter Max Fried, talked about his 2.25 ERA in the regular season and that: “He was elite in terms of opponent exit velocity, hard-hit percentage, expected slugging percentage and barrel percentage.”

What the heck are they talking about? And who cares? You know who cares? The “I never really played this game” people not in uniform, who make all the decisions today in baseball. They need those numbers to evaluate players. They do not have the ability to see things with their own eyes like true baseball men have done for over 100 years.

You want to hear numbers? Here you go. On July 2, 1963, Juan Marichal pitched a 16-inning shutout against the Milwaukee Braves who had 42 year old Warren Spahn on the mound. Spahn threw an equally amazing 15.1 innings of shutout ball  before Willie Mays won it 1-0 with a home run. Marichal threw 227 pitches; Spahn threw 201. Marichal went on to pitch his next regular scheduled start 4 days later and never missed a start after that. By the way, those guys back then would also throw batting practice between starts.

You can look up the box score on that game and there will be no mention of velocity, spin ratio, exit velocity, heart rate, shoe size or anything else that means nothing to true baseball fans. We never needed all those equations to know what we had just seen on a baseball diamond.

We knew a pitcher threw “Hard” or “Painted the corners.” We would say, “There was some mustard on that one.” “Great breaking ball.” Those were the parts of the baseball vocabulary that were easy for everyone to understand. We didn’t need to look up in a book an explanation of what was being said about a player.

Numbers and creative mathematical formulas are now the blueprint for everything in baseball today. Whether it is used to evaluate a prospect or a player in a trade, it is the new normal. They use these algorithms to decide everything from where to position fielders, making up batting orders, what pitches to throw and pitching changes during live games.

Ask yourself this, how many new managers in the past 5 years were veteran baseball men? Not many. Why? Because they would resist the interference from these front office people who have now taken over everything from writing out a lineup to how many pitches a 6′ 4″ 220 lb. 30 year old can throw before his arm explodes. My belief is that if Gerrit, $324 million dollar, Cole could have finished his game on Friday the Yankees would have advanced to the ALCS. His removal after 5.1 innings and 94 pitches was the decision by the genius analytics crew in suits up stairs and not Aaron Boone’s who was in uniform.

Do you think Juan Marichal or Warren Spahn thought their arms would become mush throwing over 200 pitches in a game? Not a chance and that’s why they are both in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Marichal pitched for 16 years accumulating 3,507 innings and Spahn threw 5,234 innings over a 21 year career. Those are the only numbers you need to know.

 

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