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The World Series opens tonight with the Washington Nationals at the Houston Astros. In an era that uses more relief pitchers than ever, both teams feature three ace starting pitchers, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Zack Greinke for the Astros, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin for the Nationals.

The Astros, who beat the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series, are the most prestigious front office operation at present as they seem to have best implemented much of the new thinking in baseball analytics.

Old time sabermetricians like Bill James tended to take a Nature over Nurture approach, focusing on how to look at minor league statistics to find overlooked guys with the specific skills that would mean they could contribute in the majors.

But after awhile, everybody was doing that, so there weren’t many overlooked natural talents left. So in recent years, the Astros have taken the lead at developing better Nurture, such as teaching their hitters how to maximize their chances of hitting home runs rather than mere hard line drives.

With pitchers, they’ve followed the strategy of trading for star talent that wasn’t being exploited fully on other teams.

When they acquired Verlander from the Detroit Tigers, he was a 34 year old near-Hall of Famer who appeared to be in the natural decline phase of his fine career. But the Astros had a complex plan for how to optimize his pitch selection. Since arriving in Houston he has returned to his age 28-level of dominance and now appears a lock for the Hall of Fame.

Greinke has stayed the same since arriving in Houston this season, although leaving the National League meant he can’t use his bat in the American League, with its Designated Hitter rule. This season in Arizona, Greinke hit .271 with a .583 slugging average, making him one of the more dangerous batters in the National League. (Greinke is also great at fielding bunts. He suffered mental health problems early in his career after going 5-17 at age 21, but his team, then the Kansas City Royals, were impressively understanding.)

The biggest improvement was in Cole. Last season, the Astros got him back to his previous peak, and this year he turned unhittable. He’s 18-0 in decisions since late May.

Cole’s old UCLA teammate and enemy, pitcher Trevor Bauer has pointed out that Cole’s new success is due to a sizable increase in the amount of spin he puts on balls. It was always understood that legendary power pitchers like Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax, and Nolan Ryan put huge amounts of backspin on their fastballs to get them to sail and stay up while also putting huge amounts of topspin on their curveballs to get them to dive down. But the technology for quantifying spin on each pitch wasn’t deployed to ballparks until the last few years.

This led to searches for overlooked natural wonders like Rich Hill, an aged curveballer who put huge amounts of topspin on the ball.

But once the baseball world knows how to exploit Nature, thinking naturally turns toward improving Nurture, with Gerrit Cole seemingly as a prime example. As I wrote in my Taki’s Magazine review of The MVP Machine:

And baseball doesn’t have much room for guys who would drive their teammates crazy, like, say, [pitcher Trevor] Bauer.

With his Asperger-y personality, Bauer makes for an interesting if insufferable hero for The MVP Machine, as if Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory had honed himself into a pitcher who can throw 95 miles per hour through sheer know-it-allness.

The MVP Machine points out that the new ability to measure spin on pitches may be encouraging a novel form of cheating by pitchers to increase their spin rate. Some pitchers long applied spit, Vaseline, or other slippery substances to one side of the ball to make it dip unpredictably. But if you use something sticky on your fingers, such as pine tar, you can put more spin on the ball. While umpires try to police spitballs, they don’t care about sticky substances, agreeing with the pitchers that pine tar, while technically illegal, makes hurlers less likely to lose control of a pitch and hit a batter in the face.

Last season Bauer of the Cleveland Indians more or less implied on Twitter that his old teammate from UCLA, Gerrit Cole of the Houston Astros, must have been putting stickum on the ball to boost his spin rate. Bauer and Cole had hated each other while on the Bruins, carrying out a classic nerd vs. jock feud.

This year Cole is leading all of baseball in strikeouts with 292, while the bumptious Bauer, even though he’s tied for third in the big leagues with 245, got traded from contending Cleveland to lowly Cincinnati. Some things in baseball never change, such as that nobody likes a nerd.

Here’s another pine tar incident involving the Astros back in 2015: Mike Fiers threw a no-hitter against the Dodgers while appearing to have sticky stuff on his glove. But the Dodgers’ then manager, old school Donnie Baseball Mattingly, refused to make a stink about it. (Probably some Dodgers were doing the same?)

Maybe what’s going on is that baseball has an unwritten rule that pitchers can apply a reasonable amount of pine tar to their fingers so they don’t let a pitch slip and kill a batter. But perhaps the super smart Astros have undertaken to scientifically exploit this loophole to increase spin rates?

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  1. Polynikes says:

    Baseball seems like the one place nerds can find a place. Greg Maddux comes to mind. On the other hand, I’m not totally convinced that part of the reason a guy like Andrew Luck left the NFL is because he just doesn’t enjoy the company. How many d-lineman want to hang out with a guy who has his own book club?

    • Replies: @Patrick82
    , @Danindc
  2. Patrick82 says:

    Maddux was a guy who mostly relied on guile and excellent control to become dominant, but he was no soft-tossing junkballer. His SO/9 rate was slightly above average during the course of his career…when it dipped below average in his late thirties, he became an average starter.

    Back in the 70s, Randy Jones of the Padres had many good years despite not striking out many batters. I don’t think a pitcher like him would be nearly as good in this era of fireballers.

    The Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks (a graduate of Dartmouth) is the only current pitcher that comes to mind who never reaches 90 mph yet remains a top-of-the-rotation guy.

  3. Hodag says:

    In April at Wrigley Field when the wind is blowing in at 15 mph and it is 46 degrees, if the pitcher does not have tar on their hand people will die.

  4. Some pitchers long applied spit, Vaseline, or other slippery substances to one side of the ball to make it dip unpredictably.

    Similar to the problems that have beset cricket in recent years, with it all culminating in a massive scandal a couple of years ago the Australian national team were found to be fielding a player who had a piece of sandpaper hidden in his pants and that the team was colluding to give him the ball for treatment. There have also been scandals over hair grease, saliva primed with sugar by sucking mints, and unpicking the seams of the ball with hidden tools or finger nails.

    The idea is to make the ball swerve (swing) by roughing up one side, or making the other more shiny, or to raise the seam so that the ball deviates when it hits the ground.

    There is an English saying “it’s not cricket” meaning that something is not fair, but perhaps the phrase has passed its due date.

    • Replies: @Reg Cæsar
  5. Its likely a new kind of steroid/PED that they currently can’t test for or a test for which the team can warn their players about in advance . Likely a PED supplied by this Astros-paid person, not a kind the players can find on their own, such as what previously occurred with Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Ken Caminiti, Jose Conseco etc.

    Check who’s been the Astros weight trainer/strength trainer and their team doctor these past few years. Or for someone who’s job is nebulous and undefined but yet works with the players regularly, such as some kind of “on field consultant.”

    The problem with the old method was that all it took was one or two players—such as Caminiti and Canseco–to blab and then the suppliers were screwed and the players got caught. This team-supplied, steroids stuff is safer because it gives the players plausible deniability (“I didn’t know what they gave me”) and ignorance so they can’t blab.

    While we’d all love to believe the Astros can retrain someone to play better, from a team point of view that’s not worth money. With free agency, players can leave any time and/or demand more money, so the Astros would have little incentive to fix someone who’s just going to leave for more money elsewhere.

  6. @Patrick82

    Mark Buehrle went 15-8 in 2015 when he couldn’t throw over about 82 mph. But then he retired.

    • Replies: @Paul Jolliffe
    , @Patrick82
  7. Fortunately, the Nationals don’t have any Asian pitchers for Yuri Guriel to make racist gestures at.

  8. newrouter says:

    Is the World Series being broadcast on over the air tv or do you need cable?

    • Replies: @Ed
  9. Dtbb says:

    The Rays were robbed!

  10. 68W58 says:

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that Greg Maddux was an “average starter” even in his late 30s. He won at least 15 games for 17 straight seasons and his ERA climbed above 4.00 only in the last year of that streak. Maddux broke a lot of bats in his peak years with a masterful change up that he knew how to set up, it is fair to say that he used a lot of guile and I don’t know how you teach that to up and coming pitchers.

    Cole is bringing it tonight, but both Zimmerman and Soto have taken him deep by jumping all over his fastball. His last couple of playoff outings were not especially impressive, but Anibal Sanchez has been dominant in his last two playoff outings and he has talked about how he has changed his approach and delivery as he has lost some pop off his heater.

  11. @R.G. Camara

    Better than the Angels having a team employee keep a pitcher supplied with fentanyl and the like, which killed him mid-season.

    • Replies: @anonymous
  12. @Patrick82

    Maddox once was interviewed where he criticized Randy Johnson/strikeout pitchers for always muscling themselves up and going for the strikeout rather than saving a few pitches and getting the guy to ground out instead. Said it tired out their arms quicker, since they were throwing more pitches than necessary.

    • Replies: @Brutusale
  13. @Patrick82

    Tim Wakefield, the long-time knuckleballer, couldn’t break wind with his fastball, but he still threw it regularly to mess with hitters who were sitting on his knuckle; compared to the knuckle, Wakefield’s fastball must’ve seemed to be going 99 mph. Also, Wakefield threw fastballs to get strikes when his knuckler wasn’t behaving.

    • Replies: @Patrick82
  14. anonymous[698] • Disclaimer says:
    @Steve Sailer

    wwebd said.


    Only people who are really stupid care very much who wins and loses anymore. I mean, sports is entertainment, but these are days that are ruled by the sort of people who run California (that is progressives) and we all know that the major sports are all fixed, one way or another, because this is the world the progressives want, and of course they’re gonna manipulate sports the way they want. Drugs, dark money, chemicals, obeisance on the part of phony-brave men like little LeBron to his rich masters in China while he pretends to stand up for justice in America, the phony little man … who cares, we all know what is going on.

    Look, I like Roger Clemens, he seems like a basically decent guy, but, hopped up on steroids, he basically assaulted with criminal intent, on national TV, an opponent in the 2000 world series (assault with a deadly weapon – the fat little man threw part of a bat – a deadly weapon – at some poor guy who was just running the bases) , and although Clemens was beyond a doubt hyped up on steroids, the fan boys did not blink an eye, and in later years all his most famous teammates sailed into the Hall of Fame and none of those little men – clueless (on this particular subject) Mariano, clueless little Derek who also grew a hat size or two in his playing days, and the other little steroid guys – not one of them even once offered to give up the steroid World Series ring they won.

    • Agree: JMcG
    • Replies: @Danindc
  15. A surprising sentence on Wikipedia:

    On September 18, 2019, Cole struck out his 300th batter of the season, becoming only the third Astros pitcher to strike out 300 batters in a single season, after J. R. Richard and Mike Scott.

    What? Nolan Ryan played nine seasons there and never achieved what these three guys did? Or what he himself did in Anaheim and Arlington?

    Gerrit Cole = Creole grit.

    Okay, he’s a Californian whose father hails from Syracuse, and is possibly related to Cole Porter. But Houston is the closest MLB franchise to Creole country.

    although leaving the National League meant he can’t use his bat in the American League, with its Designated Hitter rule.

    Oh, yes he can… if his manager lets him. The sticky point is that if you allow a starting pitcher to hit for himself, you can’t use the DH for the rest of the game, even if he’s pulled in the first inning. And it’s not the 19th century, when 70 or more complete games– by the same pitcher– weren’t unusual:

    Chicago’s Cy Acosta was the first AL pitcher to bat after the introduction of the DH, about halfway through the 1973 season. Anyone know the details of that?

  16. @Steve Sailer

    Justin Verlander had 11 starts between the beginning of the 2016 season and August 31, 2017 with the Detroit Tigers in which he went at least six innings and gave up only one or zero earned runs . . .
    yet did not get the victory!

    The Houston Astros completely fleeced the Tigers in the 2017 Verlander trade: Detroit’s GM Al Avila actually paid the Astros some of Verlander’s $28 million salary to take him off Detroit’s hands. Houston won the World Series, Verlander married Kate Upton, and the Tigers had the worst record in baseball this year, with no, and I mean no relief in sight.

    Forget about pine tar.

    It’s all about which clubs have the smartest GM’s.

    But then, that’s always been true . . .

  17. @Jonathan Mason

    A friend and protégé of Hall-of-Fame pitcher Burleigh Grimes was at a library talk given by Grimes’s biographer. The spitball was outlawed in 1920, and Grimes was the best of the handful grandfathered in to use it for the remainder of their careers.

    The friend told us that he saw a fan approach the long-retired Grimes to say he was so glad to be able to meet the last spitballer.

    Grimes corrected the man. “The last legal spitballer. They’re still using it today!”

  18. Patrick82 says:
    @R.G. Camara

    Knuckleballers are an exception as far as the strong correlation between velocity and strikeouts. Wakefield, Charlie Hough, and R.A. Dickey all had respectable K rates despite throwing in the low-to-mid 80s.

    But the knuckleball is notoriously hard to master, and the few pitchers who did generally didn’t throw them until late in their careers when it seemed to all observers that they were just about finished as MLB players.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    , @R.G. Camara
  19. Patrick82 says:
    @Steve Sailer

    15-8 with just 33 walks in nearly 200 innings pitched.

    And he was inexplicably left off the Jay’s postseason roster that year.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  20. @Paul Jolliffe

    If you say one Win Above Replacement is worth $7 million, then Verlander was more than earning his $28 million salary with Detroit. He’d been averaging about 5 WAR a season in his last 3 years in Detroit, so that’s $35 million per season.

  21. Cole went 19-8 2.60 for the Pirates in 2016, yes with the Pirates, so it’s possible the Astros really did not need to teach him a thing, just pay him

  22. @Patrick82

    Major league knuckleball pitchers can still usually throw a fastball over 80 mph until very late in their careers. An 80 mph fastball would be pretty terrifying for you or me to try to bat against.

    My impression is that most major league knuckleballers started out as guys with at least minor league quality fastballs.

    • Replies: @Reg Cæsar
  23. @Patrick82

    I presume Buehrle’s arm was wearing out after pitching a lot of innings that final season and they could imagine him not being able to reach 80 mph in October with dire consequences. His velocity had been dropping for years, without fatal consequences, but at some point you just don’t have major league velocity anymore.

    But he was an amazing pitcher. I guess one of his secrets was he was an all-time great fielding pitcher, maybe the best ever at holding runners on base to keep them from stealing.

    Pitchers get paid so much these days that some of them don’t stick around until the bitter ends of their careers, like Mike Mussina retired after winning 20. I sort of think Buehrle was content to pack it in after earning $139 million rather than try to stick around to make the Hall of Fame but instead it might just be a lot of indignities as everybody tees off on his 79 mph fastball.

  24. syonredux says:

    Absurdly off-topic,

    Hannah Arendt’s long-term prospects are looking a tad uncertain….

    It’s time to admit that through Arendt’s writing runs a thread of European white supremacy.

    On a recent list of the top 144 “Jewish heroes” published by Israel’s Beit Hatfutsot, Arendt was listed as one of 10 heroic “thinkers,” alongside Albert Einstein and Martin Buber. The German-born Arendt has always loomed large in Jewish circles. She is often portrayed as the consummate Jewish intellectual and is almost always heralded and lauded in liberal and progressive Jewish circles. But it is time to tell the truth about Arendt. She was no hero. She was a white supremacist, an intellectual of the early 20th century European variety who combined noxious notions of white European superiority with a toxic view of the world. She derided vast continents as being full of “savages.” It’s time to close the book on Arendt: she was a product of a brutal and racist 20th century, not a Jewish hero, but a villain.

    Anti-Black Racism in Arendt, and Philosophy’s Dangerous Commitment to Purity

    It is arguably the case that Hannah Arendt can no longer be reasonably defended against the charge of being guilty of anti-black racism. If anyone interested in the subject was not persuaded by Anne Norton’s “Heart of Darkness: Africa and African Americans in the Writing of Hannah Arendt” (1995), what followed with Robert Bernasconi’s “The Double Face of the Political and the Social: Hannah Arendt and America’s Racial Divisions” (1996) and his “The Invisibility of Racial Minorities in the Public Realm of Appearances” (2000) should have been more than enough to illustrate Arendt’s failure to understand the phenomenon of race in American society. Danielle Allen’s “Law’s Necessary Forcefulness: Ralph Ellison vs. Hannah Arendt on the Battle of Little Rock” (2001) and her Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education reveal the limits of Arendt’s failed engagement with the politics of race in the United States.

  25. Anonymous[208] • Disclaimer says:

    What happened to old-school Rosin Bags?

  26. istevefan says:

    (Greinke is also great at fielding bunts. He suffered mental health problems early in his career after going 5-17 at age 21, but his team, then the Kansas City Royals, were impressively understanding.)

    The Royals let him take an extended leave of absence, and then babied him back into the big leagues. First, letting him get his groove back as a reliever. Then, putting him back into the rotation.

    He went on to win the Cy Young in 2009, and then threw a tantrum in 2010. The guy showed no loyalty or gratitude for what the Royals did and demanded to be traded.

    On a positive note his trade in 2011 to the Brewers brought us a couple of key starters on our World Series teams of 2014 and 2015. So indirectly he helped us. But I still dislike him.

  27. @Patrick82

    It’s not merely mastery of the knuckleball that is hard, it is the the problem of dealing with the knuckleball’s inconsistency—inconsistency that has nothing to do with whether you’re throwing it right or not.

    Most pro athletes have learned to get past difficult points in their careers by muscling through it; i.e., just work harder and you’ll bust out of your slump or eventually beat out the other guy for the position or make the winning catch.

    But with the knuckleball, you can throw it perfectly time after time and yet still go through an entire season of bad games. It really gets into players’ heads, because its something they can’t control. Wakefield had great success with the knuckler at first, but then hit a cold streak and it broke him so bad he had to be shipped to the minors and then was released. He got his head together by going zen and talking to the Niekro brothers, and then was able to better handle the fact that he, for the first time in his athletic life, wasn’t in control of something at all.

    I think the only proper comparison is professional poker player. You can literally do everything right and still lose a boatload of money when you hit a cold streak. Most guys break from that kind of losing, and either get angry and start playing wildly or else they quit.

  28. @Reg Cæsar

    What? Nolan Ryan played nine seasons there and never achieved what these three guys did? Or what he himself did in Anaheim and Arlington?

    Yes, that sounded wrong to me, too, but I just looked it up, and it’s true. Ryan struck out 300+ five times early in his career pitching for the Angels, then one more time at age 42 for the Rangers. His high with the Astros was 270.

    Ryan’s games and innings pitched went way down in his last couple of years with the Angels, and then stayed down in his stint with the Astros. I guess maybe he went from a four-man to a five-man rotation?

    Also, I wonder if pitching in the forgiving Astrodome motivated Ryan to pitch to contact a bit more, maybe in an effort to keep his career going. I can certainly understand it if that’s what he was worried about. His early years were just insane — e.g. in his age-27 season he pitched 332 innings, struck out 367, and walked 202. He must have thrown an astonishing number of pitches.

    Ryan’s stats are here:

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    , @Reg Cæsar
  29. @The Last Real Calvinist

    Nolan Ryan is #1 for career strikeouts by almost 900 and has walked 50% more batters than anybody else in history. He’s fifth in innings pitched, just behind knuckleballer Phil Niekro. He almost certainly threw more pitches than anybody in history since Walter Johnson or maybe even Cy Young.

  30. Hodag says:

    When a young pitcher with the Cubs, Maddux had it in him to throw 90 or 92 a couple times a game. But that was not his game.

    About my favorite ballgame of all time was Bhurele’s 1 hour 37 minute game. I was driving home from Wisconsin figuring I had a game all the way home and I didn’t even make it to the border. I also was at cominsky for his first no-hitter (and it was my wife’s first baseball game and could not figure out why everyone was losing their minds).

  31. @The Last Real Calvinist

    Another little-noted stat of Ryan’s– he hit only two home runs his entire career. I just happened to be walking by a TV in 1987 when the second took place.

    Of course, he only swung a bat in 14 of his 27 seasons, all based at pitchers’ parks– four in Flushing, one in Anaheim, and nine in Houston.

    Otherwise, he might have hit four, or even five!

  32. Danindc says:

    Exactly. Now imagine being a smart, white point guard in the NBA on constant cross country flights.

  33. Danindc says:

    That batter was Mike Piazza!

  34. @Steve Sailer

    One of the pitchers featured in the 2012 documentary Knuckleball! said that long-ball hitters were easy to deal with, and it was the contact guys that would give them nightmares. The Cobbs, not the Ruths.

  35. Danindc says:
    @R.G. Camara

    Just re-read Ball Four by Jim Bouton. He had a lot of fun with the knuckleball. Made a comeback with the Braves 8 years after he retired and he was solid!!

    • Replies: @kaganovitch
  36. @Steve Sailer

    I guess Ryan threw more pitches than Johnson. He threw almost as many innings as Johnson, and walked way more batters.

    Is it possible Ryan even threw more pitches than Young? Young threw 50% more innings, but didn’t walk or strike out all that many. Back in the dead ball days, how many batters tried to ‘work the count’ as much as they do in contemporary times?

    I guess we’ll never know, but it’s interesting to think about.

    One thing we do know is that Gerrit Cole got lit up pretty good tonight.

    • Replies: @Pericles
  37. possibly. even when he was on the Pirates, i didn’t watch him much.

    but he was still throwing 99 in the 7th inning today.

    and if anybody else watched the game, you saw that all the relievers threw 99 or 100 too.

    does Bill James still seriously think Ruth, or any old time player, could bat at all in MLB today? the proposition remains sheer nonsense. i volunteer that those players never saw a pitch come in at even 92 one single time in their entire careers. and definitely not with movement. some of those relievers today never threw a ball under 95 in 20 pitches. Cole threw 7 innings of 90 mile per hour balls.

  38. the Dodgers’ then manager, old school Donnie Baseball Mattingly

    How good a manager is Mattingly? Of potential Hall of Fame caliber, or just average?

    As a player, he was on the Hall ballot 15 times but never got in. Nor did Bernie Williams on three tries. So far, the only member of the old Oneonta Yankees, effectively Cooperstown’s pro team, to make the Hall of Fame is John Elway. The wrong Hall.

  39. Rosin use with pitchers has been universal for a long time; it’s not discussed by the PBP men often as it is technically cheating, but it’s been there for decades. Off the top of my head, Kenny Rogers had a big glob of rosin/pine tar on his hand in the 2006 World Series and Jon Lester had a giant smear of it on his glove in 2013. Nobody other than enthusiastic fans made a big deal out of it either time, which is pretty good indication that both teams were doing it and only one got caught. Like someone said earlier, hitters are likely okay with pitchers loading up on pine tar/heaping helpings of rosin since the batter is less likely to get Ray Chapman-ed.

    re: the Astros’ success, in addition to Verlander & Cole, in his brief time in Houston Charlie Morton went from being a replacement-level pitcher who was reduced to copying Roy Halladay’s delivery in a last-ditch effort to hang around the bigs to becoming a borderline ace in his mid-thirties. Whatever Brent Strom and co (more likely physicists and statisticians hired by Luhnow) are doing, it’s working for all kinds of talent levels.

  40. As knuckle-baller Tim Wakefield once said, “The problem is that it [baseball] is so radar gun-oriented.”

  41. dearieme says:

    so they don’t let a pitch slip and kill a batter

    Wimps! Cricket is probably more dangerous but batsmen hardly ever get killed.

  42. @always the critic

    Kenny Rogers had a big glob of rosin/pine tar on his hand in the 2006 World Series

    I came here to post this. I also want to point out that Rogers’ manager was Jim Leyland, who coached under the Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa for three years. Therefore LaRussa wasn’t going to rat out his former pupil. Billy Martin has flat out admitted that former pitchers of his were cheating against him and he wouldn’t squeal.

  43. @Reg Cæsar

    Chicago’s Cy Acosta was the first AL pitcher to bat after the introduction of the DH, about halfway through the 1973 season. Anyone know the details of that?

    Why yes I do. Dick Allen was playing 1B and Tony Muser was DH. Allen got hurt, so Chuck Tanner moved Muser to 1B. This left the White Sox with only 8 players in the lineup, so the pitcher, Cy Acosta, had to take Allen’s place in the batting order. Now Tanner could have simply pinch hit for Acosta when he came up, but he was pitching well so Tanner let him bat for himself, as the White Sox were leading 8-2 at the time.

    If not for an error by Jerry Davanon of the Angels in the bottom of the 8th, Acosta never would have come up at all. As it happened, he was the last batter for the White Sox in the game.

    The sticky point is that if you allow a starting pitcher to hit for himself, you can’t use the DH for the rest of the game, even if he’s pulled in the first inning.

    College baseball is more forgiving. You can list your starting pitcher as P/DH on the lineup card if you want. If you do, even if you remove your pitcher from the game, he is still your DH.

  44. @prime noticer

    The recent documentary “Fastball” tries to gauge how fast three old time fastballers would register under the way velocity is currently measured on radar guns in this decade, when the fastest is Aroldis Chapman’s 105. Looking at three old science experiments of superstars in their primes, they come up with:

    Walter Johnson 98 mph
    Bob Feller 107
    Nolan Ryan in 1974 108

    These seem high, but just 5 mph lower seem realistic.

  45. @prime noticer

    Keep in mind Babe Ruth typically used a bat that weighed 40+ ounces. If he played in today’s game, he’d no doubt use a lighter bat, like current players, so he could get around on high-end fastballs. He’d still be a superstar.

    • Replies: @Ian M.
  46. @Steve Sailer

    This article sets out the testing/rationale behind the numbers you quote for the olde-timey fireballers:

    • Replies: @Ian M.
  47. @Paul Jolliffe

    We paid $8M of Verlander’s final two years on that existing contract. Fleeced is the appropriate word, and Avila is horrendous, and although there are other reasons (ownership indifference/possible sale), the Tigers will be bad for a long time.

    I passed Kate Upton at one of the Tiger games when I lucked into an invitation to a luxury suite. Striking, but almost as much for her presence as for her, um, assets. Just looking at her face, she looked like she was 16, and not much different from a number of other pretty girls.

  48. @always the critic

    You beat me to it. Rogers had a noticeable, half-dollar size dollop of pine tar on the heel of his mitt that caught the attention of the Fox cameraman. The announcers were incredulous, but after the game both teams and managers simply shrugged because they understood the need for such help when it’s 45 degrees and you’re trying to locate a pitch. I’m sure La Russa had his guys doing the same thing but more discreetly.

    It’s not easy watching this WS (or last year’s) with all of the old Tiger players competing. In 2012 we had Verlander, Sherzer, Annaibal Sanchez in our rotation (also, Doug Fister). From last year’s Red Sox team, we at one time had David Price, Rick Porcello and JD Martinez.

    See you in the 2029 Wild Card game!!!!!

  49. @R.G. Camara

    The other issue with the knuckleball is that it works much better in warm and humid weather than cold and dry weather.

    For northern teams that meant that those pitchers could be in big trouble if they made it deep into the playoffs.

    Some managers knew this–and some didn’t. It was fun to watch knuckleballers in October when the dumb managers sent them to the mound–nothing gets hit harder than a knuckleball that has no movement to it. 😉

  50. @R.G. Camara

    You definitely have a point as to players on shorter contracts (1-3 years), who are never far from free agency. I think that’s the majority of MLB players.

    But a superstar such as Cole is likely to get a contract like the Nationals’ Corbin (six years) or Max Scherzer (seven years). Assuming the player can’t opt out for, say, five years, it seems to be worth improving the guy’s techniques in whatever way possible.

  51. @Danindc

    Made a comeback with the Braves 8 years after he retired and he was solid!!

    Eh, I’m not sure I would call a 5.00 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP solid, but much of that is because he couldn’t get the ball over the plate – 21 walks in 29 innings. Engaging writer though.

    • Replies: @Known Fact
  52. @kaganovitch

    Very engaging writer, plus Ball Four — like some cryptic ancient scroll — may be the last lone archaeological artifact suggesting the Seattle Pilots ever really existed

  53. Is it in fact cheating if a pitcher has “stickum” on his fingers? I thought that the rule was all about the ball, not the pitcher’s hand. If the adhesive on the pitcher’s hand leaves no residue on the ball, I don’t think there’s a violation. Similarly, suppose a pitcher were to paint parts of his fingers with something (dried super-glue perhaps) to make those parts of his fingers slicker, with the aim of delivering a superior knuckleball. Again, if no residue is left on the ball, I see no violation.
    Umpires, please weigh in.

  54. @Known Fact

    the last lone archaeological artifact suggesting the Seattle Pilots ever really existed

    When the Pilots moved to Milwaukee, it was done at the last minute. That’s why the Brewers uniforms were the same color as the Pilots (baby blue and gold), while the seats at Milwaukee County Stadium were dark blue and red. While Bud Selig was too cheap to either buy new uniforms or repaint the seats, it may be because he bought the Pilots out of bankruptcy court for $10.8 million. While this seems like a small amount, the year before the AL’s expansion fee was $5.25 million. Three years after Selig bought the Brewers, George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees for $8.8 million.

  55. @R.G. Camara

    The knuckleball is unpredictable, not inconsistent. When knuckleballers are inconsistent it’s because they are not throwing a good knuckleball, which gets wacked, or never released the pitch to where it had a chance of sailing near the plate in the first place. A zero to one-half spin knuckleball which sets off toward the center of the strike zone is very likely to be a called strike, and difficult to hit. Hitting the center of the strike zone with a bp fastball is a simple thing. The mechanics of releasing the knuckleball removes all ease from the equation.

  56. @prime noticer

    Ruth hit forty percent of the homers in the AL in 1920. No, the competition was not the same. But lets take your modern MVP power hitter back to 1920, give him a 42 oz bat, no video or coaching, and four hours of sleep a night. Can’t wait to see what’s what.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  57. Anonymous[328] • Disclaimer says:

    Many pitchers use the brim of their cap to hold some extra pine tar. When Craig Kimbrel made his debut for the cubs, his cap brim already had a smudge right in the middle. When he was on the Red Sox last year, I thought the smudge was wear from his adjusting the cap thousands of times over the season. Not so.

    I have no objection to pitchers using tar to get a better grip. Batters do it. Now batters even use a special rubber piece to keep the bat out in their fingers rather than in their palms. Only seems fair.

  58. @Steve Sailer

    Twenty years ago at my son’s college game he pointed out an old time scout, in his eighties, calling the speed of every pitch without a gun. There were several guns at the game, and he always had it right. The old timer said scouts back in the day who had lived to see Johnson, Feller, and Ryan, said that Johnson was first as a young man, and that he was faster still when he pitched on the west coast before entering mlb. When you are pitching 350 innings annually it’s probably best not to throw max effort on every pitch.

    Look at the World Series video of Ryan pitching for the Mets. Nobody throws like that, not that it did him much good. He dialed it down to be competitive, what John Roseboro told young Koufax in one spring training game about the time Koufax was considering giving the game up.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    , @Marty
  59. @james wilson

    Koufax was definitely not the cleverest Jewish guy of all time: in spring training for his 7th major league season, Johnny Roseboro tells him he ought to try to take a little off his fastball so he can throw more strikes and not walk so many people, and it strikes Koufax as a brilliant revelation. So he tries it and wins 18 games that season.

    I’m fascinated by the Koufax-Drysdale comparison. Don Drysdale was was this giant WASP, whose name was appropriated for the banker on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” but he was always looking for some kind of edge, no matter how unethical, like knocking batters down or throwing spitballs. Koufax, in contrast, never did anything cunning or edgy, he just went strength against strength. For example, in his final season, 1966, he pitched 323 innings and didn’t hit a single batter.

    • Replies: @R.G. Camara
  60. @james wilson

    Ruth singlehandedly invented, by himself with no coaching, the most important aspects of the 2019 approach to batting.

  61. Marty says:
    @james wilson

    Not Roseboro – Norm Sherry.

    • Replies: @james wilson
  62. Pericles says:
    @R.G. Camara

    Charlie Morton is still good.

  63. Pericles says:
    @The Last Real Calvinist

    I just watched the first game, it was dizzying to see Superman Gerrit Cole get treated that way. And the Astros took the early lead yet dropped it. What happened, guys?

    Leading up to this point has been interesting of course, with the Grim Reaper himself getting reaped twice, and culminating in the incredible 4-2 game against the Yankees. A truly epic battle where the Yankees just wouldn’t give up, but couldn’t catch up either until the 9th fricking inning. Groooaaaan.

    And then, shortly thereafter, finally, we got to see the smile of Aroldis. I’ll never forget it.

  64. Ian M. says:
    @The Last Real Calvinist

    That article mentions the test where Johnson was measured at 83 mph (where adjusting for where the pitch is measured by modern radar is equivalent to 93.8 mph), but it doesn’t mention two other times Johnson’s pitch speed was measured. Using the motorcycle test, Johnson’s pitch speed was calculated to be 99.7 mph, and using a pendulum test, his speed was calculated to be 99.7 mph as well:

    Both of these tests would result in higher numbers if adjusted for where modern radar measures pitch speed (motorcycle test measured average speed; pendulum test measured speed of the ball when it hit the pendulum), but who knows how accurate those old tests were (though the article claims the pendulum test was quite accurate).

    Another thing too: in that documentary Steve cites, both Johnson and Feller were wearing their Sunday best when they were tested (when Johnson was measured at 83 mph), and I seem to recall that Johnson got no warm-up pitches.

  65. Ian M. says:
    @The Last Real Calvinist

    Ruth also hit more 500 foot homeruns than anyone else in history, by quite some margin.

    One would think that homeruns would be getting longer over time as players have gotten bigger and stronger, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.

  66. @Steve Sailer

    1. Koufax had often been told before that that he needed to throw more strikes and ease off just a bit to doso. It wasn’t really Roseboro’s advice alone.

    It was the fact that expansion added a lot of crap hitters who swung at Koufax’s high shit. Expansion is a wondrous feast for actual good players. Steroids came to the U.S. in the 1950s, so by the 1960s some people were using. Koufax’s dramatic change in numbers indicates he was one of them.

    Oh, and Koufax likely started juicing. The winter before his first good season he suddenly started working out like a fiend.

    2. Koufax was known as a very gentle man, and most of the other Dodgers sought to protect him as the meal ticket anyway. One story was there was a bench-clearing brawl and several Dodgers were horrified that Koufax was on the field for it. “What are you doing here?” one Dodger asked in fear as he formed a protective shield between the ace and the the scrum.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  67. @Ian M.

    Yes, thanks for the added information.

    Throwing a baseball hard is an odd thing. To some degree, a 95+ mph fastball is the product of bodily characteristics, i.e. it’s obvious that a small child or a woman will never be able to throw that hard given the size of their bodies and limbs. It also requires a certain degree of muscular power.

    And yet there is little indication that guys who can throw hard have gained this ability by focused programs of exercise, especially weightlifting. Pitchers can maybe add a bit of speed by increasing muscular strength, but there’s no way someone who naturally throws a baseball at an ordinary speed (i.e. hopelessly slow by MLB standards) can lift or otherwise exercise his way into the elite.

    The upshot of this is that there’s a certain small number of gifted ‘naturals’ who end up comprising the great majority of MLB pitchers. They can throw really hard mostly (although of course not entirely) because they were born that way. And there is no reason to think that there were any fewer such naturals 100 years ago; indeed, given the relative popularity of the major sports at that time, a greater proportion of them may have ended up in MLB, instead of in other sports.

    So the idea that Walter Johnson and Bob Feller couldn’t have been throwing all that hard is to me nonsense. I think it’s likely they were the equal of today’s pitchers in terms of sheer velocity.

    What seems different to me today, even compared to the games I watched as a kid in the 70s, is that today’s pitchers go all-out on nearly every pitch, especially the relievers. I don’t think that was the case in the past; lots of pitchers would cruise along throwing fastballs at maybe 90-95% of their top speed, in order to stay in games longer and prolong their careers. And they’d also have a top gear they could switch into in high-pressure game situations. This approach resulted in fewer strikeouts, more balls in play, a faster-paced game, and generally better baseball than today’s game.

    Current pitchers must deal with the relentless threat of home runs, even from bottom-of-the-order hitters, so they have to go all-out and try to miss bats as much as possible. They throw harder on average, but only because they’re pushing themselves to the limits of their abilities all the time. Is this why there are so many pitcher injuries, and why it’s now unheard of for a pitcher to throw more than 115-120 pitches in a game?

    It would be interesting — if there were any way to do this, which is unlikely, but still — to try to compare the rates of pitcher injuries and average pitcher career length in offense-dominated MLB eras (e.g. now, and say the 1930s) to the those in pitchers’ eras (e.g. dead ball, 1960s-70s, etc.).

    • Replies: @Ian M.
  68. @Ian M.

    One would think that homeruns would be getting longer over time as players have gotten bigger and stronger, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.

    Lighter bats?

  69. @Paul Jolliffe

    F Chokelander, the guy who pissed away two recent WS for Detroit and Kate “Memo Paris” Upton.

    I hope former Detroit standout Max Scherzer and the Nats use this WS to sweep Houston into the garbage bin of history.

    • Replies: @anonymous
  70. @R.G. Camara

    A bunch of things went in Koufax’s favor after he started pitching smarter in 1961, walking fewer.

    In 1962 the Dodgers moved from the Coliseum, which had a ridiculously short left field fence terrible for left handed pitchers, to huge Dodger Stadium, with Willie Davis in centerfield.

    In 1963, I believe, they increased the vertical size of the strikezone, which did wonders for his high heat plus huge dropping curve pitching style.

    Expansion in 1962 gave him a few cheap wins over the Mets, but he was more dominant in the fifth post-expansion season in 1966. And he had a 0.95 ERA in 57 innings in the World Series.

    Also, he won many close games, such as throwing a perfect game against the Cubs on a day the Dodgers got one hit. The Dodger relief pitchers would go out drinking the night before Koufax pitched, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the hitters did too, considering how many 2-1 and 1-0 games Koufax won.

  71. Koufax was a great close game pitcher. When Dodgers scored zero to two runs in a game, his record was 31 wins and 51 losses, a .378 winning percentage. His 1960s National League Hall of Fame peers weren’t close.

    Drysdale’s record when the Dodgers gave him 0 to 2 runs was 31 – 109, a .221 winning percentage. Juan Marichal was 27-87 with no more than 2 runs. Bob Gibson was 37-111. Jim Bunning was 27-124.

    In the American league, pitching in a pitcher’s park, Yankee Stadium, Whitey Ford was 25-64 at .280.

    Clayton Kershaw, pitching in Dodger Stadium these days, is 27-53 for a .338 winning percentage.

    I’m guessing that excellent relief pitching is more of a thing now, though, so Kershaw isn’t expected often to go 9 innings to win 2-1. I think modern star pitchers tend to have higher winning percentages that older stars because relief pitching is more sophisticated. E.g., back in Koufax’s day, the concept of a closer didn’t exist.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  72. @Known Fact

    Very engaging writer, plus Ball Four — like some cryptic ancient scroll — may be the last lone archaeological artifact suggesting the Seattle Pilots ever really existed

    What!? Who could forget the immortal Garry Roggenburk? Fwiw I think 1974 Cy Young winner, Iron Mike Marshall got his start with the Pilots.

    • Replies: @ScarletNumber
  73. @Steve Sailer

    1965, a year when the Dodgers’ best hitter was Drysdale, Koufax was 8-5 in regular season games in which the Dodgers scored no more than 2 runs, then 1-1 in the World Series, including a 2-0 win in the 7th game on two days rest (a short schedule necessitated by his having sat out game one because it was Yom Kippur). Winning 9 out of 15 decisions when your team scores 2 runs or less is epic.

    But he was even better in the 1963 world championship year, going 9 and 4 and then 1-0 in the World Series: 10 out of 14.

    In 1966, he went 6-9 in these games, then 0-1 in the World Series.

    A lot of this was a stadium effect, but still, Drysdale didn’t win 2-1 games.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  74. Ian M. says:
    @The Last Real Calvinist

    Agree, these are all good points.

    Two things that could also account for harder throwing today though:

    1. Larger pool of pitchers to select from. While on the one hand, like you say, MLB was more popular back in the early and mid 20th century than it is today, relative to other sports, I also get the sense that baseball was not always considered a very respectable profession, and parents would try to steer their children away from the sport. (My sense is that this attitude had shifted by around the 1930s). There is also a much larger population today. The other aspect of course is the larger pool of foreigners today. (That said, it seems to me that the hardest-throwing pitchers still tend to be white Americans today).

    2. Height. While like you I am skeptical that training or weightlifting or steroids can do much to add velocity to your fastball (maybe a few mph at most), I could see the fact that people are taller today owing to better nutrition having an effect. If Nolan Ryan had been born in 1890, maybe he is only 5’10 instead of 6’2 and his fastball, while still plenty fast, is not the 100 mph it was clocked at in 1974.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  75. anonymous[391] • Disclaimer says:
    @The Wild Geese Howard

    hey dude thanks for the spoiler alert (sarcasm off)

  76. @Ian M.

    And tall white guys are more likely to specialize in pitching at a young age these days rather than get lured into basketball: e.g., 6’6″ Dave DeBusschere was a good young pitcher for the White Sox in the early 1960s, but then devoted himself to the NBA. These days he probably wouldn’t bother with basketball.

    The flip side is that Bob Gibson played for the Harlem Globetrotters when young. Today he’d probably specialize in basketball as a boy, but I think pitching has picked up more pitching talent of tall white guys from basketball than it has lost tall black pitchers to basketball.

    Walter Johnson was kind of the Babe Ruth of the fastball. Before Johnson, few tried to throw 90 mph all game. (I’m just guessing about 1905 pitch speeds.) They’d throw 75 mph until a baserunner would reach second base, then maybe crank it up to 85 mph. Johnson just threw hard all afternoon. In 1912-1913 he was probably the most dominant pitcher ever since they moved the pitching rubber back to 60.5′ in the 1990s.

    • Replies: @ex-banker
  77. @Steve Sailer

    In his 1962-1966 prime, Koufax had a won-loss record of 30 – 26 in games the Dodgers scored no more than 2 runs.

  78. @Steve Sailer

    In his 1962-1966 prime, Koufax had a won-loss record of 30 – 26 in games the Dodgers scored no more than 2 runs.

    That is remarkable.

  79. Scherzer scored 35 on his math ACT (36 is maximum). Or so the internet tells me.

    Now, the question is, did he read the questions with his blue or his brown eye?

  80. @Marty

    Sherry told him to throw more strikes. Roseboro told him to ease up a bit.

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
  81. @james wilson

    Great moments in baseball advice.

    Sherry: Hey Sandy, stop walking 5 or 6 guys per 9 innings!

    Koufax: How do I do that?

    Sherry: I dunno. Let’s ask Johnny. Maybe he knows.

    Roseboro: Ease up a little, Sandy. Don’t throw so hard.

    Koufax: It sounds so crazy it just might work!

    • Replies: @Yojimbo/Zatoichi
  82. @kaganovitch

    Mike Marshall got his start with the 67 Tigers, splitting closing duties with another pitcher, both of whom were so unremarkable that neither was on the World Series winner of 68. Marshall spent the year in AAA in Toledo while the other closer was sent to the Astros as the player to be named later for Eddie Mathews.

    The Pilots tried to turn him into a starter, but he went 3-10 through July 5 and got sent back down to AAA.

  83. @Ian M.

    There is a limit as to how much a baseball can be compressed, same as with golf balls.

  84. Regarding Verlander suddenly finding new life at 34, this sounds very familiar to what Jose Canseco wrote in his book regarding Roger Clemens. Around age 34, Clemens was traded to TOR, and was considered to be washed up, or at least on the downward spiral of his amazing career. Suddenly, Roger Clemens found new life and went on to have an amazing 2nd half. Canseco makes the point that Clemens never told him that he juiced, but, PEDS usage does help a player rebound in his mid to late 30’s. (e.g. Bonds).

    I’m not exactly certain why Steve seems to blithely assume (with no direct evidence) that PED usage is completely gone from MLB in 2019, as it is not entirely gone from other sports, such as the NFL.

    If PEDS were taken by Roger Clemens, one of the most dominant pitchers of his generation, then why can’t we assume that PEDS are taken by other MLBers in 2019, including Justin Verlander?

  85. @Steve Sailer

    Koufax largely benefitted from the high strike zone, implemented in 1962, which lasted until 1969. As he retired after the 1966 season, it would be interesting to see how he would’ve done with the strike zone returned to what it was before (and has remained since 1969). Sandy didn’t break many records pre-1962, when the high strike wasn’t called a strike.

  86. ex-banker says:
    @Steve Sailer

    Pat Connaughton of the Bucks was a higher ranked prospect in baseball coming out of high school and Notre Dame. It was generally assumed he’d choose baseball after college, but he preferred basketball and kept at it, knowing he could always go back to pitching (he threw 96 as a part-time player in the low minors). After spending two years on the bench with the Trail Blazers, he earned a spot in the rotation based on his shooting and defense, and ended up becoming a meaningful contributor to the Bucks’ conference final run last year.

    As a white 3 point specialist, his athleticism was overlooked even though he had one of the highest vertical jumps in the history of the NBA draft combine. He’s a free agent at the end of the season and will likely sign a big time contract. He probably would have made more if he’d achieved similarly in baseball, but the risk of not getting to free agency to cash in there was meaningful

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