by Howie Karpin/The NY Extra/thenyextra.com
“Where have you gone, fundamentals?” or as the great Mets broadcaster and former gold glove first-baseman Keith Hernandez refers to them, “Fundies.”
That’s not paraphrasing the well known line from the famous Simon and Garfunkel song, “Mrs. Robinson.” Rather, that’s an indictment on the state of major league baseball in 2021.
An abundance of base running blunders, missing the cutoff man, throwing to the wrong base, not to mention a lack of situational hitting and awareness on defense. These are just some of the fundamentally inept plays that have engulfed the sport in 2021.
Fundamental baseball is winning baseball and most teams are not playing it these days. Not only is there a lack of fundamental ball being played, there seems to be a laissez-faire attitude about correcting it.
Daily News Yankee beat reporter Kristie Ackert (who has covered and seen a lot of baseball) hit the “nail on the head” when she joined me on Karpin’s Korner this week. “Minor league teams used to practice base running every week and they were mandated, they had to,” Ackert said. “I don’t think you see that anymore, you don’t see the emphasis on those little things and I think you’re starting to see it at the major league level.”
How many times already this season have you seen a runner try to go from second to third on a ball, hit in front of him, to the shortstop. Players are stealing less in today’s game, yet a number of them get picked off by pitchers who have less than average moves to first base. It happened in last night’s Mets game. Mets pitcher Corey Oswalt ended the seventh by picking off Ozzie Albies at first, a brutal mistake when your team is down two runs. Braves are tied for third in baseball with 7 runners picked off base.
The dialogue between Ron Darling and Hernandez was very interesting after the pick off play. Darling said, “He’s [Albies] getting it from [Braves 1B coach] Eric Young.” Hernandez said, “No.” Darling said, “No?” and then Hernandez said, “No, that don’t happen anymore.” The great first baseman correctly intimating today’s players can’t be criticized. Hernandez referred to Albies’ ‘fundies’ mistake when he said, “He [Albies] got caught leaning the wrong way. That can’t happen when you’re down two runs late.”
The Yankees lead the league in running into outs on the bases with 32. The next closest is Oakland with 29 outs on the bases. That number (thank you baseball-reference.com) doesn’t include any caught stealing or pick off numbers. As good a year as he’s having, Gio Urshela still leads the team with six outs on the bases. Brett Gardner is second with five.
This has been a trend that has been developing in recent years. Instruction is lacking in the minor leagues, especially now that there are less teams. Players seem to be pushed through a team’s system on their talent alone and are not evaluated properly in many cases.
It’s ironic how the controversial extra inning rule has brought back a fundamental part of the game. The home team is likely (depending on the batter) to bunt the auto runner from second in a tie game in extra innings.
Employing a shift is a strategic option (one that I don’t agree with) but it has hurt the fundamentals of turning a double play.
When a team uses three infielders on the right side of second with a runner on first and a potential double play grounder is hit to the man in the middle, the player who is closest to second, now has to run to the bag and turn to field the throw and then relay it to first to try and complete a DP.
In a conventional defense, the shortstop’s momentum would be towards first for the relay instead of against it. There’s a reason that left handed throwers don’t play any infield position except first base.
You’ve heard the expression, “He’s a winning player.” In baseball, that usually applies to someone who may not be as talented as some other players but they get the most out of their ability. It also means being fundamentally sound and having the savvy to make the “right play.”
Tune into Karpin’s Korner, every Tuesday night at 7 pm, eastern time on 365sportscast.com