Jonah Keri has a great article over at Grantland today. It’s about the spitball. Its history. Its glory. Its grossness. And, ultimately, its decline.
But why did it decline? One reason cited, which I never considered, was the advent of the split-fingered fastball, which basically made the ball do the same thing all of that grease and spit and stuff did.
Another reason: much like the powers of the Jedi in the days following the end the of Clone Wars, there were no masters around to teach the young padawans:
The advantage Perry, Sutton, and their contemporaries had on today’s pitchers was infrastructure. Sutton and Drysdale could and would exchange notes on how to beat hitters using doctored pitches. If you didn’t have a teammate who threw a spitter, your pitching coach may have known how to throw one. Or a pitcher on another team. Or a recently retired pitcher willing to share his trade secrets. You apprenticed at the feet of the masters, learned the ways of deception, then passed your own knowledge on to the next generation. But Sutter’s emergence and the subsequent spread of the split-fingered fastball ate away at that support system. The incentive to throw a spitball dropped with a new weapon emerging, and then even if a pitcher wanted to learn to throw a spitball, there were far fewer teachers willing and able to show him how it was done.
That kind of stinks. But looking at it from a Moneyball perspective: in this saliva-barren environment, any pitcher who can master the fine art of the spitter will have a distinct advantage, no?
Keri talks about that too — and suggests some ways pitchers can maybe kinda sorta start doctoring balls in greater numbers than they currently are — but eh, let’s just forget that. It’s kinda gross.
The Nationals will be many people’s favorites in the NL East this season. Not everything is looking great, however. For example, their ace — defending NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer — can’t even throw fastballs right now.
The reason: the stress fracture he suffered last August is still causing him problems and Scherzer is unable to use his fastball grip without feeling pain in his right ring finger. He will throw a bullpen session tomorrow, but will only use his secondary stuff.
Scherzer has not been ruled out for Opening Day — the fact that he is throwing some means that his timetable isn’t totally on hold — but you have to figure, at some point, not being able to air things out and use his heater will lead to some problems in his spring training routine.
File this under “man, that would’ve been cool.” Or, if you’re a Tigers fan, file it under “man, that would’ve signaled several years of misery.” However you fall on the matter, however, know that, according to Jon Heyman, the Dodgers inquired about trading for Justin Verlander over the winter.
It never went anywhere, but it’s not like it was silliness for the Dodgers to ask. As you may recall, the Tigers were reported to be willing to listen to offers on any and all players back in November, as GM Al Avila contemplated a tear-down. That never came to pass — the Tigers had a quiet offseason and are keeping the team together to make another run at the playoffs with the Verlander/Miguel Cabrera core — but it couldn’t hurt to ask.
Verlander, who is coming off a resurgent season which saw him return to form as one of baseball’s best pitchers, has 10-5 rights, allowing him to veto any trade. He’s married to an actress/model, however, owns a home in L.A., and the Dodgers are a clear contender, so there’s a good chance he would’ve allowed such a trade to happen. Heck, dude even loves pitchers batting, so a chance to do it all the time would be right up his alley.
The bigger issue likely would’ve been Verlander’s $28 million salary. The Dodgers already pay the luxury tax so taking on that commitment would cost them more than the sticker price. And, of course, if the Tigers are going to ever give up one of the best players in franchise history, it would take the motherlode of prospects to do it.
So, no, a Verlander-to-L.A. trade wasn’t ever a strong possibility. But even the slight possibility seems exciting in hindsight. It was a boring as hell offseason.