Yesterday, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said this after his team lost to the Phillies:
“We just didn’t execute pitches very well today and we got what you’re going to get when you don’t make pitches”
That phrase — “executing pitches” — is one that I’ve noticed more and more in recent years. I think I first noticed it five or six years ago. I first talked about it in this space over a year ago in a Blue Jays-A’s recap, Since then I’ve thought about it a lot and I notice it whenever it comes up in a game story.
I assume that the concept of “executing pitches” is a function of some pitching coach encouraging pitchers to break down games into their most granular form. Rather than to think about an outing against a tough opponent or an at bat against a tough hitter, to think about each individual pitch. To try to make a single pitch as perfectly as he can — which is within the capability of any pitcher — and to let the at bat and eventually the game take care of itself.
I have long suspected that “executing pitches” was almost a mantra, really. A mantra invented by one guy or one organization and, as often happens in baseball, was copied by others until it spread around the league. Now we have hundreds of pitchers thinking about “executing” the next pitch each time they get the ball back from the catcher and talking about “executing pitches” in the clubhouse after the game.
As I said, I merely suspected all of that. On Friday night, however, Brewers manager Craig Counsell said this after his team and the Dodgers combined to strike out a record 42 times:
“It’s too many. You’re going to have a hard time winning a game striking out that many times, but it was a very well-pitched game,” Counsell said. “Both sides pitched outstanding. I think that’s what happens in the age of executed pitching, and that’s what it was.”
The phrase “in the age of executed pitching,” suggests that the phrase is not just a cliche like “giving 110%” and “looking for a pitch I could hit.” It’s a philosophy that people in baseball have pushed and are consciously aware of.
If so, it certainly explains a lot about the current state of baseball. Encouraging pitchers to adopt a mindset in which every pitch is very deeply considered and contemplated before being thrown might explain why so many pitchers work so slowly these days. Likewise, having that extra time to think about “executing” each pitch gives the pitcher a bit of extra rest to gear up with maximum effort might explain why velocity is so much higher. And, of course, if every single pitch is considered and executed with maximum effort, guys are going to get tired more quickly, leading to even slower-working, harder-throwing relievers making their appearances earlier in games.
I am in no position to take issue with the “execute pitches” mindset for its own sake, as it obviously works for a lot of guys. Home runs are up and we’re no longer in the low run scoring era we experienced a few years ago, but the game is still dominated by pitching in many important respects. Strikeouts are obviously ubiquitous and, as we saw last postseason, the presence of one or two guys on a staff who can throw gas and, well, execute pitches, is certainly a game changer.
But as a fan I can’t say that the “age of executed pitching” is all that great aesthetically speaking. It makes each at bat and each pitch a slog, frankly. While I’m certain that pitchers still think broadly about how to approach entire lineups and how to sequence pitches in order to set up hitters, it’s far harder to watch that unfold in real time now. When a guy sits and contemplates and gears up for every single pitch like it’s the most important pitch they’ve ever thrown, the flow that I have always enjoyed about great pitching becomes nearly invisible.
I’m not qualified to tell pitchers or pitching coaches how to approach their jobs and, given the results, if they want to take the granular approach of breaking the game down pitch-by-executed-pitch, by all means they should continue to do so. But it’s just one of many things, I feel, that has contributed to game that lacks the action and the fluidity that it once had. We see many more homers and strikeouts and walks now. We see fewer balls in play now. We see fewer exciting plays like triples. Fewer stolen bases too. And in between that limited action we can almost see the steam shooting out of pitchers’ ears as they sit, nearly motionless, concentrating on how to execute each and every pitch.
It’s kind of a drag, frankly.