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BLOG #16: Does Perfect Mean Nothing Anymore?

A lot has happened so far in the first week of the 2022 season. Steven Kwan forgot what it’s like to swing and miss at a baseball, Alyssa Nakken of the San Francisco Giants became the first woman to be an on-field coach in MLB history, and Clayton Kershaw threw seven perfect innings with 13 Ks before being pulled by Dave Roberts. Let me rephrase that, Clayton Kershaw threw seven perfect innings with 13 Ks before being pulled by Dave Roberts at 80 PITCHES!?!? As much as I want answers as to why Clayton was pulled, I want more answers as to why the hell the game of baseball has come to this.

Courtesy of Jeff Passan, there have been over 220,000 games played in the entirety of the MLB’s history – only 23 of them have ended “perfectly”. I may be more of a numbers fiend than some of you, but since we’re talking in the less than 0.01% range of something I can assure you, it’s rare. Since 1901, there have been two instances where a pitcher has been perfect through seven innings before the manager prematurely decided to end his night. There was Clayton Kershaw last week, and there was Rich Hill on September 10, 2016… where he was a member of? None other than the Los Angeles Dodgers coached by Dave Roberts. You have got to be kidding me.

Looking into that story, there were some points by Roberts that had made sense:

  • Rich Hill was dealing with blister issues
  • Hill was (and still is) old, even at 89 pitches getting six more outs is a big ask for the vet especially late into the season
  • The Dodgers were 4 weeks away from playoffs, is it worth that risk?

Alright, sure. I see Robert’s angle in the sense that one game is not as important as the team’s postseason run (fun fact Dodgers didn’t win that year). Say the newly-acquired Hill injures his blister even more and is unavailable come playoffs, I am sure Dodger fans would bash Roberts more than what he actually received by pulling Hill. After the game, Roberts did admit he felt “sick to his stomach”, and hearing the thought process behind his reasoning made me a little less bothered. But what about Kershaw? What were the reasons as to why he was pulled:

  • Shortened spring training (thanks Manfred), leaving Kershaw not as conditioned as he would have liked
  • First start of the season coming off a year with elbow issues

Does Roberts know something that I or other people don’t? I do not consider what is listed above as enough reasoning to pull arguably one of the best pitchers of all time from a game in which he is six outs away from perfection. Postgame, Kershaw kept it simple and said he agreed with Roberts and that his outing should have come to an end, but the competitor in me feels the competitor in Kershaw had to have wanted to finish that out. No matter how I look at it, I struggle with which side is the “correct” one.

Looking at it from Robert’s angle, no injury came out of it, Kershaw threw seven perfect innings and made Minnesota look foolish, and he and the Dodgers can go forward with their stacked roster heading into week 2 of the 162 game marathon. Seems like a win-win. Yet, on the other side, I can’t help but wonder if Roberts prevented Kershaw from making history and adding to his already ungodly resume just one start into his 2022 season. Is what it is… we shall never know.

Kershaw’s outing aside, however, I will admit this notion of limiting pitchers’ innings to preserve arm health is aggravating. I won’t say today’s pitchers are “coddled” like other analysts, but the game today is not at all what it once was and I am lost on where it is headed. In the last 30 seasons, we have seen significant drops in innings pitched by individual pitchers, and getting over 250 innings is considered above and beyond. Back in the 70s, teams had 4-man rotations and the league leader was consistently around the 300 inning threshold. Even closers were given the task of getting more than three outs, and now we live in an era so focused on matchups and analytics that teams’ relievers have become starting and closing pitcher’s saving grace.

One of the main arguments I can muster up as to why things have changed in recent seasons has to do with the amount of money some pitchers are making. With all that is invested into a team and its players, overthrowing your star pitchers can lead to issues both short and long-term. This leaves coaches like Dave Roberts in a tough position by making sure all of his arms are healthy, happy, and on a strict routine.

So is that the issue? Financially (and strategically) it doesn’t make sense to go out and “overwork” players that are paid insane amounts of money to throw a baseball? While I do not know that answer, I will say from a fan’s perspective it is frustrating to not see Kershaw adamant about going out there in the eighth and at least trying to see what magic he had left in the tank. With so much concern over the popularity of baseball, I think this was an instance where Kershaw has to buck up and go after history, but that’s just me.

Not many things in this world are considered perfect, and to cough the ball up to your manager when you’re six outs away from something that is, I think it is fair to be a little underwhelmed as fans of the game. Let me know what you guys think? Was Kershaw’s night over and Roberts made the right decision by saving him for the long run, or was this an unnecessary precaution that ruined what could have been the 24th perfect game of all time? I am all ears, and as always hope you all enjoyed the read. Til next time.

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