Karpin’s Korner: Last Licks, Extra Second, Heater Losing Stream?

While growing up and being exposed to baseball, you always heard the term, “last licks.” That meant that whoever had “last licks” would have the final at-bat in a 9-inning, 7-inning or extra inning game.

There is a thought that home advantage (if MLB goes to a “bubble” for the post-season) won’t have as much of an impact at a neutral site, as it would at a team’s respective ballpark. After all, “it doesn’t matter” that there are no fans in the stands? Right! Having no attendance takes away the emotional boost that a home team may get, but it really doesn’t affect how the game is strategized on the field.

Don’t underestimate the importance of having “last licks,” no matter where the games are played.

Tie game in the 9th and you’re the visiting team, you can play for a run, but you better have a good closer if you get the lead, because a run doesn’t end the game. If the game is still tied when the home team bats, they only need that one run to win the game. There’s a bit more pressure on the pitcher who faces the home team in that spot because the game can end at a moment’s notice.

If a game is still tied in the bottom of the ninth, the home team is guaranteed to have two at-bats for every one for the road team. In other words, if the game remains tied after the road team fails to score in the top of 9th, there is no guarantee that they will get another at-bat. If a home team fails to score and the game continues to a 10th inning and beyond, they are guaranteed to get another at-bat. There’s a different mindset in being the visiting team and the home team, no matter where the game is played.

What will come into play, wherever the post season games are held, will be the dimensions of that ballpark. Teams are built a certain way to accommodate their home field dimensions. We all know the Yankee Stadium right field porch provides a bonanza of fair ball souvenirs, but the games will likely not be played in New York.

The 2020 extra innings rule has provided some fodder to feed another baseball debate. Do you like it or not? I have to admit, I did say the rule would “never be used in a Major League game,” but I also have to admit that I’m intrigued by the rule and it would cut down on the never ending 18, 19, and 20-inning marathons.

Here’s my suggestion. The extra inning rule should start with the 13th inning. No base runners to start an inning before that. This way the teams would play three legitimate extra innings (1/3 of a regulation game) and it would lessen the chances of a game that could continue into the next morning and putting a severe strain on each team’s pitching staff.

The post-season figures to provide some intrigue because the first round puts enormous pressure on the favorites and gives the underdogs a fighting chance, no matter the match up. The first two teams in each division are guaranteed a spot and that gives them an advantage because their positions will likely be secure. They’ll be able to set up their pitching rotation for the “minefield” that is the dangerous, two out of three, first round. The teams that have to play until the end of the season in order to secure a spot will not be able to line up the pitchers to their liking.

Anyone who watches and understands baseball knew that when Aroldis Chapman “lost something off his fastball,” he would have to make the transition that pitchers go through when they lose velocity. It appears that heater is losing steam and Chapman cannot and will not survive with a mediocre slider.

According to some outlets that track these sort of things, Chapman’s slider usage this season has increased from his previous high of 31.1% last season to 34% this season and that’s in 6 appearances. Additionally, Chapman’s two seam fastball has straightened out, so he’s been relying on his four seamer which has not been as effective as in the past. (In game one Friday night, Chapman threw 14 pitches, 12 were four seam fastballs and two were sliders)

The thinking behind a “lights out” reliever is that he comes in with the “gas” and blows away the inning. Swings and misses is the foolproof way to win. After all, if they don’t hit it, there’s no way they can score. That’s great when it works but what about when it doesn’t work. What is the alternative? Many times, the closer role calls for efficiency more so than power.

Power relievers need to work harder than a pitcher that can get a ground ball for a DP. They also need to have nearly impeccable command. Those types of pitchers cannot afford to put men on base. That’s where the “start with a clean inning” credo resonates. In many instances, power relievers do not hold runners on very well.

In Thursday’s loss to the Mets, pinch-runner Billy Hamilton distracted Chapman enough to balk him to second. After Hamilton foolishly tried for (and was thrown out at) third, Chapman didn’t seize the momentum and gave up the tying home run to J.D. Davis, a right handed hitter who crushes lefties. (Hamilton has since been DFA’d)

Chapman is signed through 2022 but if he can’t perfect his slider to be a more effective pitch and transition to being a pitcher, rather than a thrower, I don’t know how effective he can be as a closer moving forward.

During a Yankee game this past week, Yankees TV analyst David Cone was pointing out a stat that says batting average on ground balls has gone way down because of the shifts. If you learn to hit to the opposite field when much more of the field is exposed, that batting average on ground balls would be about .400 or better.

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