Karpin’s Korner: Winning is Fundamental, That Darn Box

The Yankees weren’t going to run the table for the remainder of the season, but the ten-game winning streak, that ended Sunday, was just what the doctor ordered. It was a complete turnaround from a losing skid that saw them drop 15 of 20 and put them perilously close to missing the expanded playoffs.

For the most part, the Yankees played very well during the streak. Their starting pitching led the way, the bullpen did its part and the offense took off on a power surge. The streak also helped camouflage some “red flags” that could hurt the Yankees’ chances in the post season. If you were paying attention, some of those concerns surfaced in this just completed series against the “Dead Sox.”

Friday night was a game that the Yankees would’ve lost to a good team. It took a Gary Sanchez, ninth inning home run and a D.J. LeMahieu clutch, RBI double in the 12th inning to overcome a night where the Yankees made three errors (could’ve been four) and hit into four double-plays.

Even in Saturday’s 8-0 win, there were three plays that reeked of poor fundamentals. In the 3rd, with the Yankees leading 2-0, Brett Gardner tried to tag up from second on Luke Voit’s fly ball to right field and was thrown out at third to end the inning.

The Yankees were leading 7-0 in the eighth, when Boston’s Bobby Dalbec led off with a double. On a ground ball to short, Dalbec made a mistake by trying for third. Tyler Wade made an even bigger mistake by trying to throw the runner out at third, instead of taking the easy out at first base. After a replay, the runner was ruled safe at third. It didn’t cost the game, but, at the very least, it made J.A. Happ work harder than he needed to.

In the ninth, the Yankees had Gardner on third and Voit on first with one out. Gio Urshela hit a fly ball to deep right field. Gardner could score easily, but Voit thought there were two out and he took off for second. It became a timing play as Gardner had to touch home before the Red Sox doubled off Voit. There was no way that Gardner did not see Voit take off from first, yet he kinda slowed up when he got to the plate, assuming he would be safe. Luckily, the run counted. That was Voit’s mistake, but Gardner would’ve been equally guilty if the run did not count.

There have been a number of base running mistakes before this weekend. One example was earlier this month when Wade pulled a bonehead move during a loss to the Mets. He was inserted as the free runner at second base in the 10th inning and then, with no one out, mindlessly took off for third on a line drive to right field. The Yankees failed to score and the Mets won the game on a walk off, two run homerun by Pete Alonso.

Even in this analytical era, proper fundamentals still go a long way towards winning. If the Yankees continue to make these fundamental mistakes in the post season, it will be a very short run.

Every televised game now features that box graphic that is supposed to designate the strike zone. You see it in the TV shot from centerfield. It’s supposed to indicate what the strike zone is for each batter, but the failure to account for the actual physical size of a batter is just one argument for why it should not be used.

My beef with the box is this. The strike zone is an imaginary zone. It is not three-dimensional so can you really account for it with a graphic on a flat screen.

No matter who the batter is, (when the catcher is in a conventional crouch) the box outline from top to bottom, runs from the bottom of the catcher’s mask to his shin guards. When a batter is standing up in the batter’s box, the top of the “strike zone box” is a little above the hitter’s belt. It doesn’t matter if it’s 6’7” Aaron Judge or 5’11” Brett Gardner, the box remains the same, from the bottom of the mask to the shin guards. The catcher’s physical appearance doesn’t change, but a batter’s does. According to the rule book, the strike zone at the top is a “horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is at a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap.”

Here is something else that could result from the implementation of an “Electronic strike zone,” longer games. Baseball has been hearing the criticism that the games are too long and have taken steps to make them shorter. With today’s emphasis on “On Base Percentage,” batters would draw more walks and that would not only lengthen games, it would contribute to a lack of action that is really hurting the sport. The idea is to make the batters take more swings to create more action.

If MLB is serious about making the 16-team post season a permanent occurrence, they’ll need to make some adjustments to the format. In the spirit of having a fair competition, you can’t play a 162-game season and have every team play a best 2-of-3, first round series to advance.

Baseball would have to figure a way to reward the division winners and not make it easier for the non-division winners.

Sunday was the 47th anniversary of the famous “ball off the wall,” miracle play at Shea Stadium.

The Mets were locked in a tight pennant race down the stretch of the 1973 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates and they were meeting in a head-to-head, late season series at Shea Stadium.

With the game tied in the top of the 13th, the Pirates had two out and Richie Zisk on first when Dave Augustine hit a long fly ball to left field that looked like it was going over the fence for a go ahead, two run homer. The ball hit on top of the wall but did not go out. Instead, it came back to Mets’ left fielder Cleon Jones, who relayed it to shortstop Wayne Garrett, who then threw home to catcher Ron Hodges, who was blocking the plate, and Zisk was tagged out to end the inning.

The Mets won the game in the bottom of the 13th on Hodges’ walk off single. The win proved to be a turning point as the Mets went on to their second NL East division title.

Remembering the game brought this to mind. With today’s rules about not being allowed to block the plate, do you think Hodges would’ve been able to make that famous play?

Is it me or am I the only one who is not impressed with the “Exit velocity” stat.


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