I was talking with a co-worker a bit about baseball this evening and we got around to one of my favorite questions, that of who the best athletes are on youth teams (his first answer was the same as mine, typically the best player/athlete on the team is a pitcher, or perhaps a shortstop/second baseman), which in turn led me to question what happens to these star athletes, who also tend to be some of the better hitters early in their 'careers,' that has them go from being productive hitters to people that typically can't hit a ball no matter how hard they try?
We continued talking about it a bit, and he offered a few reasons as to why, and I offered up one big reason in my book. His reasons included the fact that the pitchers typically only have to face a few guys that can pitch well when they are in youth leagues, and on through college, where once they get into the minor leagues and above, they are facing pitchers that are all good enough to play for pay. I conceded that point, but then went on to list my main reason -- the aluminum bat, and lately, the composite bat.
I think the aluminum bat, and it's successor, the composite bat, have just about ruined the game of baseball for U.S. players. Our kids are playing with these pieces of equipment which have warped the game and made what would be weak little dribblers turn into line drives and singles that aren't. Good quality hits are turned into home runs and extra base smashes that inflate batting averages, slugging percentages, and other things that seamheads drool over.
Realistically, I'd love to see the return of the nothing but wooden bats everywhere but in the lowest of the youth oriented leagues. Little league for kids 13 and under and no higher. After that, kids should have the ability to swing a wooden bat or they should live with the consequences of not being able to get a hit (reducing and bringing back to reality the offensive numbers in high schools, and colleges).
Pitchers would likely rejoice as their numbers would stop being warped by hits that shouldn't have been, and they'll also party over not giving up home runs that are gifts from bats made to help smash the ball on any sort of contact.
Were that to happen, then perhaps some of these star athletes would find that even the pitchers in the same class and category that they are can throw strikes and get people out, and perhaps we'd actually start seeing who really is the best at these lower levels, rather than having scouts make assumptions based on numbers that all have to be adjusted to take away the offensive production that non-wooden bats have added to the game. We'd also find that scouts could tell who the best hitters are by looking at their real production, and then only needing to factor in some strenght and weight gain that will come with a few years of being in professional leagues.
Maybe someday my dream will be a reality, but for now it seems that we live in an age when organized baseball would rather see offense, and doesn't care much about defense and pitching. Though of course all teams would love to have the 30 game winner. The lights out pitcher that can blow smoke past even the greatest of hitters. Of course they all want that guy on their team, while their team is loaded up with hitters that can smack the ball around no matter who is on the mound for the opposing team.