Rozner: TBS' Darling pitches honesty in baseball broadcast

Every now and then, there's something very wrong with baseball math.

Yes, Kris Bryant, seven remains more than six. Feel pretty good about that one.

But starting pitchers are becoming more and more expensive, while performing less and less, throwing fewer innings on shorter pitch counts.

That simply doesn't add up.

"What has happened now is the people who make decisions in baseball are using a lot of statistical analysis," color analyst Ron Darling said a few days ago at Wrigley Field, before an NLCS game where he was doing terrific work for TBS. "What that analysis is telling them is that, the third or fourth time through the order, starting pitchers are having more and more trouble getting people out.

"If you look at my numbers, the third or fourth time through the order I was even better. The reason is I was trained for that marathon.

"These young pitchers are trained to only go 5 or 6 innings, so by the time they get to the third time through the order, they're gassed. If you're gassed, you're definitely going to be less effective."

And here's where Darling makes a point that any front-office analyst would understand.

"Where I find the discrepancy is that we're still paying the starter like he's pitching 250 innings and giving him $20 million or $25 million," Darling said. "I think in time that might change. Teams might start paying starters a little differently because of their role."

Since starters aren't being trained to go deep, they don't know how to get through a lineup even if a pitch count is low and a manager is willing to ride him.

"If no one was on base and I was facing Mike Schmidt, I would pitch him differently in the first inning than I would in the seventh with two guys on," Darling explained. "Over the course of 120 pitches in a game, I would throw max-effort fastballs maybe 10 times.

"But if it's a 2-2 count and we're winning by a run and Mike Schmidt's up and a runner on third and less than two outs, instead of 92 (mph) I throw 94 (mph).

"He pops up to center field. He throws his bat down like he missed it. But I know he didn't miss it because I added just enough to get him out. That's the art of pitching you don't see very much now."

So will baseball ever get back to a time when pitchers are taught to throw more pitches and more innings?

"I think that part of the game is gone forever," Darling said. "It's because of how expensive these pitchers are when they're drafted. They give them $4 million or $5 million and they protect them.

"I think the agents won't let it happen because they're afraid of them not having a long career."

This is the essence of Darling the ex-player. He has never had to search for his voice because - unlike so many TV analysts in baseball - Darling is able to quickly and clearly explain what is happening on or off the field, assisted by an erudite approach befitting a Yale all-American.

With an old-school mentality, yet unafraid of and willing to embrace today's metrics, Darling's commentary comes off as easy and smooth.

Maybe that's because Darling is fearless, more concerned with delivering for the fans than couching his opinions to protect players, managers or MLB execs.

"I'd rather just talk about the athletes and how great they are all the time," Darling said. "Occasionally, we come across rules and things that have been changed since my playing days.

"Some are good and some are bad, and I think they should be addressed in the proper way.

"I don't try to do this job ever intending to be mean. I'm just trying to be smart in what I'm talking about and that includes the players and the rules.

"The reason I do the job is these games, these postseason games. This is the most important time of the year. I can't play anymore, but this makes me feel like I'm part of it."

In New York, Ron Darling is hardly a mystery. A 1986 World Series hero and current Mets broadcaster, Darling has been a star for TBS, on par with the best national color guys in the game.

"What I enjoy is it's the closest thing to being on a team," Darling said. "It's a collaborative effort. You're part of something.

"I love working with the cameramen to the producers and the runners and my play-by-play guy.

"I always thought I was a good teammate and I try to be a good teammate in what I'm doing now.

"Maybe my role from 8 o'clock to 11 o'clock is more important than someone else's, but they do all the heavy lifting before the game and after the game. I love the collaboration and I love the game."

It's comes across not too loud, but always clear.

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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