Pitchers are supposed to be ahead of the hitters at this time of year. The weather is cooler, the hitters’ timing isn’t where it will be in May and June.
But teams are hitting home runs at a rate 1.33 per game. If that home run rate continued, it would be the highest rate since teams started keeping statistics in 1871. The strikeout rate of 8.83 per game, if it held for a season, would the be the highest in league history.
Meanwhile, the league batting average of .242, if it continued for the season, would be the worst since 1972.
This is not your father’s MLB, or your grandfather’s or even your older brother’s MLB. We’ve never seen baseball like it is today.
Launch angles. Swing velocity. Defensive shifts. Pitch counts. Specialized relief roles. It’s all coming together now to give us a game where homers, strikeouts and walks have all increased dramatically.
If the walk rate of 3.49 per team per game continues, then it would be the highest since 2000 when every team averaged 3.75 walks per game.
John Smoltz said on MLB Network that he thinks the walk rate is up because pitchers are paying too much attention to those charts that show batting averages that players have for each section of the plate.
He believes pitchers would be better off pitching to their strengths rather than trying to hit an imaginary six-inch-by-six-inch square around the plate.
Unquestionably, fans love home runs. Nobody complains about the increase in long balls. But the increase in whiffs, coupled with the decrease in average, has robbed the game of some of its action.
Today, there’s no shame in striking out
One of the oddities of the modern game is the increased tolerance of strikeouts. Not long ago, the walk back to the dugout after fanning was a walk of shame. Today, there’s no shame in striking out, as long as long as you are happy with your swing path. Texas Rangers player Joey Gallo has struck out 37 times in 85 at-bats. That’s a 43.5% strikeout rate. Kansas City’s Jorge Soler has struck out 41 times in 103 at-bats. That’s almost a 40% strikeout rate.
On Sunday, Chicago White Sox pitchers struck out 20 Detroit Tigers.
What happened to the idea that you owed it to your team to choke up when you have two strikes and putting the ball in play?
All sports evolve. The NFL isn’t the same game it was five or 10 years ago. The NHL isn’t as physical as it once was. But there is a sense around baseball that a correction, or at least a tweak, is needed.
There should always be more to baseball than home runs, walks and strikeouts.