Many of my recent posts have been directed more at overall views, but this week I would like to look at a few specific trends that have bothered me in this young MLB season.
The first is the rise of the three true outcomes (minus the walks; I believe walks showcase a good hitter’s ability to work an opposing pitcher, not an AB so lame it only qualifies as a plate appearance). As many baseball followers heard, the first month of this season produced more strikeouts than hits. Now, I would say that an earlier start than normal (which introduced freezing temperatures in stadiums across the country) combined with harder-throwing pitchers and the overall slumber that hitters must awaken from post-Spring Training contributed to this statistical anomaly, but such can’t be the case. For, if these factors really did decide how many strikeouts a given game had, then April certainly would not have been the first month EVER to have more strikeouts than hits. That’s right, last month made history, and not in a good way (at least in my mind). Hitting has gone from put the bat on the ball to put the ball on the wall, and launch angle has most definitely played a role in the ever-increasing SOs. When a hitter has a higher swing angle, they are more likely to miss underneath the ball, either popping it up, tipping it foul, or missing all together. Pitchers have done a wonderful job using this trend by pitching more and more up in the zone; even last night, I watched Brent Suter, a lefty throwing 88, consistently run fastballs by the letters of Twins hitters. Harold Reynolds, a family favorite, was keen to point out late last season that the high fastball has become increasingly popular in the pitching realm, as hitters looking to lift a ball fail to get on top of this pitch, producing an unprecedented amount of whiffs.
And while I am saddened by this fundamental change in the hitting approach, it has gotten results; the single-season homerun record was broken last year, and the pace this year is set to shatter it once again. It used to be that when you watched late-night highlights, you might see one home run in a given game, and it was a big deal. In fact, if we do some rough math, we find that the average home run total per player was five home runs higher in 2017 than it was in 2014 (16.28 compared to 11.16). Now when you watch highlights, homeruns are as mundane as singles, and it’s unfortunate. Longballs have gone from amazing feats of power to everyday items that procure disappointment from fans if they cease to exist on a given day.
Here’s one last thing that I think is (somewhat) ruining baseball; the shift. God how I hate shifts. Baseball is all about nine guys on a field trying to stop the hitter, and the hitter’s goal is to hit it where they ain’t. The baseball gods, smart as they were, devised an excellent positioning system that has proven over the years to succeed in this task of containing clobberers over seven times out of 10. Pretty effective, huh? While some teams may believe shifts are even more efficient (as they place defenders where a batter has proven himself most likely to hit the ball), they really don’t make much of a difference; according to FiveThirtyEight, the league-wide batting average on balls in play rose from .294 in 2011 (when shifts began to gain serious popularity) to .300 in 2016. In addition, the batting average on ground balls in that time frame went from .228 to .242. While balls that were pulled resulted in less hits, the amount of times a batter was able to beat the shift and go oppo not only cancelled out that success, but evidently made shift slightly less effective than a regular defense.
In conclusion, batters need to get back to the basics, home runs are no longer special, and shifts are ruining defense. At least my A’s are over .500!