Where no strike­out to­tal has gone be­fore

Waterloo Region Record - - SPORTS - Ron­ald Blum

NEW YORK — Ma­jor League Baseball is set to smash through a pre­vi­ously un­touched bar­rier Sunday: Some bat­ter likely will walk back to his dugout af­ter be­com­ing the 40,000 strike­out of the sea­son.

There were 30,801 strike­outs in 2005. At the cur­rent rate, this year’s to­tal will be about 40,060.

“It kills me. I can’t watch the game. It’s not baseball,” Hall of Fame pitcher Goose Gos­sage said Thurs­day.

“The only thing that’s the same in the game is the bases are 90 feet and the mound is 60 feet, 6 inches. That’s it.”

The strike­out record has been bro­ken for 10 con­sec­u­tive sea­sons, and this year’s to­tal will be well above the 38,982 who whiffed in 2016. There were 39,334 through Thurs­day, with three full days re­main­ing.

More bat­ters are swing­ing for the fences, part of the com­puter rev­o­lu­tion that trans­formed nearly ev­ery as­pect of the game, from de­fen­sive shifts to shorter out­ings by start­ing pitch­ers, to more relief pitch­ers on each team’s ros­ter. The sea­son home run record of 5,694, which had stood since 2000 at the height of the Steroids Era, was shat­tered with nearly two weeks left. Cleve­land’s Roberto Perez hit No. 6,000 on Thurs­day as the to­tal rose to 6,022.

“If you’re strik­ing out, you’re not hit­ting into a lot of dou­ble plays. It was like 10 years ago when I think the an­a­lyt­i­cal peo­ple started say­ing that strike­outs aren’t re­ally that bad,” Kansas City Roy­als man­ager Ned Yost said. “They would much rather have one out than the chance for two.”

Bos­ton’s Chris Sale has 308 strike­outs, the most by a big league pitcher since Ari­zona’s Randy John­son had 334 in 2002 and Di­a­mond­backs team­mate Curt Schilling fanned 316. In­di­ans pitch­ers have reached dou­ble dig­its in strike­outs 90 times, the most since at least 1913.

In ear­lier eras, strike­outs were a smear on a slug­ger’s baseball card. Babe Ruth never struck out more than 93 times in a sea­son. Joe DiMag­gio fanned 369 times in his ca­reer, to go along with 361 home runs.

The Yan­kees’ Aaron Judge may have set a big league rookie record for home runs with 51 through Thurs­day, but he’s also fanned 205 times. Oak­land’s Khris Davis was at 194 and Texas’ Joey Gallo at 193.

“They have de­ter­mined the im­por­tance of hit­ting the ball in the air, the im­por­tance of hit­ting home runs, and I think play­ers have bought into it,” Yan­kees man­ager Joe Gi­rardi said. “I think you can be ex­tremely pro­duc­tive strik­ing out 150 times a year. If you can drive 100 and you can score 100, there’s a lot of things that you can do. So I think the game has shifted gears a lit­tle bit.”

Baseball of­fi­cials are con­cerned about the de­crease in ac­tion, es­pe­cially in an era that had pro sports com­pet­ing with screen time for the at­ten­tion of youth.

Teams av­er­aged three strike­outs per game when the Yan­kees’ Mur­derer’s Row ruled baseball in 1927. The av­er­age didn’t top four un­til 1952, five un­til 1959 and six un­til 1994. It passed seven in 2010 and eight last year.

“Ev­ery­body digs the long ball. If you struck out that many times back in the day, your (butt) would be back in the mi­nor leagues,” said Gos­sage, who ad­vo­cates small ball as a way of de­feat­ing both power pitch­ers and in­field shifts. “I think these com­put­ers got these kids — they’re all like ro­bots. You’re telling me that a guy, a pro­fes­sional hit­ter, can’t hit a ball the whole left or right side of an in­field that’s gone? How about lay­ing down five or six or 10 bunts, like Boog Pow­ell would have done?”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Cincin­nati Reds’ Joey Votto re­acts to a called strike­out against the St. Louis Car­di­nals ear­lier this month.

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