San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)

Embracing, exploiting swinging and missing

- John Shea is The San Francisco Chronicle’s national baseball writer. Email: jshea@ sfchronicl­e.com Twitter: @JohnSheaHe­y

In a roundabout way, Giants reliever Camilo Doval zoomed right from the California League to the major leagues and introduced himself with a firstpitch 97 mph blazer. His buddy, Gregory Santos, also a Class AtoClass MLB guy, debuted four days later with equally impressive stuff. Both reached 98plus fastball velocity complement­ed with filthy sliders that made batters either freeze or awkwardly swing as if they were waving bats with their eyes closed.

Manager Gabe Kapler couldn’t have been prouder and giddier.

“You throw harder, your stuff is nastier,” he said. “You don’t have to be nearly as fine.”

The Giants, who won three World Series championsh­ips with a bullpen of relievers armed more with deception than gas, are catching up to the world of highveloci­ty bull

pens, making powerful strides in the past week with the additions of Doval, 23, and Santos, 21, who each struck out two batters in his first inning, both perfect.

That’s more the trend than the exception. Nearly a month into this season, strikeouts dominate the game like never before. The strikeoutt­ohit ratio is more onesided than ever, and it’s not close.

Entering the weekend, through 576 games, batters struck out 5,263 times and collected 4,414 hits, a stunning differenti­al of 849 more K’s than hitters making safe contact.

From 1900 through 2017, hits always outnumbere­d strikeouts. Baseball was about action. You hit, you field, you run. Unless you strike out. Which was far more rare for most of baseball history than today.

In 1998, the year the sport expanded to 30 teams, there were 12,596 more hits than strikeouts. The needle didn’t move much until 2009 when the figure dropped below 10,000.

Then came drastic annual plunges as pitchers focused more on velocity and batters focused more on swinging for the fences. Then 2018 happened — the first year in history that strikeouts outnumbere­d hits, by just 189.

The figure jumped to 784 in 2019. Last year, despite a shortened 60game season, the number soared to 1,147.

This year, less than one month in, the 849 differenti­al already is 74% of the 2020 total.

That’s a lot of strikeouts. A lot of standing around. A lot less action.

“I think baseball actually agrees, and I think fans agree this has probably gone a little too far with the three outcomes you’re seeing the most,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of strikeouts, walks and home runs. “I think everybody would like to see a game with a little more contact and a little more action. How it morphs back into that, I’m not 100% sure yet.”

Major League Baseball is experiment­ing in the minors with rule changes designed to limit strikeouts and create more action, including moving the mound back a foot in the Atlantic League.

For now, strikeouts continue to pile up, and radar guns continue to light up. The Mets’ Jacob deGrom struck out 50 batters in his first four starts, a record. Brewers starter Corbin Burnes opened the season with a 40:8 strikeoutt­ohit ratio while issuing a ridiculous zero walks.

The stuff pitchers are working with generate those numbers; deGrom’s fastball averages 99 mph. His slider and changeup are 92. Burnes throws cutters and sinkers harder than most people’s fastballs, in the 9697 mph range.

The two hardestthr­owing Giants, according to our friends at Statcast, are Santos (ranked 12th in the majors) and Doval (28th). In a small sample size, they generate the most heat by the bay. Next for the Giants is Wandy Peralta (61st). The A’s leaders are Frankie Montas (43rd), Lou Trivino (75th) and Jesús Luzardo (90th).

Against all of that gas getting pumped across the majors, you have the wonderful Yusmeiro Petit, who is ranked 430th on a list of 445, which is everyone who threw a pitch — including position players in mopup duties. Petit’s average fastball: 86.9 mph.

A highlevera­ge reliever, the 36yearold Petit entered Saturday with a mere seven strikeouts in 121⁄3 innings while posting a 1.46 ERA.

“For me, the key is the control,” said Petit, who won a World Series with the 2014 Giants and is in his fourth season in the A’s bullpen. “The most important thing is making outs. No matter how you make it. No matter how much velocity you’ve got.”

Kapler, while he digs velocity, will say the same.

“I value strikethro­wing over all else, including velocity,” Kapler said. “There’s nothing more important for pitching, in my opinion, than the ability to throw a strike at will.

“Command is really important. Kevin Gausman can be equally effective at 94 at the top of the zone with his split as he can be when he’s 96 and 97. Arm speed is important. The ability to throw hard is helpful. But it’s certainly down the list.”

Indeed, among his bullpen assets, Kapler relies heavily on Matt Wisler, who’s sliderhapp­y, and sidewinder Tyler Rogers, who rank 357th and 438th respective­ly on the velo list.

Santos coughed up three ninthinnin­g runs Saturday night in his second outing, but it’s still nice to have a couple of fireballer­s in this new age of strikeouts outnumberi­ng hits, no matter how much action is diminished for fans.

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