Of­fense and pace

The Buffalo News - - CONTINUED FROM THE COVER -

want my sport back. Se­ri­ously. And not the old days when just about ev­ery game in Ma­jor League Base­ball was played in less than 2 1/2 hours. We’re not talk­ing 1977 here. I’d be happy for a re­turn to, oh,

2009.

Yes, every­body is sup­posed to hate com­mis­sion­ers but I’m root­ing for Rob Man­fred’s at­tempts to fix what’s wrong in base­ball. There’s noth­ing wrong with change. And the game sud­denly needs a lot of it.

For all of us who love the game and re­coil in hor­ror when a non-be­liever says base­ball is bor­ing, it’s be­com­ing harder to ar­gue the point.

Did you know there were more strike­outs than hits last sea­son for the first time in his­tory? We’re talk­ing 41,019 hits but 41,207 Ks marked on score­cards. The trend is quickly get­ting worse as strike­outs rose for the 11th straight year.

Leg­endary base­ball writer Jayson Stark, who now writes for the Ath­letic, warned us months be­fore the sea­son ended that 2018 was likely to have nearly 10,000 fewer balls in play than 2009.

Yes, he said 10,000.

In 2009, the post­sea­son ended with the Yan­kees’ fas­ci­nat­ing six-game World Se­ries win over the Phillies. That year, bat­ters put 130,217 balls in play, ac­cord­ing to sports data hound Chuck Ban­non of Qlik.com.

To do the math, you fol­low his for­mula: Balls in play = (At-bats + sac flies + sac hits) - (home runs + strike­outs). For last sea­son, my cal­cu­la­tions came up with 120,673 balls in play.

The dif­fer­ence is 9,544, darn close to Stark’s fore­cast. That’s far too much time where the game is the pitcher, the hit­ter, the catcher and no­body else.

At­ten­dance was down more than 4 per­cent from 2017 and was 9.8 mil­lion less than 2007. And don’t blame spring weather. Tele­vi­sion rat­ings for the post­sea­son cratered, even with a Bos­ton-Los An­ge­les World Se­ries. Prices keep go­ing up. En­ter­tain­ment is go­ing down and fans in plenty of cities feel their team has no hope to win, or maybe doesn’t want to win. That’s a deadly com­bi­na­tion.

Guys like Rangers slug­ger Joey Gallo give you a good idea about what’s wrong with the game th­ese days.

Gallo, 25, broke through as a reg­u­lar in 2017, play­ing 145 games. He belted 41 homers and had 80 RBIs while bat­ting .209 with

196 strike­outs. He had just 94 hits. Sim­i­lar num­bers last year: In 148 games, he had 40 homers and 92 RBIs. But there was that lit­tle is­sue of a .206 av­er­age and 207 strike­outs that kept his hit to­tal at 103.

Two years in a row, ac­cord­ing to FanGraphs, Gallo has had the worst con­tact per­cent­age on his swings in the big leagues. Last year, the num­ber was just 61.7 per­cent. If or­ga­ni­za­tions think all-ornoth­ing play­ers like this are re­ally what they want, they’re doomed to fail.

Man­fred is most con­cerned with pace of play and get­ting the game mov­ing. And with an av­er­age game time of 3:05 last sea­son and only one game the en­tire post­sea­son com­ing in un­der 3 hours, he’s right.

Man­fred has given up the use of a pitch clock for now, but bet on it show­ing up in a new ba­sic agree­ment some­time around 2021 or 2022. We’ve seen the pitch clock work in Triple-A and it’s barely no­tice­able now, other than keep­ing game times man­age­able. In ad­di­tion to speed of play, we need to see more of­fense. The over­all bat­ting av­er­age last sea­son of .248 was base­ball’s low­est since 1972. We need the DH in the Na­tional League. Yes­ter­day.

Enough of watch­ing pitch­ers flail­ing away. That’s not strat­egy. Kids spe­cial­ize in pitch­ing in high school th­ese days and we want them to hit in the ma­jor leagues? For some warped tra­di­tion?

Man­fred will make that hap­pen over the howls of NL purists, as he should. He hasn’t at­tacked the de­fen­sive shift as vo­cif­er­ously yet, but he should do that, too. It’s a scourge.

Left-handed hit­ters, in par­tic­u­lar, are vul­ner­a­ble to los­ing all kinds of balls pulled to the right side that would have been hits a few years ago. Guys aren’t wired to dink a ball down the third-base line be­cause no one hits like, say, Wade Boggs did.

The shift and the em­pha­sis on home runs

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