Offense and pace
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,
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