Shrink the plate? What?

My hero Frank Deford had a thought-provoking and semi-bizarre commentary on NPR the other day about the strike zone. Frank was one of the biggest reasons I became a sportswriter. In a way, his grace as a writer was the BIGGEST reason I became a sportswriter. So what follows is written in that spirit.

Frank based his commentary on a simple premise: There are too many strikeouts in baseball these days. He thinks it is making the game boring. To fix this, his solution is fairly simple: Shrink home plate. Frank’s idea is to cut an inch and a half off each side of the plate, making it 14 inches across instead of the 17 inches it is now.

So much to talk about here.

Question 1: Are there too many strikeouts in today’s game?

Obviously this is a matter of opinion, but I tend to agree at least somewhat with Frank. It would be nice to see the ball put in play more. As baseball fans know, the increase in strikeouts is a skyrocketing phenomenon. Here is the rise of strikeouts per game (both teams):

1946: Average 7 strikeouts
1952: Average 8 strikeouts
1956: Average 9 strikeouts.
1959: Average 10 strikeouts.
1963: Average 11 strikeouts.
1967: Average 12 strikeouts.
1971: Average 11 strikeouts.
1974: Average 10 strikeouts.
1986: Average 11 strikeouts.
1994: Average 12 strikeouts.
1997: Average 13 strikeouts.
2010: Average 14 strikeouts.
2012: Average 15 strikeouts.

Sp. you can see the progression kind of bounced around until the 1994 strike season and has been soaring ever since. The battle between hitter and pitcher is a fascinating one, but it is true that when 15 of the 54 outs are strikeouts there is a repetitive feel to at-bats. Strikeout. Walk. Strikeout. Lots of foul balls. Baseball is great when there’s motion — fielders in motion, runners in motion, things happening so fast our minds struggle to keep up — and with strikeouts, as Babu says on Seinfeld, there is no motion.

Question 2: Why are strikeouts up?

Here is where Frank and I begin to diverge. Frank lists off the following reasons for the rise in strikeouts: Hitters are working the count more, they are not embarrassed to strike out like they were in the proud olden days and, most of all, pitchers are faster and better than they have ever been. Frank’s general premise is built around the opinion that pitchers (in large part because of the extensive use of fresh-armed relievers) have passed hitters in quality and so the game must be altered to balance it.

I don’t believe this last part at all. At all. Yes, I’m sure the fact that pitchers throw in the mid-to-high 90s more consistently now than at any point in baseball history has some effect, as do those other factors.

But in my view. by far the biggest reason strikeouts are up is pretty simple: The incentives point the game in that direction.

Baseball’s incentives used to point toward few strikeouts. Batting average used to drive the game — or at least it drove the way the game was viewed both inside and outside. The best players were the ones with the highest batting averages. The mark of excellence was being a .300 hitter. And striking out a lot crushed your chances of hitting .300.

Look, between 1901 and 1994, there were 818 players who struck out 100 times in a season.

– 78 (10%) — hit .300 or better (only two, Roberto Clemente in 1967 and Dave Parker in 1977 led league in hitting)
– 139 (17%) — hit between .280 and .299
– 246 (30%) — hit between .260 and .279
– 224 (28%) — hit between .240 and .259
– 121 (15%) — hit lower than .240

The last 20 years, though, the game has been driven by a different force: Power. Of course, power was always a part of the game, but for a long time only a few select players had it. There were only five to 10 players in each league capable of hitting 30 home runs in a season for the half century or so before the strike. There was a clear division in baseball then. The greatest home run hitters, many of them — Ruth, Mantle, Schmidt, Foxx, Howard, Killebrew, Greenberg, Snider, Reggie, on and on and on — struck out a lot for their times. But they hit home runs so it was generally tolerated.

The rest of the hitters couldn’t afford to strike out that much. They were light-hitting middle infielders and fast outfielders and hit-and-run craftsmen and professional hitters. They HAD to put the ball in play. It was the only way they could provide offensive value, the only way they could become stars and get paid like stars. They could be .300 hitters.

But in the 1990s that drastically changed. Suddenly EVERYBODY had power. Second baseman were 15-25 homer guys. Shortstops crushed the ball. How did they do it? Well, lots of ways but one was: They just started swinging a lot harder. Just one example:

In 1976, 22 players hit 20-plus home runs.
In 2007, 84 players did.

In 1976, 18 players struck out 100 times.
In 2007, 86 players did.

The entire way we view the game has changed. As Tom Tango points out all the incentives these days point toward strikeouts. Pitchers — facing hitters who hit the ball farther and harder than they ever have — need to get strikeouts.* And so they pitch for the strikeout (rather than the old “put the ball in play” philosophy). Hitters, meanwhile, don’t really have the same incentive to avoid strikeouts. On-base percentage sand slugging percentages — not batting average — plays a much bigger role in baseball now and both of those can be HELPED by side-effects of strikeouts. The more pitches a batter sees, the more likely he will draw walks. The harder a hitter swings, the more likely he is to get extra bases when he connects.

Strikeouts are simply going to keep rising as long as the incentives of the game push it in that direction.

* * *

*INTERLUDE: It seems worthwhile to spend a minute or two talking about the incentives for pitchers to strike out more batters. We often talk here about BABIP — batting average on balls in play — but this is mostly to talk about defense and a pitcher’s general hit-luckiness. It excludes home runs hit because they are not technically in play.

But when looking at what pitchers have been facing since the strike, it’s even better to look at batting averages on balls hit fair. This includes home runs. And it paints a nasty picture for pitchers.

Twenty of the 21 highest batting averages of balls hit fair have come since the strike. Only the crazy 1930 season — the year Bill Terry hit .401, the year Hack Wilson drove in 191 RBIs, the year four players slugged .700 or better — even placed in the Top 20. In 1930, players hit .326 on balls hit fair. That’s 15th on the all-time list.

The Top 14 are 1994,1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2009, 2012.

The batting averages range from .327 to .333.

Even more telling: Slugging percentages. The top 20 slugging percentages on fair balls are ALL from 1994 to now. Twenty first on the list is that juiced ball 1987 season — it’s the only season not in the last 20 that had a .500 slugging percentages on balls hit fair.

What does this mean? It means you don’t want the hitter to make contact. Since the strike, hitters are absolutely crushing the ball when they connect. Again, you can blame steroids — I’d argue it’s a shift in the game. Hitters are stronger even without steroids. And most of them are paid to hit get extra base hits, even if they happen to be second basemen or catchers. Swing hard. That’s the game now.

So pitchers really have no choice but to go for strikeouts. In 1975, hitters hit .302 and slugged .438 when they hit the ball fair. A pitcher could didn’t have to go for the strikeout all the time — hitters would often get themselves out, and even if they got hits it was often a scratch single or something like that.

Last year, hitters who hit the ball fair hit .325 and slugged .509. They’d hurt you. As a pitcher, you better go for the punch out.

* * *

Question 3: Would shrinking the plate by three inches solve the problem?

Obviously, I don’t know for sure. But I have strong suspicion and it’s a two-part answer.

Part 1: It might or might not solve the problem.

Part 2: It would blow up the game and make the strikeout thing look like nothing at all.

If I’m being honest, I’m surprised someone as thoughtful and brilliant as Frank Deford would come up with such a lumbering and clumsy solution. It reeks of the old John Lowenstein joke that they should move first base a foot closer to the plate to eliminate close plays

I have little-to-no doubt that cutting home plate by about 20% would create absolute havoc in the game. Would it cut down strikeouts? I’m guessing it would but, I must say, I’m not even sure about that. Hitters might swing even harder and strike out even more because runs would absolutely go bananas.

But I do know it would blow up the entire structure of baseball as we know it. As Tom Tango points out, some time after the 2000 season, in an effort to slow down the insane run scoring of 1999 and 2000, umpires were encouraged to start calling the strike zone a bit more consistently with the rulebook. Runs dropped about .4 per game — the average team scored 65 or so fewer runs in a season which is a pretty big deal. That was for just the slightest adjustment.

A 20% reduction in plate size? Here’s what would happen: Walks would skyrocket — Bill James wonders if teams might walk seven more times PER TEAM PER GAME. Fourteen more walks per game. Yikes. I don’t know if it the numbers would be quite that high, but they would be very high. You could tack on a half hour to games already too long. And walks are ten times more boring than strikeouts. I’m kind of shocked that Frank did not consider this at all.

But here’s something else: If they shrunk the strike zone by 20%, someone would hit 80 home runs in a season within five years. And one hundred homers in a season would be in play. The thing people kept missing — and still keep missing — about the home run derby of the Steroid Era was that steroid use was only a part of it. We can argue about how big a part but there was so much more to the story. Harder bats. Livelier balls. Players (clean players too) who work out religiously. Home run friendly ballparks. And … the strike zone. Umpires essentially stopped calling the high strike, which forced (1) Pitchers to bring the ball down and (2) Hitters to have a smaller area to focus on.

If you shrink the strike zone and give these hitters a smaller target to work in — look out. I think Frank has it wrong. Pitchers have not improved more than hitters have. My guess is that it’s the other way around. Hitters — now facing night games, harder-throwing pitchers and relief pitching — crush baseballs. Barry Bonds proved that with increased strength — unnatural now, perhaps, but not necessarily unnatural in 20 years — the game’s balance can go completely out of whack. If you cut down the strike zone — especially by that much — I really believe, the game would go haywire.

* * *

Question 4: So what could be done to cut down strikeouts (if indeed this is a problem)?

I posed this to Bill and his answer is succinct and interesting: “Reduce power. Deaden the baseball’s 1% per year; see what happens. The strikeouts are a consequence of everybody trying to hit homers. If you take a few homers away, the odds swing in favor of hitting singles.”

Tom Tango’s idea is similar: “One way to change the balance for the hitter: move fences back 20-30 feet.
 Now the HR is not so attainable.  Now they will think more about making contact.”

But then Tom asks the pertinent question: “Is the cure worse than the disease?”

It’s a good question. Do people — and I’m talking about the mass of baseball fans, not one particular sect — want to give up home runs to cut down on strikeouts? Do they want to go to more slappy baseball in order go get more consistent action?

I don’t know. My guess, frankly, is: No. I think most people would like to see a few less strikeouts or at least to stem the tide of rising strikeouts. I personally would like to see fewer strikeouts so we the games would have a little bit quicker pace and more movement.

But baseball’s great equalizer in a time more geared toward violence and dunks and thrills is the home run … and, frankly, the strikeout. Too much of them can (and does) get tedious. But too little and baseball can lose much of what makes it so popular. A 1976 game with lots of singles and stolen bases and few home runs and fewer strikeouts — yeah, I’m not sure how that’s playing in 2013.

I’d be for deadening the balls or bats slightly to give the game some added depth and dimension. But I don’t really know that it would improve the game. Honestly I would have been interested to hear Frank offer something counterintuitive like WIDENING the strike zone, which might make it less viable for hitters to swing so hard and might make them concentrate more on plate coverage. I don’t know if that would happen — I kind of doubt it — but I do believe that shrinking the strike zone is just about the worst baseball idea I’ve heard for a while.

45 thoughts on “Shrink the plate? What?

  1. Blake

    The biggest problem with Frank Deford’s idea is his initial hypothesis. Strikeouts are NOT boring. Popouts and groundouts to short, those are boring. Do you ever see fans rise to cheer after the home team pitcher induces a routine grounder?

    Reply
    1. tomemos

      Well, that’s obviously a false choice, because when the ball is hit in play lots of things can happen besides routine grounders: close plays, web gems, defensive miscues.

      Basically, monotony is boring. Home runs and strikeouts are two of the most exciting baseball outcomes, but if every at-bat ended with one of the two baseball would be dull as dishwater. The more strikeouts dominate the game, the more monotonous at-bats become.

      Reply
    2. Daniel

      The problem is that you’ll never reach a consensus. I think the exact opposite. I would much rather watch a popout or groundout than a strikeout. I like seeing fielders have to make plays. Strikeouts (and walks) are completely uninteresting to me.

      Unfortunately, it will never happen because it will decrease revenues, but I like the idea of moving the fences back 30 feet. We’ll get more great plays in the outfield, more triples and inside the park homeruns, and hopefully it will lead to hitters putting the ball in play more.

      I wonder if there’s anything that could decrease the incentive to walk. Would increasing the punishment for walking a hitter force pitchers to throw more hittable strikes? Or would that just convince hitters even more to work the count for a walk? I have no idea.

      Reply
      1. doncoffin64

        But the rate at which batters walk–walks per plate appearance is essentially unchanged since the early 1950s. It has remained about 8.5% of plate appearances (except for the lost years of the 1960s).

        Reply
  2. Richard

    I grew up in the Koufax era and appreciate the pitcher’s duel. But I also appreciate the long ball. What I don’t appreciate is an enormous change that would make it much harder to compare players from different times. If, as Deford suggests, this cuts down on strikeouts, then we’ll lose the 200K season. We may also lose no hitters, and blow up runs per game. So I’m against such a large change. A small change (such as 1% softer balls) is much more sensible to me.

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    1. Defordfan

      Hold on a second. I don’t like the strike zone idea either, but Frank Deford is a giant. I suggest you go to the SI archive website and read “The Toughest Coach There Ever Was.” Better yet, the novel “Everybody’s All-American.” (And no, watching the movie doesn’t count.) Frank Deford was kind of Joe before there was Joe.

      Reply
      1. Cris E

        Frank Deford *was* a giant. Now Frank Deford is cranky and irritable. I suggest you go back and review as much of his recent work as you can stand, because it’s been thirty years since ‘The Toughest Coach’ and Frank’s not writing features like that any more.

        I’m all for honoring the man for his body of work, but Deford isn’t aging well. And as long as he continues to hold down a regular column he’s going to get judged by his current work. Poster “ed” might have been shorting the career, but Deford’s moved on to emeritus status.

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  3. Dave

    The effect definitely would not be linear. That is, shrinking the width of the strike zone by 20% would not lead to 20% more or 20% less of whatever was being measured. Though experiment: iIf the rules were changed to require 4 outs to retire a side, runs would not go up by a third; they’d go up, who knows, by a factor of 2 or more?

    In addition to giving the batters less of an area to concentrate on, it would also mean that more batters could get the sweet spot of the bat on the new strike. After all, the outside and inside corners of the revamped zone would become what today are called “pitchers mistakes”–”it got too much of the plate.” Home runs would likely go up a whole lot for everyone with even more incentive to swing hard.

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  4. par7007

    I have a suggestion that I’d like somebody (anybody) to just bring up in public. How about we change the rule as to when a batter can attempt to advance to an open 1st base on a wild pitch or passed ball. Let’s allow the batter to attempt to advance to 1st regardless of the count and regardless if he swings at the pitch. It would incentivize pitchers to attempt to throw pitches more likely to be caught by the catcher, and it would create more baserunners as well. Treat 1st base like we treat the others, open to be stolen by the offensive player at the previous base.

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    1. Geoff

      I’m not saying this wouldn’t be an interesting twist, but I’m not sure how much impact it would really have. It’s not as if lots of balls are getting away from the catcher right now, and to the extent that there are more WP/PB when no one’s on base, I think this is really a function of catcher’s setting up in more relaxed positions, and not making an effort when there’s no reason to. You may just be forcing catchers to work harder, while having almost no impact on the game.

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    2. Rick Rodstrom

      That’s an interesting idea that could be fun. Pitchers would have to emphasize control, and more defensive responsibilities would be given to catchers.

      The drawback would be this. I want to see Miguel Cabrera take a cut at the ball. I don’t want there to be another cheap way to give him first base.

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    3. Cathead

      The issue here is that the catcher can drop a ball on purpose and start a double play. If the bases were loaded, all he has to do is step on the plate and throw to first.

      Reply
  5. Gordon Hewetson

    Strikeouts can be exciting. The crowd comes to attention and cheers at Yankee Stadium whenever we get two strikes on the visitor. A third strike call or swing raises the volume as the catcher stands and drills the ball to third and the congratulatory around-the-horn. It can also take the wind out of our sails when we strikeout. Especially in close games and with runners in scoring position. I am also a fan of Frank Deford-on NPR and was an avid reader of Bill James’ baseball abstract from years ago. Made sure to read Roger Angell’s baseball essays in the New Yorker. Don’t change the plate size or deaden the ball. Thanks Joe for representing our best interests.

    Reply
      1. hewetson

        Mr Hartzell is spot on. My reflection of Yankee Stadium is of the old stadium and is sentimental. Much of the local flavor and joy has left the crowds at the new stadium. Ticket prices have changed the audience demographics. Many more ‘suits’, people texting, leaving early, empty corporate season tickets… Chants, singing and drumming on the bleacher rails is mostly gone. The ovations for our outfielders as they return to their positions after a good play is less too. Even Mo’s “Enter Sandman” was less dramatic and noisy.

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  6. brian

    I would think that expanding the strike zone, rather than shrinking it, would lead to baseball more akin to that played in decades gone by. Hitters would have to protect the plate rather than be playing for walks to bump up their OBP (thanks, Billy Beane), which would lead to more slap hitting and less swinging for the fences. Strikeouts would probably stay about the same, walks and homers would go way down, batting average might actually go up (though OBP would not), and teams would play a lot more small-ball. If that’s what you want (and there are many who do), that’s how you accomplish it.

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  7. Michael Green

    As Red Smith–who I think is Frank Deford’s hero, or should be–said, baseball becomes dull only to dull minds. That said, the game CAN be improved. Now to another problem with Deford’s argument:

    Umpiring.

    It is not that the umpiring is better or worse, though my theory is that if Doug Harvey and Bruce Froemming no longer are umpiring, it’s worse. But the umpires have been under pressure from the evaluation system, and they have faced more public pressure ever since Eric Gregg’s infamous 90-foot-wide strike zone in the 1997 post-season. I think either they are calling more strikes or the hitters and pitchers know they will. Most of the umpires did not call higher strikes for years. I’ve been seeing more of them in the last few years. So, combine that with the quest for power and you have the recipe for more strikeouts.

    Apropos of all that, when Harvey retired at the end of the 1992 season, he informed the two teams in his final game that he was going to call the rule book strike zone. See http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1992/B10040HOU1992.htm. 21 strikeouts, a 3-0 final, game done in 1:44.

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  8. Mark C

    A great essay by Joe about a totally inane idea from Frank.

    One point: Joe contends that pitchers “have no choice but to go for strikeouts” because batters are swinging harder and BABIP is higher as a result. But I think that higher BABIP may naturally mean more strikeouts even if pitchers don’t change their approaches.

    Let’s imagine that pitchers do not change their approaches at all but batters do swing harder and average BABIP rises as a result. Then there are proportionally fewer outs per fair batted ball. It seems to me that strikeouts per game would still rise because there are fewer of the other kinds of outs. Note that this would apply even if batters do not swing and miss more.

    But of course, we do expect that batters WILL swing and miss more if they swing harder. So I think the tendency to swing harder boosts strikeouts BOTH because batters whiff more AND because they make fewer outs on balls in play.

    (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.)

    And if Joe is right that pitchers are actually trying for the strikeout more, then that would be a third reason. But I am not sure that there is any evidence to support this contention. (I do wonder if more pitchers and teams are going to go back to throwing splitters, even with the perceived associated injury risk, given Koji Uehara’s dominant effectiveness with that strikeout pitch last year.)

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  9. Jeff

    I think it would go along way to solving the perceived problem if MLB just eliminated the “lefty strike” and called balls and strikes within the rules. I’ve seen far too many pitches that are off the plate away (mostly to left-handers) that are called strikes that the strike zone rules say are balls.

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  10. Rick Rodstrom

    Late in the game, managers try to create more strikeouts through endless pitching substitutions, flip-flopping righty-lefty match-ups, specialty relievers who are called on to K one batter by throwing as hard as possible for a handful of pitches.

    I am less interested in managerial strategy than in watching players hit. All these pitching changes delay the action, turning baseball games into Russian novels,.

    My humble proposal: a pitcher must get one out or allow one run before being relieved. That would cut down on pitching changes, create more favorable matchups for the hitter, and encourage relievers who might be on the mound awhile to pitch efficiently or suffer the consequences.

    Meanwhile, regardless of the vogue for swinging for the fences, hitters need to make more contact, by offering at 3-0 counts or shortening their swings or choking up on the bat or something—Ty Cobb hit .367 with his hands separated on the handle, maybe somebody should try that.

    Of course, Ty Cobb didn’t walk or homer. He must’ve sucked.

    Reply
    1. Ian R.

      I do like your idea on pitching changes, actually – it wouldn’t affect all that many relievers, but it would make managers think long and hard about whether to use lefty specialists.

      However, I’m compelled to point out that Ty Cobb finished in the top 10 in home runs 11 times in his career, including leading the league in 1909. As for walks, he had six top-10 finishes and is still (for now – Adam Dunn will kick him out this year) in the top 50 all-time. By the standards of his era, yeah, he actually walked and homered quite a bit.

      Reply
      1. Rick Rodstrom

        The year Cobb led the league in homers, he hit 9 (and I’m willing to bet a few of them were inside-the-parkers). His high in homers was 12, first set in 1921, the year the Babe clouted 59. Even when homers became fashionable, Ty Cobb didn’t hit them—disdained hitting them, in fact. To say that Cobb was a home run hitter because he led the league with 9 in 1909 is like saying Stan Hack was a stolen base artist because he led the league with 16 steals in 1938. Let’s get real.

        The year Cobb hit .420, he walked 44 times, trailing the league leader, Jimmy Sheckard, by over 100 walks. Clearly, pitchers of that time feared Jimmy Sheckard and his .276 batting average over the Georgia Peach. Or perhaps Cobb was more interested in making contact than in drawing a base on balls. I will leave it to you to figure it out.

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    2. Pat

      I don’t believe Cobb hit with his hands separated. I’ve always read he would slide the top hand down if he decided to swing for power and the bottom hand up if he wanted to swing for a hit or better bat control.

      As to HR and walks, well, he led the league in HR once, finished second three times, third, fourth, and fifth once, then there other top ten finishes. So, yeah, Cobb hit HR. Walks not so much. There top five finishes and three more top ten. But why walk when you’re batting 400? I’m quite sure he knew the strike zone and rarely went outside it.

      Reply
      1. Ian R.

        This. Sabermetricians aren’t saying that players need to walk more – they’re saying hitters need to get on base more. Cobb led the league in OBP seven times, and he was over .400 (often well over) every year from 1909 through 1927. He happened to do it more with hits than walks, and that’s not a bad thing.

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  11. ChrisC74

    It’s just a small effect, but I reason “getting the bat on the ball” has been de-emphasized over the last 20 years is the near elimination of artificial turf fields. In the 1980′s, 10 of the 26 fields had turf. If there was a hard hit ground ball, chances are you’d reach first. Teams like the Cardinals built their lineups with that in mind. Now, with grass fields mostly everywhere, and with shifts employed more and more, a ground ball is much more likely to result in a ground out.

    Reply
  12. Belloc

    The historical numbers do not support the author’s theory. In the 13 years between 1946 and 1959 the number of strikeouts in a game increased by 42.9%. Or, to put it in the context of a single baseball game, the difference was three outs, and entire half inning of strike outs.

    In the 13 years between 1997 and 2010, the number of strikeouts in a game increased by just .083%. In the context of an individual game, there was a difference of only one out. So the difference between 1997 and 2010 was one pop out or ground out was replaced by a strike out.

    In fact, the difference between 1967 and today is one half inning of strike outs. That’s over a span of 46 years – the same time span between the first World Series and Jackie Robinson’s first game.

    This is a lot of noise about very little. Strikeout-wise, the game hasn’t changed that much since 1967. And I think Frank Deford is correct: those few extra Ks can be explained by the frequency of pitching changes and the innings limitations on starting pitchers. Starters do not have to pace themselves any more because they aren’t going to throw 150 or 160 pitches. And it is much tougher for hitters to face multiple pitchers in each game. Just when they have their timing adjusted to the last pitcher they faced, a new one comes in. Teams carry seven relievers now instead of four or five.

    My theory is that baseball is like an economy. It has cycles. There are spans of years that are dominated by pitching, followed by spans of years that are dominated by hitting. Changes in the strike zone, rules, the baseball itself, sizes of ball-parks, and even climate can have a small influence on runs and strikeouts. But I think that some generations produce better hitters and some generations produce better pitchers. We happen to be in an era where pitching is superior – something akin to the late 60s or early 90s, just as the mid to late 90s through the early 2000s were similar to the 1920s to the early 1930s when pitching was absolutely horrible and hitters were so dominant that a disproportionate number made the Hall of Fame.

    A decade from now we may have rosters filled with guys hitting 50 or 60 homers, and people like Joe Posnanski will ponder whether we’ve witnessed the death of pitching.

    Reply
  13. bobdd

    I do wish fields were larger so there would be more doubles and triples at the expense of less home runs – and higher batting average due to more area for the OF to cover. But only a few parks have that option, so I know it is a pipe dream.

    I cringe a bit at just the idea of deadening the ball by 1%, but I also wonder if it is possible, and if it is a small experiment like that might be worth trying. But is that a decision that would have to be negotiated? In which case I do not think it would ever get done. Or can a commissioner (if we had one) do that? Small experimentation that can easily be undone seems reasonable to me.

    Nightmare scenario: One league does something and the other does not.

    Reply
    1. Kris

      The official rules for the baseball already have an acceptable range for the “elasticity” of the ball. So MLB could decide they want all the balls to be manufactured on the low side of the range, and it’s well within their discretion to do so. People speculate that they have perhaps already done this to make testing appear more effective, and that they have probably experimented within the range other years (1987 most commonly cited).

      Reply
  14. dvorak1841

    The biggest problem in baseball is the long length of the games and the best ideas to tackle this issue I think would also slightly push the game away from more strikeouts. An idea I like is not allowing pitching changes during the middle of an inning unless the current pitcher has allowed a run (or gotten injured). This should discourage the endless changing of relief pitchers as well as encourage teams to carry more position players on their bench, both of which should slightly favor fewer strikeouts.

    Another idea to speed up the game is to only allow a pitcher one unsuccessful pickoff attempt per batter. Any additional attempt would count as a ball on the batter. This would slightly favor the fast singles hitter over the lumbering power hitter, which should also slightly push the game away from additional strikeouts.

    And finally, MLB could encourage umpires to enforce the “batter cannot leave the batter’s box” rule. Perhaps this would slightly encourage putting the ball in play versus waiting for the ideal pitch.

    Reply
  15. Mark Daniel

    Nothing needs to be done. Since 2010, in the AL, SLG has been between .404 (2013) and .411 (2012), which isn’t too far off the high .300s/ low .400s of the late 70s and 80s, and significantly lower than the .420-.445 range of the steroid era.

    Reply
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  17. jm

    Belloc … the strikeout rate (higher or lower) does not in any way indicate that pitching is better or worse than hitting. If you miss that you are missing a central point of the article.

    Reply
  18. DjangoZ

    “But in the 1990s that drastically changed. Suddenly EVERYBODY had power. Second baseman were 15-25 homer guys. Shortstops crushed the ball. How did they do it? Well, lots of ways but one was: They just started swinging a lot harder.”

    That you can write that with a straight face is a testament to just how much you want to remain blinded when it comes to PEDs.

    “They just started swinging a lot harder.” Wow.

    Reply
  19. doncoffin64

    Here’s what puzzles me. Overall, batting average (*NOT* BABIP, but raw BA) is in line with historic norms (it’s bounced around between .250 and .260 since 1940, except for the lost years of the 1960s). Walks per plate appearance basically haven’t changed since the 1950s (about 8.5% since 1950, except for the lost years of the 1960s). Combine those, and OBA has been pretty constant. Power has increased significantly (isolated power–SA – BA–is up from about .120 in 1950 to about .140 now). And scoring is essentially the same. How is that possible? I have some ideas, but no evidence.

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  20. rmc@google.com

    Baseball analysts and PED’s have ruined the game of baseball. You say we have to diminish the importance of Sandy Koufax because he played in a pitchers era? Well, Koufax consistently dominated in that era but you say wins and losses don’t mean anything. Batting average don’t mean much because they fluctuate so consistently? Right, and Tony Gwynn consistently hit for a higher average than everyone else because he was too selfish to hit a few more home runs. The analysts are driving this – they’ve been selling walks, strikeouts and homeruns since the 90′s because they love the steroid era. Of course it’s boring if all the pitchers are strikeout artists because all the players are on PED’s, swinging more vertically than ever before because the culture of this team sport has been manipulated to become anything but a team sport. Baseball players and managers knew Tony Gwynn was a special player – just ask Maddux. No more LaRussa’s, Billy Martin’s, Whitey Herzog’s? Of course not, just company men who will do what the analysts and marketers choose to sell. You don’t agree that PED’s and steroids are responsible for the increase in power? Sure you don’t – keep selling, there’s a sucker born every minute and you’re here to take ‘em.

    Reply
    1. Elfego Slaughter

      When you say ‘company men’ do you mean like guys at espn rating Derek Jeter above Roberto Clemente or anyone else other than Mays for that matter. If we did away with the outfield walls when Clemente played he’d hit more homers with his scary line drives than all and we would see him register about 40+ assists with guys trying to stretch long singles…sounds boring to me!

      Reply
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  23. KB

    Personally I would be in favor of doing something to get more balls in play, but it would probably harm the game financially. Attendance and ratings improve when there is more power in the game. If you try and introduce more small ball you’ll lose casual fans.

    Reply
    1. elfego slaughter

      The biggest irony of baseball is the scary line drive has ‘more power’(energy) than the avg. home run. Clemente had ‘basketball length’ with Richie Allen weight bat and Sergio Garcia bat lag….someone, somewhere is is still chasing down a typical GREAT ONE gapper while Roberto is back in the clubhouse getting his neck adjusted.The ‘power’ game you refer to is mostly about husky fellas that could ring the bell at the county fair …a stationary object watched mostly by stationary casual fans.

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