The New Normal for MLB

Posted By: TBP

The New Normal for MLB - 12/04/2019 22:13

The trend to nothing but homers, strikeouts, walks, and HBP continues apace. It's making a less interesting game, but teams think it's the way to win.

The homers are part of a grouping with strikeouts, walks and hit by pitches that the Commissioner’s Office has been obsessed with lessening to get more action within the field of play and on the bases to quicken the overall pace. So far in 2019, MLB is seeing its nightmare worsen.

In 2018 those four types of plays represented a record 34.8 percent of plate appearances. It was 37 percent in 2019 through Wednesday. The sport is on a per-game record pace for homers, strikeouts and hit by pitch, and walks are at a two-decade high.

Through the first 180 games this season, there have been 467 home runs. That projects to 6,318 for the season. The record is 6,105, set in 2017.

What has been lost? Essentially action plays that involve multiple players coordinating and base-to-base action. In the history of the modern game (since 1900), 2019 is on pace for the lowest per-game rate ever for triples, sacrifice bunts, and double plays, and the lowest for steals since 1958.

But there is a central problem that is much harder to address: 30 teams are devising ways to win with little care about the entertainment value. Throwing hard and swinging hard with the concept of getting the ball in the air have proven of great value, triggering a vicious cycle of homers, strikeouts, walks and hit by pitch.

In its most basic form: Velocity is hard to hit. So teams load their staffs with hard throwers. They ask starters for shorter full-throttle starts and parade one 97 mph-plus reliever after another (number of relievers used per game is up for a sixth straight year). Combine that with shifts and the ability to string together hits becomes harder and harder — MLB batting average is .244, tied for the lowest since 1972, the year that convinced the AL to adopt the DH the following season.
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