Last week, our terrific baseball analyst and statistics guru Steven Campbell penned a piece on how the increased number of strikeouts in today’s game benefits baseball overall. I strongly encourage you to read his piece here, as I relay my argument for why baseball needs to keep the K’s to a minimum.
More Balls in Play Creates Better Action
Yes, Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game was pretty cool. Even the dominance of a 10-K night for an ace like Jose Fernandez or Clayton Kershaw is fun to watch…but only for a more serious fan of baseball. For the casual follower offense has and will always be the most exciting draw to the game. A far greater number of kids dream of hitting walk-off home runs in Game 7 of the World Series than the number wishing to throw perfect games. (Maybe I was just the oddball who wanted to do both..) Like in all sports, scoring is exciting. Unless the number of walks and/or errors is high, very few runners actually cross home plate unless a few hits are involved. Line drives in the gap, moonshot home runs, and plays at the plate can’t happen unless the ball is put into play – not whizzing into the catcher’s mitt after another swing-and-a-miss.
While it is a common flaw of sports fans to celebrate good offense and overlook good defense (because remember, scoring is exciting), displays of defensive wizardry in baseball have long received the media coverage they deserve. For as long as ESPN has graced our TV sets, kids have grown up watching incredible diving catches, home run robberies, and even unusual gems from Jon Lester on SportCenter’s nightly Top 10 Plays each summer. However, there are no iconic Jeter flip-to-home plate, Dewayne Wise perfect game-saving, Anthony Rizzo tarp-walking moments without the ball first being hit. Perhaps the only player who wishes the batter had struck out is Bill Buckner…
Fewer Strikeouts, Faster Games
It’s no secret that fans and league executives alike believe that Major League games are too long. The 2015 season was the first time in the previous six seasons that the average length of a 9-inning game decreased (from a record-high 3:07 in 2014 to 2:56 a year later) after the league implemented several rule changes to speed up the game. However, the average length of a full game this season has increased by 4 minutes back up to the 3-hour mark. Over the same period, the number of strikeouts per game has increased each year from 7.06 per game in 2010 to 7.99 in 2015. The number of pitches per plate appearance has interestingly remained constant at 3.83 from 2010 through 2015, indicating that batters are making less contact than ever before. The number of plate appearances per game has fallen from 76.3 to 75.6 over the same period. With fewer plate appearances per game yet the same number of pitches per plate appearance, it seems that each plate appearance is taking more time, justifying fans’ griping over the agonizingly slow pace of play in modern baseball.
While additional factors are contributing to baseball’s snail-like reputation, such as the recent increase in the number of pitching changes per game, a correlation seems to exist between the higher number of strikeouts (which obviously require at least three pitches) and the greater length of plate appearances. In short, more strikeouts and less contact are making the average at-bat feel like you’re driving in bad traffic: slow-moving and little action besides the loudmouth screaming in the car – or bleacher seat – next to you.
Oh, and total runs per game have decreased from 8.77 in 2010 to 8.5 in 2016. Did I mention scoring is exciting?