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Would MLB be better if the ball was in play more?


DrungoHazewood

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Click for chart here: picture.php?albumid=196&pictureid=769

In 2010 we're at an all-time historical high in strikeouts in the majors. We're not quite at a high in walks, but we're probably in the top 20 or so out of 139-ish years in MLB history.

As you can see in the chart here, this trend has been more-or-less going on since day one. In the 1870s you might see entire games without either a strikeout or a walk. Today you don't often go an inning without one or the other.

Is this a good thing? A bad thing? Would you like MLB more or less if this trend was reversed?

How could it even be changed? You could make the bats bigger and heavier. You could change the rules to limit the number of relievers. There's a problem with tinkering with the strike zone, since any changes would seem to increase one of (K/BB) while decreasing the other.

It's just always seemed strange to me that the game has evolved for over 100 years and it's radically changed in a fundamental way, and nobody seems to much care.

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Verducci had a nice article on this same topic. "Why an essential part of the game's romance is in decline"

I do miss the crack of the bat. The speed of the fielders in motion.

To me, there is a balance that is out of order. Homeruns are nice, but are diluted when the game is reduced to slow pitch softball matches. Conversely, a game without the long-balls or dominant strike-out performance is lacking as well.

Drungo, you bring up a great point - how to remedy the current situation? Modern day baseball has moved distinctly in the hitters favor. Video analysis removes pitcher's advantage of surprise and unfamiliarity. Newer ballparks tend to be smaller and smaller (although a few like Safeco and Petco are out there). Teaching methodology's have improved for increased patience and value of BBs.

I think the commissioner's office is trying to influence the game with strikezone monitoring. The high strike is still not called with enough regularity, nor in my opinion is the knee high strike.

But an enforced "by the book" strikezone is not enough. It's too hard to regulate the bats. The biggest influence (just like in the game of golf) is the baseball itself. No question have the balls become juiced at some point in the 90s. Their are lots of anecdotal evidence from pitchers on how hard and slippery the balls have become.

Now that a decent amount (although certainly not all) performance enhancing drugs have been rooted out of the game, we've seen the homers pull back a little bit. The next step is adjusting the game balls to a slightly softer core, with slightly raised seams. Give the pitchers an ability to spin and move the ball a little bit more.

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Electronically enforced strike zone. Give the ump an iPhone with PitchFX on it to call balls and strikes.

I think that's a fine idea, but I don't see how it has a lot to do with changing the game's increasing reliance on the three true outcomes (BB, Ks, HRs... or at least two of them). Enforce the rule book strike zone precisely and there will be a lot more strikeouts - it's been generations since hitters have had to swing at letter-high strikes. And there will probably be more walks, since all those pitches three inches off the plate that now lead to Ks or weak grounders to second become balls.

I think you have to do other things to reduce both Ks and walks:

1) Make the bats heavier and thicker, so it's much harder for guys to swing for the fences all the time. Probably brings back the Luke Appling style of hitter.

2) Take some life out of the ball, to change the incentives for rake/take hitting philosophy.

3) Do other stuff on the margins to change the incentives against Jason Giambi types: eliminate pickoff throws so base stealing becomes easier and more advantageous, eliminate the DH (although that would drive Ks up, it would take some TTO hitters out of the league), limit the size of fielding gloves to incentivize putting the ball in play...

Of course if this was 100 years ago and nobody thought the MLB rules came from Moses on stone tablets you could entertain ideas like making a walk five balls and a strikeout four strikes. Or you could make the strike zone the knees to the shoulders while moving the mound back 3'.

Yea... I think a game where hitters all used fatter bats, there was a 63' pitching distance, and the strike zone of the 1930s you'd have some really interesting stuff go on.

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But an enforced "by the book" strikezone is not enough. It's too hard to regulate the bats. The biggest influence (just like in the game of golf) is the baseball itself. No question have the balls become juiced at some point in the 90s. Their are lots of anecdotal evidence from pitchers on how hard and slippery the balls have become.

I'm a fan of Tom Tango's idea of using a home team DH rule - the home manager decides whether to use the DH that game, so each team has to be ready to play NL or AL ball at a moment's notice.

So why not with balls, too? Have the home team supply the balls, and loosen up the regulations. If the Yanks come to town with six 30-homer guys you use balls deader than Ty Cobb. For the Royals you might break out the the little pink rubber ones. If you have Bert Blyleven pitching for you, you get ones with the seams half an inch high and he'll make it curve like a whiffleball.

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I'm a fan of Tom Tango's idea of using a home team DH rule - the home manager decides whether to use the DH that game, so each team has to be ready to play NL or AL ball at a moment's notice.

So why not with balls, too? Have the home team supply the balls, and loosen up the regulations. If the Yanks come to town with six 30-homer guys you use balls deader than Ty Cobb. For the Royals you might break out the the little pink rubber ones. If you have Bert Blyleven pitching for you, you get ones with the seams half an inch high and he'll make it curve like a whiffleball.

Well, just eliminating the DH in the first place would help. By doing this you force the manager to consider more game strategies, such as when to pull a good pitcher in a close game, bunting runners over, double switches, etc.

The second idea I'm not a fan of. I think you have got to play to a certain standard of equipment. Baseball has always been a game of stats, and those stats would not mean much if the equipment changed from day to day.

Can you imagine the headaches BP would get from calculating "ball factors" to go along with "park factors" and "era factors"?!

I don't know if the game has really changed, but I think the philosophies behind how to play the game definitely have. How to change it back to more historical norms depends on what you want to accomplish. You can easily make it a less offensive game by expanding the strike zone, raising the mound, and playing with a deader ball. But I don't think this does anything for the popularity of the game. Chicks dig the long ball and 100mph heater.

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I think the problem is two-fold: pitchers have to be so perfect and hit the corners with pitches that hitters have difficulty hitting, so we see an increase in walks and ks, and most hitters these days don't change their approach with two strikes (i.e. shorten their swing, choke up, etc.), instead they still swing for the fences/extra basehits rather than just putting the ball in play. A major emphasis has been placed on making pitchers throw pitches and drawing walks, so when a hitter has a two strikes and thinks a close pitch is a ball he may be more likely not to swing, whereas many older hitter were taught to swing if it's close. Overall, I think this is a hard problem to fix.

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