I lived through Jose Vidal once…ain’t doing it again.
As teams passed the 81-game midpoint of the season, they were averaging just 4.13 runs per game through Wednesday. If the average stays at that level through the end of the season, it will be the majors’ lowest mark since 1992. Strikeouts continue to rise; walks and home runs continue to decline; and the major league batting average, .251, is the lowest since 1972, the year before the creation of the designated hitter.
A stronger testing program for performance-enhancing drugs, more sophisticated analysis of hitters’ tendencies, a changing amateur scene, and, especially this season, a sharp increase in defensive shifts have coalesced to help the pitchers — with no end in sight.
...If pitchers are not recording strikeouts, they are often daring hitters to put the ball in play. The avalanche of data in the modern game naturally benefits pitchers, who control the action, more than hitters, who simply react. Teams are more aware of hitters’ tendencies than ever, and many have responded with extreme defensive alignments.
According to Baseball Info Solutions, an analytics service that provides most teams with data, major league teams are on pace to use almost 14,000 shifts on balls in play this year, which would shatter last year’s record of just over 8,000. In 2011, the service counted fewer than 2,500 shifts.
This trend, naturally, turns many would-be hits into outs. Yet hitters, so far, have been slow to adjust, partly out of competitive pride.
...The game remains interesting for those who love it, and it probably always will. But baseball is different than it was just a few years ago, and nobody knows quite when, or how, the hitters can reclaim an edge.
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