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Friday, March 29, 2013

NY Times: “Swing and a Mystery: Why Strikeout Rates Are Soaring”

Plate discipline is harder for hitters to apply against pitchers who consistently pound the strike zone. Increasingly, pitchers are doing that better.

Walk totals decreased in the majors for the third year in a row in 2012, dipping below 15,000 for the first time in a nonstrike season since 1992, when there were only 26 teams. Hitters, it seems, are simply not as feared as they were before testing for performance-enhancing drugs.

“Not that many people are walking - you want to know why?” said Ruben Amaro Jr., the general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. “Because they’re taught to throw the ball over the plate. And now, whether it’s P.E.D.‘s or whatever the case may be, they may not be as concerned about using the middle of the plate as they have in the past because they know they’re not going to bang it off the wall every time.

“So walks are great, but if a guy’s throwing it down the middle, who wants to walk? Hit that.”

For the modern hitter, that is easier said than done.

bobm Posted: March 29, 2013 at 05:17 PM | 15 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: strikeouts

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   1. valuearbitrageur Posted: March 29, 2013 at 06:50 PM (#4399374)
If Ruben Amaro Jr. believes it, it's probably wrong. Pretty sure he's going to blame Dinosaurs for the Phillies decline.
   2. PASTE does not get put on waivers in August Posted: March 29, 2013 at 08:05 PM (#4399414)
Bill James (I think it was him) was certainly right when he observed that at the most basic level, strikeout rates have steadily risen throughout baseball history because strikeouts are very helpful for pitchers but not particularly harmful to hitters (when they're traded off for home runs and doubles). Basically, baseball as a whole slowly, steadily came around to understanding Babe Ruth's Epiphany: I actually can swing as hard as I can at every pitch and strike out 150 times a year and still be good, because I'll hit home runs.

And the K rate speed of increase has soared since 1990 because Information Age.
   3. Dr. Vaux Posted: March 29, 2013 at 08:09 PM (#4399419)
Yes, sabermetrics has not only influenced the way teams are put together, but the way the game is played.
   4. GregD Posted: March 29, 2013 at 08:22 PM (#4399430)
Amazingly Ruth never Ked more than 93 times in a season and once led the league with 58!
   5. John DiFool2 Posted: March 29, 2013 at 08:43 PM (#4399448)
Aaannnddd...in today's Wall Street Journal, they discuss how many more pitchers we have now that throw absolute heat, meaning more swings and misses. More players are going to the mound now, they claim, and the ubiquity of radar guns means there is more focus on upping your speed and optimizing the mechanics to do so.
   6. Drexl Spivey Posted: March 29, 2013 at 09:07 PM (#4399458)
I think that the ubiquity of long tossing in order to increase pitching velocity is the main factor.

Pedro Martinez went from topping out at high eighties to mid nineties through long tossing.

Billy Wagner wasn't even a natural lefty; he just threw a ball as far as he could with his left arm constantly (after hurting his right arm) and wound up topping over 100 at times.
   7. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: March 29, 2013 at 09:21 PM (#4399468)
The T-shirt that Ray Miller used to give to all his pitchers read

PITCH FAST
CHANGE SPEEDS
THROW STRIKES


Maybe they're starting to get it.
   8. Walt Davis Posted: March 29, 2013 at 09:40 PM (#4399481)
Aaannnddd...in today's Wall Street Journal, they discuss how many more pitchers we have now that throw absolute heat, meaning more swings and misses.

Except we just had the article the other day saying that the number of balls per PA has been pretty constant and the swinging strikes have not risen and that it's all called strikes.
   9. puck Posted: March 29, 2013 at 11:28 PM (#4399556)
Except we just had the article the other day saying that the number of balls per PA has been pretty constant and the swinging strikes have not risen and that it's all called strikes.

Interesting, I missed that one somehow.

SI did a long article on rising K rates in their baseball issue as well. So I guess everyone got the memo.
   10. PASTE does not get put on waivers in August Posted: March 30, 2013 at 12:19 AM (#4399584)
Personally I'm hoping this is an early step toward a consensus forming that there are too many strikeouts in modern baseball. Because there are.
   11. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: March 30, 2013 at 01:33 AM (#4399592)
The T-shirt that Ray Miller used to give to all his pitchers read

PITCH FAST
CHANGE SPEEDS
THROW STRIKES

Maybe they're starting to get it.

Ray Miller was "WORK fast" - meaning no between-pitches dithering.
   12. #6bid hasn't been #6 in awhile actually Posted: March 30, 2013 at 02:28 AM (#4399599)
Bill James (I think it was him) was certainly right when he observed that at the most basic level, strikeout rates have steadily risen throughout baseball history because strikeouts are very helpful for pitchers but not particularly harmful to hitters


I don't see how this can be true, surely pitching and hitting are a zero-sum game. This is like saying "The Sicilian Opening is helpful for white but not particularly harmful for black." If it helps white it harms black and vice versa.
   13. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: March 30, 2013 at 03:33 AM (#4399606)
Ah, a rare BTF chess reference. I played the Richter-Rauzer for years as black. Probably should have picked up the Dragon or Najdorf somewhere along the way, but I hated swotting openings. I eventually drifted into the Modern/Pirc/King's Indian so I could focus on the middlegame.

   14. Walt Davis Posted: March 30, 2013 at 07:47 AM (#4399618)
#12 ... it's true because of the reason stated. A batter is choosing between power and contact. Once the batter chooses power, the pitcher gets killed if he allows too much contact.

I suppose it should technically be said this way: controlling for batter power, a K is always a good thing for the pitcher. The same is true for the batter but, for the batter, power goes up with Ks (or Ks up with power).

That probably means that, size of the strike zone aside, this is the batter's choice substantially more than the pitcher's.
   15. Rough Carrigan Posted: March 30, 2013 at 11:52 PM (#4400007)
This debate is a zugzwang.

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