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Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Rise in strikeouts not what it seems

“Strikeouts are up,” goes the narrative, and in this case, the narrative is fact, because the narrative is true. The topic of strikeouts taking over the game has been a subject of discussion for many, many years, going back to Mickey Mantle being criticized for whiffing back in the 1950s.

Those pesky whiffs are, again, up in 2021 … sort of. To look at the raw numbers, it’s indisputable. Entering Monday, 24.1% of plate appearances end in a strikeout. That’s higher than last year’s 23.4%, and 2019’s 23%, and 2018’s 22.3%, and, well, like we said, the last time it didn’t hold steady or rise was when 2005 saw a slight dip from 2004. You know all this. We’ve broken no news.

Here’s the interesting thing, though: All plate appearances are not created equally. Nearly 30% of the way through the 2021 season, actual professional hitters, the ones paid to hit baseballs with varying degrees of effectiveness, haven’t really struck out more than they did in 2020. If you take pitchers hitting out, this is what it looks like when comparing 2020 to ‘21 for position players only. (We’re breaking our cardinal rule of not showing this to multiple decimal points just to illustrate how close it is.)

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 25, 2021 at 02:28 PM | 21 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: strikeouts

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   1. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: May 25, 2021 at 03:00 PM (#6020759)
Sure, pitchers strike out 47% of the time they bat, but those are some of the most exciting and riveting at-bats you'll ever see.
   2. Baldrick Posted: May 25, 2021 at 03:08 PM (#6020761)
Strikeouts aren't up compared to last year, except they are, and also last year was a record nightmare year for strikeouts so it's not like being exactly the same is great or anything.
   3. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 25, 2021 at 03:17 PM (#6020764)
Could it be that with the ever-increasing paranoia about pitcher injuries, they're increasingly being instructed to whiff, or at least to stand there until they're called out?
   4. DL from MN Posted: May 25, 2021 at 03:56 PM (#6020769)
Bench players are being selected for ability to fill in at multiple positions. Nobody keeps a pure bench bat on the roster anymore.
   5. Bret Sabermatrician Posted: May 25, 2021 at 08:16 PM (#6020799)
Pablo Sandoval is renowned the world over for his positional versatility.
   6. Howie Menckel Posted: May 25, 2021 at 09:03 PM (#6020809)
deGrom is now hitting .471 after being thrown out/pushed off the base at second trying for a double tonight. no one yawned at Citi Field
   7. Brian C Posted: May 26, 2021 at 01:51 AM (#6020864)
You know, the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that the only way to restore equilibrium to the game is to limit the size of pitching staffs. As of now - and I believe, for most of this season - the Cubs have a 14-man pitching staff. I assume virtually every other team is regularly carrying 13 or 14 pitchers as well, although I haven't looked it up. And it seems as if almost every problem people have with baseball these days leads back to this. I'd suggest phasing in a reduction: maximum 13-man staffs in 2022, 12-man staffs in 2023, 11-man staffs in 2024. Pitchers sent down to the minors have to stay there for 15 days minimum before being called back up, even in case of injury to someone else - make teams utilize their 40-man rosters.

Force managers to limit the number of pitchers they can realistically use, and it stands to reason that pitching changes will go down. More pitches per pitcher will force them to manage their velocities instead of throwing all-out every pitch, reducing Ks and increasing balls in play. Make starters who can throw more innings more valuable. Force a real cost on managers for making a pitching change, and make actual bullpen-managing strategy more of a factor. Make long relievers great again!

It would just lead to a better game, I think, without monkeying around with a bunch of new rules affecting actual play. As an added bonus, the roster spots that are freed up allow more variety in the types of players teams can carry - more and better platoons (also likely leading to more balls in play), more pinch-runners in late innings, etc. Building a roster with creativity and depth would be incentivized.

What all the griping about strikeouts and the boring game basically comes down to is too many pitchers. So, end that.

I know this isn't an original idea, but why wouldn't it work better than moving the mound or lengthening the distances between bases or ending shifts or changing the baseball or whatever else Manfred has "considered"? It just seems to address so many problems at once and have so many peripheral benefits. And it seems like it would actually be realistic to implement at the same time, and without a ton of unintended consequences, since it's basically going back to how pitching staffs were conventionally run just a relatively short time ago.
   8. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: May 26, 2021 at 06:51 AM (#6020877)
Eventually, all batters will strike out, all games will end 0-0 and all teams will finish their seasons 0-0-162. World Series teams will be chosen by merch sales and TV ratings (hello, Yankees and Dodgers!).
   9. SoSH U at work Posted: May 26, 2021 at 08:41 AM (#6020889)
I know this isn't an original idea, but why wouldn't it work better than moving the mound or lengthening the distances between bases or ending shifts or changing the baseball or whatever else Manfred has "considered"?


It's shortening the distance, and to the best of my knowledge, it's the one thing Manfred hasn't considered.

And, my answer to your question is, the increase in strikeouts has never been entirely about the pitchers. It's driven, in large part, by the approach of the hitter, and limiting the pitching staffs isn't going to change that.
   10. sunday silence (again) Posted: May 26, 2021 at 02:34 PM (#6020963)
The article cited here, emphatically suggests that its pitchers that are driving that. We've talked about this the other day I know, but what evidence do you have for this?
   11. Buck Coats Posted: May 26, 2021 at 05:46 PM (#6021011)
In 2008, there were 196 pitches thrown at 100 mph or higher, according to Statcast data. In 2018, there were 1,320, a nearly sevenfold increase. In 2008, only 11 pitchers averaged 95 mph or higher; in 2018, 74 did.
   12. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 26, 2021 at 06:11 PM (#6021017)
In 2008, there were 196 pitches thrown at 100 mph or higher, according to Statcast data. In 2018, there were 1,320, a nearly sevenfold increase. In 2008, only 11 pitchers averaged 95 mph or higher; in 2018, 74 did.


Does that adjust for changing measurement methods?

the-measure-of-a-fastball-has-changed-over-the-years/
   13. Brian C Posted: May 26, 2021 at 06:53 PM (#6021025)
And, my answer to your question is, the increase in strikeouts has never been entirely about the pitchers. It's driven, in large part, by the approach of the hitter, and limiting the pitching staffs isn't going to change that.

Even if the increase in strikeouts is driven "in large part" by hitters' approach, how does it logically follow that limiting the size of pitching staffs will have no effect on strikeout totals? What you're saying seems like the equivalent of saying, "It won't change anything to make cars safer because accidents are driven in large part by bad drivers".

We're not trying to eliminate strikeouts here. We're just trying to reign them in a bit, by limiting pitchers' effectiveness a bit at the margins and giving teams some leeway to mix in some other approaches in building out their rosters.

At any rate, I think that things will naturally change over time. For one thing, they always do. But for another, at present, two things seem to be true: 1) teams build pitching staffs with the goal of maximizing strikeouts, and 2) teams build their lineups with more or less an indifference to strikeouts. It seems self-evident that both of those things can't be optimal strategy at the same time, so it seems like there's a competitive advantage to be had by challenging the conventional wisdom on one side or the other.
   14. Booey Posted: May 26, 2021 at 07:02 PM (#6021027)
At any rate, I think that things will naturally change over time.


This isn't a recent trend that just popped up in the last couple seasons. MLB has set new strikeout records for 16 years in a row now. If an unappealing trend takes literally decades to resolve itself naturally, that's a strong argument IN FAVOR of the league forcing changes, not against it.

How many years should fans be expected to just wait it out, when the powers that be could make things better NOW?
   15. Smitty* Posted: May 26, 2021 at 07:44 PM (#6021038)
Ah, but both can be optimal, and likely are under current conditions.

It’s optimal for hitters to take and rake, which leads to the Three True Outcomes. Strikeouts are a by product of the valuable walks and home runs.

On the pitching side, when the hitters approach is almost entirely TTO, if you aren’t getting Ks you’re likely giving up walks and HR.

I don’t know what exactly the magic bullet is to lowering k rates, but it has to involve changing the incentives for the hitter

Oh, and don’t you hate pants?
   16. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 26, 2021 at 09:56 PM (#6021054)
I don’t know what exactly the magic bullet is to lowering k rates, but it has to involve changing the incentives for the hitter

Increase drag on the ball, but make it bouncier. Lower the mound and push it back. Reduce the size of gloves. Increase the handle thickness and weight for bats. Limit the number of pitcher on the roster.

You have to make pitchers pitch for contact and hitters hit for contact. To do that you have to make HRs really hard to hit, increase the value of a ball in play, and force pitchers to pace themselves, rather than throwing max effort on every pitch.
   17. SoSH U at work Posted: May 26, 2021 at 11:18 PM (#6021060)
Even if the increase in strikeouts is driven "in large part" by hitters' approach, how does it logically follow that limiting the size of pitching staffs will have no effect on strikeout totals? What you're saying seems like the equivalent of saying, "It won't change anything to make cars safer because accidents are driven in large part by bad drivers".


I didn't mean to suggest it would have no overall effect, just that limiting pitching staff sizes isn't going to change the approach of hitters that is helping produce so many Ks. Something has to be done to change the calculus for the offensive team, which, to me, means making putting the ball in play more valuable than it currently is. Without that change, hitters will continue to try to hit the ball as hard as they can on every attempt (whether that results in home runs or other hard-hit balls) vs. an approach that also prizes contact to some degree.*

But whatever approach is taken needs to provide a balancing effect so that run scoring doesn't get out of whack one way or the other. In the astronomically unlikely event MLB did reduce the distance, they would have to also do something to rein in offenses at the same time (such as larger parks, a deader ball, thicker bat handles, etc.)

* Keep in mind, that any kind of change that makes BIP more valuable is less likely to yield a change in individual hitters' approaches (though it will in some cases) as it will produce a change in the types of players MLB teams select for. A Mark Reynolds type of hitter would have less utility compared with a Juan Pierre model.
   18. Jay Seaver Posted: May 26, 2021 at 11:37 PM (#6021065)
It seems self-evident that both of those things can't be optimal strategy at the same time


It seems that way, but the counter-intuitive asymmetry is kind of fascinating. I think what it comes down to is that the strikeout is not the best result a pitcher can get, but from the pitcher's perspective, it's very good and very predictable because bad things like errors can happen once the defense gets involved; from a hitter's perspective, it's pretty bad, but bad things like double plays can happen once the defense gets involved.

I also wonder if the player pool and player movement nudges things in this direction. There's enough talent out there that there are fewer trade-offs that need to be made for defense, and enough overpowering pitchers (especially now that relief is specialists more than failed starters) for there to be more power-against-power, and folks move around enough that they may see themselves as much of a defensive unit. On top of that, the movement gives players incentives to do more that can be attributed to them so long as it helps win, meaning strikeouts for pitchers and homers for hitters.
   19. Space Force fan Posted: May 27, 2021 at 12:18 AM (#6021072)
A completely fantasy solution with no redeeming features would be to tax the teams to create a large bonus pool which pay hitters bonuses based on playing time and percentage of balls in play. If you are a TTO freak, your bonus will be small. If you are Ichiro (when he didn't want to hit HRs), you get a massive bonus at the end of the year. Pitches would receive their bonus based on playing time and percentage of PAs with a ball in play.

MLB would need to be careful to ensure that the modified salary and bonus pool is >= expected yearly salary. This isn't a backhanded method to reduce salaries, but a way to use the existing money to incentivize changes.

More realistic are the suggestions in comment 7 to force pitchers to pace themselves through longer outings. In addition to the suggestions already made in #7, institute the damn pitch clock to give pitchers less time to recover between pitches and move the game along faster. Also, MLB needs to limit the minor league shuttle so teams can't keep bringing in fresh reliever. One suggestion is to increase the time they must stay in the minors when sent down to 20-25 days. Make it prohibitably expensive (in the quality of the pitcher) to keep the shuttle going.
   20. Brian C Posted: May 27, 2021 at 01:16 AM (#6021074)
This isn't a recent trend that just popped up in the last couple seasons. MLB has set new strikeout records for 16 years in a row now. If an unappealing trend takes literally decades to resolve itself naturally, that's a strong argument IN FAVOR of the league forcing changes, not against it.

How many years should fans be expected to just wait it out, when the powers that be could make things better NOW?

Is that meant to be a rhetorical question? I started my participation in this thread by outlining changes I want to see NOW.
It seems that way, but the counter-intuitive asymmetry is kind of fascinating. I think what it comes down to is that the strikeout is not the best result a pitcher can get, but from the pitcher's perspective, it's very good and very predictable because bad things like errors can happen once the defense gets involved; from a hitter's perspective, it's pretty bad, but bad things like double plays can happen once the defense gets involved.

This doesn't sound like it's describing any kind of "optimal" strategy though - more like stasis caused by both sides getting to a point that they can live with. All I'm looking for is a way to upset that current balance without making radical changes to the actual game - things like moving the mound or the basepaths or severe changes to the ball are things that, to me, should be last resorts. The more radical the change, the more the risk of unintended consequences that make things worse (albeit in potentially different ways) instead of better.

I'd be more in favor of other changes like regulating bats, which seems pretty modest to me but also likely effective to a noticeable degree. If changes are made to the ball, I'd like to see less of a focus on deadening it per se than a focus on reducing the spin that pitchers can generate, but I'm not a physicist or engineer and couldn't really speculate on how possible that is or what the costs would be (costs, as in, potentially deleterious effects on the game, not money costs).
   21. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: May 29, 2021 at 09:41 AM (#6021470)
Ichiro (when he didn't want to hit HRs)

I always wonder if Ichiro intentionally tried to homer on his 3000th hit. (He nearly did!)

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