This has been an interesting baseball season, both on the field and on social media.
On the field, some remarkable things are happening — some of them good. Shohei Ohtani is drawing comparisons, rightfully so, to the legendary Babe Ruth. The Anaheim Angel’s superstar is having an all-star year, both as a pitcher and a hitter.
At the all-star break, Ohtani has bashed 33 home runs, driven in 70 and has an OPS of 1.062. On the mound he’s 4-1 with an ERA of 3.49. He’s struck out 87 hitters while walking just 35.
A few other rising stars, like Fernando Tatis Jr., are also putting up amazing numbers.
But, the numbers most baseball fans are talking about concern the amount of strikeouts in the game. This year nearly 27 percent of MLB at bats end in strikeouts. Who wants to watch that?
In the seventh game of the 2020 World Series, the ball was put in play — meaning someone actually struck the ball in fair territory, once every six minutes. That’s not painful to watch, it’s excruciating. And, I’m making that statement as someone who loves the game of baseball.
Some make the case that strikeouts are spiraling out of control because today’s pitchers throw the ball harder than ever before. If you watch the St. Louis Cardinals and see the parade of middle relievers throwing the ball at 95 mph-plus, you know it takes more than velocity to get major league hitters out.
The Cardinals’ middle relievers throw the ball hard and they get bounced around like a pinball.
There are two major culprits to this lake of hitting — the obsession with launch angle and exit velocity, and, of course, sheer stupidity.
Somehow, over the last decade, the importance of batters striking the ball has been diminished. Strikeouts, which used to be considered a lost at bat, have lost that stigma. Baseball fans now worship at the altar of the home run.
A line drive out is celebrated as much as a four-hop dribbler that drives in the winning run.
Yes, hitting the ball hard is a good thing. But, there are times when putting the ball in play is vital. When the tying run is on second with no outs in the ninth, a ground ball to the right side and a sacrifice fly keep you alive. Three strikeouts on robust swings accomplish nothing.
Several former major league stars, notably Mike Schmidt, have taken to Twitter this summer to bash this all or nothing approach. Frankly, when Mike Schmidt talks about hitting, I think we should listen. Much of the Twitterverse, meaning those who have not starred at the major league level, think otherwise.
Then, there is the abject stupidity of not adjusting to the shift.
The Cardinals Matt Carpenter, who is struggling to reach .200, faces a shift virtually every at bat. When he does hit the ball hard, there is someone standing in right center field to catch the line drive. Recently, he dropped down a bunt against the completely vacated left side of the infield.
No one was close enough to pick up the ball before it reached the outfield grass.
Players see an empty side of the infield nearly every at bat. You want to get teams out of the shift, exploit it. That’s not rocket science, it’s common sense.
The object of the game is to score runs. The first step in that process is putting the ball in play and getting runners on base.
It does appear the pendulum is beginning to swing back toward common sense. In fact, the teams with the best records at the all-star break also have the highest batting averages — many old-timers remember that stat.