“America’s Game” threatens to lose America’s interest.
Major League Baseball faces an ever-growing problem as the games themselves come under fire for being less exciting to watch, let alone being too long.
The introduction of a pitch clock (like a basketball shot clock) can help with the latter, but the former was created through a confluence of factors, from the increased power of pitchers to the constant tweaking of the baseballs themselves.
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Yes, MLB is constantly changing actual baseballs. After a spike in home runs in 2019-20, the league sought to produce a ball that didn’t fly as far on hard hits.
To make matters worse, a report from Insider found that the league secretly used two different types of balls last year, raising serious questions about the integrity of the game.
In theory, this is an attempt to bring the game back to how it was; but in reality it is a misguided attempt to fix the sport’s problem.
We’re seeing an ever increasing number of the “Three True Results” – home runs, walks, or strikeouts, so called because they don’t involve defense or baserunning, just the interaction between the pitcher and the hitter.
Home runs are fun, but this leads to less dynamic plays – players attempting doubles or triples, attempting steals, even doubleplays – which most would consider the most exciting part of the sport.
There’s an element of nostalgia here too, as baseball has strayed so far from the “little ball” era when bunting, stealing and tactical games were all the rage. (Part of that is the realization that it’s not usually worth sacrificing an out to get a runner up a base, which frustrates the old-school guys with analytics, but that’s another topic .)
Baseball’s last decade has seen major changes in pitching. The average fastball in 2002 was thrown at 89 miles per hour; last year the average reached 150 km/h, with over 600 players throwing harder at least once.
Part of this is an increased focus on recruiting high-performing pitchers; Another part is how pitchers are handled. You’re no longer asked to complete a full nine-inning game, no matter how long it takes or what it does to your arm.
The virtual upper limit for a starter is 100 pitches, even that is rarely reached; Relief pitchers no longer came for just a few innings to finish the game, but are now used only by a few players, allowing them to maximize their performance on every single pitch.
This makes it much more difficult for batsmen, because even a small increase in speed shortens the tiny amount of time they have between seeing the ball from a pitcher’s hand and deciding where and if to bat.
And when they have less time to react to a fastball, players often choose early on to sit on the field and swing quickly. This in turn makes them more prone to “breaking balls” like curveballs and sliders – speed makes them effective everything Pitches better, not just the faster ones.
Combined with improved defensive tactics known as “The Shift” where players aren’t placed in their usual third base/shortstop/second base positions, but where the numbers say groundballs are more likely to be hit, we’ve seen How hitters make a major also change.
They sell for power and focus on hitting flyballs to increase their chances of hitting a home run. You now know that to increase your chances of getting a specific run (or multiple if there are runners on base), it pays to increase your chances of getting a strikeout.
These factors create the worst of all worlds. About 23 percent of all plate appearances are strikeouts — down only slightly because both the American League and National League now use the designated hitter to replace the pitcher.
The running rate (9.1%) is the highest it has been since the 1950s. There are fewer singles (13.3% of record appearances) than ever. Balls in play are turning into outs at the highest rate in three decades.
And the dead ball is clearly having an effect. Advanced tracking systems can predict how often a certain type of hit – based on its speed and angle – should result in a home run.
According to Statcast, flyballs hit this season should have resulted in a .969 slugging percentage. Instead, the number is .721, a massive drop, meaning it’s a lot harder to hit home runs than it “should be.”
Baseball fans are frustrated by the lack of attempts to fix these playstyle issues, directing their ire at MLB boss Rob Manfred, who seems more focused on milking as much short-term money as possible from the game through never-ending sponsorships. moves in NFTs and splits the broadcast deal pie into many smaller slices, making it harder to see every team playing your game.
The problem is that baseball teams are smarter. They know how important pitcher speed is and how much it pays to focus on home runs over small balls. They are encouraged to play in this less fun way because they want to win.
So to fix the problems, the league needs to make big changes to the core of the game. Perhaps that’s a stricter cap on the number of pitchers that can be used in a game; perhaps it even moves the thrower’s hill backwards so that speed is weakened by the requirement to throw farther to reach the strike zone.
But does MLB have the courage to take these steps?
Or does MLB even think these problems are big enough?