The case of the incredibly shrinking offense.
CAN’T ANYONE HIT ANYMORE?
Last season 40,000 batters struck out in major league baseball. Fifteen years ago, that number was 31,000.
And nobody seems to be bothered by it. Major leaguers are having at-bats that are as unproductive as a brother-in-law living on your couch, and that trend seems to be okay. This season so far, a major league team strikes out an average of 8.87 times a game.
Nobody can hit.
Imagine all the excitement of a home run derby among pitchers. That’s what the game has devolved into. Sit around and wait for the occasional home run.
That’s how you get players like Rougned Odor being valued. Odor strode to the plate 651 times. In 30 of those he hit a home run. The rest of the time he was a .163 hitter. His reward was increased playing time, a raise in pay, horses, and reverential treatment.
Last season, the San Diego Padres were last in all of baseball in hitting at .234.
This year, the Texas Rangers are hitting .231. And they are twentieth best. Ten teams are worse than Texas, if you can believe that. Baltimore is hitting .213.
Think about how few runs the Rangers have scored this season. They have played 26 games and have score three runs or fewer in exactly half of those. Yet, there are eight teams that have scored fewer. That’s a shame.
Of course, the analytics junkies are blaming it on the defensive shifts. And they are right to a great extent.
The shift is causing a sea change in a hitters’ approach. The buzz word now is launch angle. Uppercut swings.
Why try to hit the other way against the shift when you can just hit over it?
The problem is, they are feeding into a pitcher’s hand. Pitchers have adjusted by throwing that high four-seam fastball that hitters, uppercutting for the fences, can’t catch up to. It’s the easiest pitch for almost any pitcher to locate.
Baseball is a game of adjustments. But it’s the pitchers who have adjusted while the hitters flail away.
So what ended up happening is nobody can hit. It’s all strike outs with an occasional home run. And what’s weirdest about all of this is that this is such an analytically driven game that is making the numbers worse, not better. Unless you are a pitcher.
The weird thing is, it used to be home run totals were the way to evaluate and value a hitter. Hitting a home run meant something.
Case in point. Odor hit 30 home runs in 2017. Yawn. Thirty-three players hit 30 or more home runs. It means nothing anymore. The only thing he was good at is now table stakes. Which is why Chris Carter led the National League in home runs in 2016, yet couldn’t sniff a contract the next season.
Home runs are a dime a dozen. And they will increasingly be less special the more that players swing for the fences. Except for it’s the only way teams can score.
And when you have a team like Texas that has no power, it becomes nine innings of watching a batter drag his bat to the plate, then drag it back to the dugout.
Baseball isn’t a game of offense anymore. It’s a game of show and tell.
“Here is my bat. Isn’t it pretty? It’s made of wood. Okay, now I am taking it back to the dugout. I’ll show it to you the next time it’s my turn.”