Despite what GASN’s Noah and Clint like to suggest, the game of baseball is changing and evolving. Some of the current trends in the game are good, some are bad, and some are just so unconventional that we are not sure what to think yet. Why some of the changes have occurred are obvious and others are perhaps a little more hard to understand, but regardless we are left wondering if they are just a fad, or if these trends will continue.
Let’s start with the good changes that baseball has made to help the game.
- One rule change that was implemented this year was limiting mound visits from 6 to 5. While that doesn’t seem significant, it does make a difference for the speed of the game. Yes, I think most people will agree baseball games are a little long. The pace of the games could be speed up and this is one little change that can shave some minutes off some of the longer games.
- A second rule change made this year was that pitchers now have to face a minimum of 3 batters. I realize that for the untrained eye this doesn’t seem significant, but this eliminates those crazy innings where managers would change pitchers 3 times to get through the middle of a lineup that switches between lefties and righties every other batter. This too will shave off some serious time on the game. Granted this hurts managers who use their bullpens like chess pieces, but it is a sacrifice that needed to happen.
- The Study of Launch Angles has been a good change to the game. We are seeing more players who struggled offensively become better producers with more extra base hits. Groundball rates have been down as more and more players are hitting line drives.
- The shift is good and bad, it hurts averages as teams are playing the averages on hitters who have too much consistency of where they hit the ball. However, the counter argument is that this can lead to teams focusing very heavily on spreading out hits more and the ability to hit to opposite field. I feel the sacrifice of batting averages right now to make these hitters focus on becoming better overall hitters who can hit the ball anywhere on the field is worth it. Every action has an equal and opposing reaction. So if the shift is affecting the game by lowing averages hitters will adapt and learn to hit the ball where the defense isn’t.
1. There have been some very bad trends that have happened over the last decade. We need to get these habits under control because it is hurting the game. Strikeout rates are on the rise. Players have stopped viewing strikeouts as all that bad. A strikeout used to be seen as a hitters embarrassment. These days, players are striking out so much that strikeout numbers are on pace to surpass hits in all of baseball. While that doesn’t sound too bad, it does hurt the game as far as pace. Right now the average pace between hits is around 3 minutes and 45 second. That is a lot of non-action to have at a game. This hasn’t happened by accident either. With MLB putting pressure on trying to make the game more exciting by emphasizing the home run, hitters have started swinging for the fences more and worrying about just making contact less. It is actually hurting the game by slowing the pace down between action and causing fans to lose interest. In the day in age we are in, sports fans are watching games in segments more than ever. People have less and less time to sit and watch a full game. This is for all sports, not just baseball, but if the time between action continues to grow like this it makes it harder to get these fans attention back to the game.
2. With strikeout rates climbing that means walk rates are way down. In these days players are swinging at more and more junk pitches instead of being selective and waiting for their pitch. Walks are not sexy or exciting in anyway, but they do add drama at least by having runners on base more. This will make for runs scored and can add more to pitchers pitch counts, causing them to leave games earlier.
3. With the analysis of launch angles we are seeing some great hits, but just not enough of them. The other problem is that the major league teams have put such a focus on being a good hitter that we are not seeing as much stolen bases and aggressive base-running as we used to. Yes a couple teams still focus on this, but they are few and far between. Yes, home runs and extra base hits are exciting, but so are stolen bases and aggressive base running. The only evidence you need for that is the 2014-2015 Royals. They were one of the most aggressive base-running teams in decades, and they were a very exciting team to watch. When the Royals were playing, it was some of the highest ratings in the playoffs in a while.
4. Less Defense/More Offense: So this trend has been a problem for a while, but it seems to be only getting worse. Teams are putting less and less emphasis on defense and more on offense. We are seeing in today’s game some of the sloppiest games in history. There are more errors per game and less tough plays being made. The horrendous plays like the baseball bouncing off Jose Conseco’s head are becoming more frequent as well. These are simply tough to watch, and also add to the length of the games by giving teams extra outs.
Baseball is nothing if not tradition. The game has changed very little since it was created, but some of the changes that have happened we take for granted. As an example, people tend to forget that the idea of having a closing pitcher really didn’t become a thing till 1972 Clay Carroll made a third of his appearances in the 9th inning. But one thing that has started this season that has been attempted very little in the past is the idea of an “Opener”. The idea behind this is simple actually and I think we will see this trend become more prevalent in the coming years. Essentially, it boils down to this, teams tend to score more runs in the first inning than any other inning. The reasons for this tend to boil down to hitters being more aggressive, it is the only inning where your top hitters are guaranteed to hit together, and starting pitchers needing more time to settle in before facing the best hitters in the opposing teams lineup. Well if you can have your starter automatically start against the other teams lower half of the lineup he tends to fair better and last longer in the game.
Tampa Bay has started using an opener to get thru the first inning or two with Sergio Romo. Sergio is a fantastic relief pitcher with very electric stuff and is a very aggressive pitcher as well, but he can only pitch for a couple innings at a time like most relievers. So Tampa’s actual starter then would come in and can face the lineup 3 times without having to face the middle of the lineup a third time as he is starting to get tired. It is a very unconventional method to use your pitching staff. But the numbers and the logic behind it seem sound. Much like the Royals, Kennedy is a pretty good powerful pitcher for an inning or two, but the by the second time thru the lineup he begins to struggle. You could theoretically use Kennedy in that opener type role and save the closer role for someone else. But The Royals starters would be able to go a to the 7th inning and hand the game off to your 8th inning guy more often and more easily. Ultimately, this seems like a logical trend for the rest of the league to adopt in the coming years. So watch for it!