Wednesday, June 4, 2014
What are the reasons for the increased K rate? And are there any solutions? It's always interesting to get the perspective of former players, so I found the article written by Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt to be a worthwhile read.
Schmidt had nearly 1,900 strikeouts in his career, so he seems like the last guy who should be criticizing today's players for striking out too much. But keep in mind, he was a three-time MVP who hit 548 home runs in the major leagues. He might have been striking out once every five at-bats -- as today's players do -- but he was producing 30 home runs and 100 RBIs every year. Many of today's hitters fall well short of those benchmarks, while still striking out at ridiculous rates.
Here are some of Schmidt's theories on the increase in strikeouts:
1. Pitchers throw harder now. In the 1980s, there were a handful of guys who could reach 95 mph on the radar gun. Most fastballs topped out in the high 80s. Nowadays, pitchers who can't consistently top 90 mph are considered marginal pitchers. It's not unusual to have a staff full of guys who throw 95 consistently. More velocity from pitchers means more strikeouts for hitters.
2. Hitting coaches don't have enough clout to demand a two-strike approach. If you can bat .250 with 80 RBIs, you will become a rich man in baseball - even if you strike out 150 times. Hitters are of the mindset to swing for the fences no matter the count or the situation. Run production means dollars. Schmidt notes the modern hitter doesn't realize the importance of making contact in close games. He says good RBI men can pick up 20 to 30 extra RBIs a year with a simple groundout. That's the difference between 80 RBIs and 100 RBIs.
3. Pitch counts. The offensive philosophy of the modern game is to take pitches, work counts, get the starter out of there and get into the bullpen as quickly as possible. Therefore, hitters are taking more hittable pitches early in the count, leading to more two-strike counts. More two-strike counts is always going to lead to more strikeouts.
For me, the third point is the one that really cuts to the heart of the matter. I'm amazed at how many hitters will take first-pitch fastball strike right down the middle, especially in RBI situations. Or, worse yet, pitchers know hitters want to "work counts," so they'll throw a sloppy get-me-over curve on first pitch. Typically, that's a pitch that should be hit hard, but you see guys taking that for strike one.
Oftentimes, that pitch early in the sequence is the best one a hitter gets in an at-bat. Later, once the hitter has "worked the count" and has two strikes, the pitcher comes up with something nasty and gets the strikeout.
Schmidt says, "What I did was learn to hit the fastball, in play, hard, early in the count, more often." I think that would be my philosophy, especially in RBI situations. There are times where it is prudent to try to work counts, but the better pitcher, the less likely that is to work.
If you try to "work counts" against an elite pitcher, chances are you're gonna be behind 0-2 or 1-2 in the count, and then it's an uphill fight. Heck, it's an uphill fight if you're behind 0-2 or 1-2 against a mediocre pitcher.
As that long as that philosophy prevails, I think we'll continue to see high strikeout rates.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Indeed, Ken "Hawk" Harrelson's oft-mentioned former teammate, Carl Yastrzemski, tops a list of 36 players in major league history who have played at least 2,000 career games all with the same team.
If you've watched ESPN or MLB Network at any point during the last two months, you are no doubt aware that longtime New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is retiring at the end of the season. Jeter is among those 36 players, having played each of his 2,610 career games (entering Thursday) in a Yankee uniform.
On a recent MLB Network broadcast, I heard one of the commentators note that Jeter has spent his entire career in New York. They added that in this era of free agency, "you just don't see that too often anymore." That's conventional wisdom. Heck, I think I've probably said things like that myself.
But every now and then I like to research the facts behind the conventional wisdom, just to see if they are accurate. In this case, they are not.
Of the 36 players on that list, 23 are players who have played in my lifetime. For the record, I was born in 1976.
So, that means between the years of 1901 and 1976, a span of 75 years, there were only 13 players who played 2,000 games or more all with the same team. In the 38 years since 1976, 23 players have played 2,000 or more games all with the same team
Contrary to conventional wisdom, it's actually more common nowadays for a player to have a long career with the same team.
I won't bore you by listing all the players on the list, but among the 36 are some star players I recall watching during my 1980s childhood: Tony Gwynn, George Brett, Robin Yount, Mike Schmidt, Cal Ripken.
Others, like Jeter, are names familiar to fans who have followed baseball over the last 10 or 15 years: Barry Larkin, Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Chipper Jones, Jeff Bagwell, Todd Helton.
Don't get me wrong: Given the sheer volume of players who make it to the major leagues, it is still uncommon for a guy to spend a career that spans more than a decade in the same city. At some point, most guys get traded, or leave their original franchise via free agency. But the conventional wisdom that says single-team career stars like Jeter are becoming more and more rare is just plain wrong.
In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if this list continues to grow over the next decade. You can find examples of players who are candidates to join the list. Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia has played 1,025 career games (entering Thursday). He is under contract with the Red Sox until 2021, when he will be 38 years old. How about Evan Longoria? He's played 807 career games (entering Thursday) and is under contract with the Tampa Bay Rays through 2023. There's two possibilities right there. I'm sure there are others.
You see, this old-school lament that "players just don't stay in the same place anymore" is not quite right. They didn't stay in the same place all that often back in the old days either. If I ever try to tell you otherwise, remind me I'm wrong.