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 18, 2013
The Tigers prevailed 2-1 in 14 innings. Detroit scratched across a run in the top of the 14 and held on, literally, in the bottom half of the inning. The final out of the game was recorded at home plate, with Detroit catcher Brayan Pena holding on to a relay throw and making a tag as Seattle first baseman Justin Smoak knocked him over.
I was hoping the game would be tied again -- not just because it would have helped the White Sox if Detroit had lost. The two teams were getting close to setting a new record for most combined strikeouts in a single game. Had the game continued, it would have been a chance to see (or hear) a little bit of history.
The two starting pitchers, Seattle's Felix Hernandez (pictured) and Detroit's Max Scherzer, had remarkably similar pitching lines. Both men went eight innings, allowing one run. Both struck out 12. Scherzer threw 105 pitches, 75 for strikes. Hernandez totaled 106 pitches, 76 for strikes.
When all was said and done, the two teams combined for 40 strikeouts -- 21 by Detroit batters and 19 for Seattle. That 21 figure tied team records for both teams -- most strikeouts for Tiger hitters in a single game and most strikeouts for Mariner pitchers in a single game.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, forty combined strikeouts in one game ties for the second most in the Live Ball Era -- which began in 1920. For those wondering, the record is 43, set during a 20-inning game between the Oakland A's and California Angels on July 9, 1971.
Too bad this Detroit-Seattle contest didn't go to a 15th inning. There's a good chance that record would have fallen.