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  1. Nice work.

    Remember when tons of people were foolishly crying about Questec being in ball parks? Typical, lots of people rip baseball for every move it makes. The people that ripped Questec look as silly as ever.

    Comment by LionoftheSenate — April 11, 2013 @ 2:25 pm

  2. This is great, but I don’t think you can look only at K rates for the answer. Are BB rates also dropping? Are most key offensive numbers down as well? This may indicate that the level of hitters has cycled to a recession (or pitcher quality has risen).

    Also: “Again, this isn’t conclusive, as the called strikes could be happening earlier in counts, leading pitchers to bury more pitches out of the strike zone later in counts, with those effects offsetting to hide themselves within the aggregate data.”

    Can we see the First Pitch Strike % to address this? Maybe % of 2-strike counts?

    Comment by DD — April 11, 2013 @ 2:31 pm

  3. Clearly, the only reasonable conclusion to draw from this data is that all hitting records from pre-2008 are invalid, as they were achieved with the aid of performance-enhancing umpires.

    Comment by olethros — April 11, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

  4. Walk rate is basically unchanged. As we talked about yesterday, power was down a bit in the immediate aftermath of the implementation of PED testing but has trended back up lately. Besides the dramatic change in K%, there’s not a lot of difference between offensive numbers now and 10 years ago.

    Comment by Dave Cameron — April 11, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

  5. How has swing % changed over this same period?

    Are hitters taking more pitches, which could explain in part the rise in called strike %?

    Comment by mattsd — April 11, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

  6. Aka, PEE.

    Comment by I Agree Guy — April 11, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

  7. Derp x10.

    Excuse me while I go crawl under a rock.

    Comment by I Agree Guy — April 11, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

  8. I think a glaring hole in this is scouting done by pitchers before a game based on the huge amounts of data that have been piling up over the years on what pitches strike batters out.

    Comment by Robert Norton — April 11, 2013 @ 2:46 pm

  9. Wouldn’t the introduction of PITCHF/x also mean that the pitching staffs would have more information on how to attack the batters? Whether it’s more detailed information on the opposing batters or simply more feedback on a pitcher’s mechanics, wouldn’t that be a significant factor? I might be reading the K% chart wrong, but it looks like April 2008 was still relatively low, while the increase starts in May. That might make sense since there would be very little PITCHF/x data at first.

    Comment by Greglpdx — April 11, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

  10. I wonder if the crackdown (at least publicly) on PED’s in the 2000′s might have some affect as well. Yes, PitchF/x went in, but PED’s went out at a similar time…..

    Comment by Cidron — April 11, 2013 @ 3:01 pm

  11. What do you think of Bill James’ theory on increasing K’s? Poorly summarized by me: Teams are looking for high strikeout pitchers because strikeouts are a good indicator of pitchers’ value, but not looking for low strikeout batters because strikeouts are not a good indicator of batters’ value.

    Comment by Baltar — April 11, 2013 @ 3:02 pm

  12. Two theories that may or may not be logical:

    1. Hitters are more willing to take a pitch and work the walk now, which means looking at more pitches, ergo creating more called strike from when they look at it and think it is either a ball or it ends up a strike and they don’t have time to swing. Results in a similiar BB%, higher K%.

    2. The one I personally like: Hitters are more willing to just strikeout now, because a strikeout can be better or equal to a normal strike in a fair amount of instances (Man on 3rd is the one I can think of where hitting for an out is pretty much always better than a K). Can’t hit into a DP with a K, after all. And even if it isn’t really ever better, it seems like there would not be a big difference between outs made by Ks and outs made by hitting the ball, for the hitter anyway.

    Comment by Ruki Motomiya — April 11, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

  13. I had the same thought. The shift toward thinking in terms of getting on base and hitting for power could have changed approaches at the plate where people are patient but also swing hard. While more called strikes can lead to more pitchers counts, could a drop in swing percentage also lead to more called balls too? Are pitches per plate appearance up at all? It seems that increased patience combined with harder swings could logically lead to more strikeouts while walks would hold steady.

    Comment by Huisj — April 11, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

  14. This idea has always fascinated me. Seems like such an impossible combination that simultaneously seems logical and yet makes no sense.

    Comment by Huisj — April 11, 2013 @ 3:27 pm

  15. I can’t tell if this chart indicates that there is more of an upward trend on the month-to-month level during the past 5-6 years (as opposed to just year-to-year). Is that true, and if so, could it mean anything?

    Comment by TKDC — April 11, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

  16. Looking at the pitch type league stats from 2008-2012 there has been a decrease in four seam fastball percentage every year,from 60.7% in 2008 to 57.6% last season. With the assumption that the league’s umpires have improved, this would support the notion that pitchers have more confidence that breaking pitches will be called strikes.
    Since the pitch value as calculated here has a negative value for four-seam fastballs the pitchers could have adapted to use more breaking pitches, as they have a better average outcome, especially when they are called as strikes.
    Although I cannot find any information here on batter swing selection here, i.e. percent of fastballs swung at vs percent of sliders or curveballs, if there was a significant difference in swing selection, which I would assume there is, that could go towards explaining the increase in called strikes.
    Since pitchers are in charge of their pitch selection, which has changed consistently over the past few years, it would make sense that there has been a change in the strikeout rate by way of called strikes, and the consistency in swinging strikes could be evident that hitters have not changed their approach as much as pitchers have, although that can’t be proven with this data.

    Comment by Anthony — April 11, 2013 @ 3:54 pm

  17. Wouldn’t Pitch/FX also provide hitting coaches with just as much new information for the hitters to adjust to pitchers?

    Comment by blwfish — April 11, 2013 @ 4:10 pm

  18. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘Besides the dramatic change in K%, there’s not a lot of difference between offensive numbers now and 10 years ago.’ BB are down over 9.5% since 2002 and runs are down 6.5%. I think strikeouts are up over 15%, but to say that the downward trend in walks is not a lot of difference seems like you are not taking into account how much the drop in walks is contributing to the lower scoring environment we are now in.

    Comment by JP — April 11, 2013 @ 4:18 pm

  19. I blame it on Ritchie Allen. Besides his surly personality, I think Ritchie (Dick) Allen never got his due because he was one of the first real stars who struck out a lot. (he w as pre-Bobby Bonds, pre-Reggie Jackson)

    Comment by Hurtlockertwo — April 11, 2013 @ 4:20 pm

  20. One of those who protested most spectacularly was Curt Schilling; yet this suggests he should have been more helped than hurt by it overall.

    Comment by eye-roll — April 11, 2013 @ 4:29 pm

  21. Runs are a result of the changes in other things. For this kind of question, you want to look at specific changes, not things that are the result of other factors.

    In terms of walk rate, just go look at the league average BB% over the last 30 years.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=pit&lg=all&qual=0&type=1&season=2013&month=0&season1=1984&ind=0&team=0,ss&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0

    It has been between 8.3% and 9.6% every year during that stretch, and it’s only been over 9% a few times, back when homers were flying all over the place. The change in walk rate pales in comparison to the change in strikeout rate. And, of course, the two things are related, and could easily be the result of a shift in the strike zone, which would both reduce walks and increase strikeouts.

    Comment by Dave Cameron — April 11, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

  22. I think Bill’s wrong, for reasons that are explained very well over at Tango’s blog here.

    Comment by Dave Cameron — April 11, 2013 @ 4:53 pm

  23. Dave, since we know K% has been increasing, it stands to reason that it might not be done increasing. What, if anything, do you suppose is an upper limit to league K%? Would the league step in and change something (a la 1968) if it got above a certain threshold?

    Comment by Jay29 — April 11, 2013 @ 7:12 pm

  24. There were 2 possible explanations I thought of. First, teams hold their minor leaguers down for arbitration reasons and hold onto the guys who are out of options so they may not have the best 25 man roster available out of the gate. Secondly, I have always, and possibly incorrectly believed that it takes starters a few starts into the season to build up their stamina allowing relievers to throw more innings. Relievers have higher strikeout rates pushing the early season numbers up.

    Comment by rtcrules — April 11, 2013 @ 7:30 pm

  25. I like #2 here, maybe with coaching possibly having an impact. Since saber friendly ideas have finished being adopted by all teams in the last decade to varying degrees, are more coaches are encouraging violent swings?. Let’s call it the Zobrist effect. It could tie together Dave’s HR article from yesterday with this one involving K’s. The correlation between higher K% and higher offensive production is well established. Put simply, it is worth it to swing harder. Combine that with the higher velocity and PitchFX and a pretty solid picture is forming.

    Comment by LoydKristmis — April 11, 2013 @ 9:14 pm

  26. Good question. You would think that teams would self-regulate that by player selection. A player that strikes out too much and isn’t compensating for it by walking and/or hitting for power often enough probably isn’t going to play much. Strikeouts can’t continue to rise indefinitely; as strikeouts rise to the point of hurting offense, teams will start to shift toward players that are better at making contact.

    Comment by Nathaniel Dawson — April 11, 2013 @ 10:58 pm

  27. After reading, I have a few thoughts :
    What is the trend of pitchers being drafted? It seems like teams have been drafting more pitchers, and pushing elite talent towards pitching (C. Kelley)

    Increase use of relievers, due to decreasing pitch counts for starters. The “golden” standard for Starters is 200 innings, 20 years ago that was simply expected. Teams have learned you can win a game by closing the door from the back end. More relievers, more fresh arms, higher velocity output during games. (Orioles, Braves, Red Sox etc.)

    We should consider pitch selection, baseball goes in cycles. We saw the split finger era, slider era, cutter era, 2 seam era… Pitchers not longer go for the strikeout as much, their has been a philosophical change around the league for efficiency. (more groundball pitchers)

    Teams are know more accepting of strikeouts because of the need for power, the return of the classic slugger (old man skills, M. Reynolds)

    Finally, I believe some of the data is skewed, from 1994-2008ish steroids/PEDs ruined the game. Yes, pitchers used ‘roids too, but pitching is a unnatural violent motion versus hitting which is less destructive to the body. Pitchers were more likely to incur an injury. Fewer pitchers had enough gas to beat the hitter… Higher pitcher velocity, quicker & stronger hitters, equals the ball going further off the bat. (# of 50 hrs season from ’94 to present)

    Comment by Matt Gray — April 11, 2013 @ 11:49 pm

  28. It could also be that more batters are resisting swinging at pitches they cannot hit well. Gone are the days where “putting it in play” is the end-all.

    Velocity has to be a major factor.

    I would also suggest that the decline in PED use has caused pitchers to be more aggressive, but I don;t know that I can really prove that.

    I would also guess that slider usage has increased and is IMO the most difficult pitch to hit.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — April 12, 2013 @ 12:37 am

  29. Post-Babe Ruth

    Comment by Ben — April 12, 2013 @ 1:29 am

  30. Schilling’s complaints were that umpires called games differently when Questec’ed than they did without. He was upset at the lack of consistency. With well calibrated machines in every park, this is no longer an issue. If you read the SI article linked in eye-roll’s post, you see that the Questec system was flawed. It sounds like it relied on a human operator. The people that ripped Questec weren’t largely ripping the idea, they were ripping the implementation. They helped to bring about the change to the far superior Pitch-fx systems now installed. Pitch-fx doesn’t make the Questec rippers look silly, it makes them look right.

    Comment by Bill — April 12, 2013 @ 5:22 am

  31. Performance Enhancing Empires?

    Comment by Bill — April 12, 2013 @ 5:32 am

  32. Walks have not held steady. Dave is downplaying the drop in BB%. Swing rates are not significantly different since 2007. The only real change in hitter approach is that contact rate was down significantly last year due almost entirely to a drop-off in outside zone contact.

    So no, there is no evidence whatsoever that sabremetrics has caused MLB hitters to adopt a beer league approach, while there is obvious and overwhelming evidence that Pitch F/X has caused umpires to call a more true strike zone. I don’t expect the narrative to change, though.

    To Dave’s question about pitcher velo. Doesn’t it make sense that if the rule book strike zone is being called, pitchers are not going to baby pitches on the corners and especially in the upper part of the zone?

    Comment by Paul — April 12, 2013 @ 7:01 am

  33. Here is a side-by-side comparison of plate discipline metrics (FG vs Pitch F/X).

    http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=0&type=c,102,191,103,192,104,193,105,194,106,195,107,196,108,197&season=2013&month=0&season1=2007&ind=0&team=0,ss&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0

    I have been under the assumption that the FG data represent what the umpire called, vs. what Pitch F/X measured. But if that’s the case, then why has the difference between the two in ZONE% widened dramatically since 2007? Maybe these tables do not represent what I think they do.

    But if they do, while the evidence is clear that umpires are at the heart of the pitcher dominance trend, it may not be strictly because they are calling a more true strike zone. In fact, it could very well be that they are calling more of those offspeed pitches which are balls as strikes. That is a good observation.

    Comment by Paul — April 12, 2013 @ 7:26 am

  34. “I would also suggest that the decline in PED use has caused pitchers to be more aggressive”

    Cutting back on body armor probably has too.

    Comment by Tim — April 12, 2013 @ 8:00 am

  35. How about focusing on the movement of the ball? Balls with more movement may tend to make batters hesitate to swing.

    Comment by aaaa — April 12, 2013 @ 8:02 am

  36. Another factor at play could be better defense and defensive positioning, which makes it harder to have value as a gap hitter or high contact guy alone. You can’t defend against a home run, so the more teams are able to defend against non-home runs, the more value there will be in home run hitters. Of course, I don’t think BABIP has changed much league wide. Still, though, you would expect guys who hit the ball hard to have better BABIP, so teams could still be getting better at preventing balls in play from dropping while at the same time giving up just as many hits on balls in play.

    Comment by TKDC — April 12, 2013 @ 10:01 am

  37. Was there a rule made on body armor?

    Comment by TKDC — April 12, 2013 @ 10:02 am

  38. Just curious, why Zobrist?

    Comment by TKDC — April 12, 2013 @ 10:04 am

  39. Sorry if I missed this (either here or somewhere else on the site): Is there any evidence that umpires have actually improved since the adoption of Pitch f/x? Are they making fewer errors?

    Comment by JS — April 12, 2013 @ 10:20 am

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