After a two-decade stretch of offensive prowess, pitching is dominating Major League Baseball once again. The “Year of the Pitcher” has turned into the “Half Decade of the Pitcher” and at this point we might as well call it an era, because these changes don’t look like they’re going away any time soon. Whether it’s Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, or most recently Jose Fernandez, it seems like every team features a staff ace that used to be described as a once-in-a-generation talent. What was rare is now commonplace
As FOXSports’ own Rob Neyer has written on several occasions, the shift towards lower-scoring games has been a direct result of a rapidly increasing trend towards more strikeouts. 2013 set the record for highest average strikeout rate — 19.9% — but that isn’t really such an accomplishment anymore; the league has actually broken the all-time record for seasonal strikeout rate in each of the last six seasons.
And 2014 is just continuing the trend; the current league average strikeout rate of 20.8% would easily break the 2013 record. This is not a trend that seems to be peaking, only ever increasing, and at some point, MLB will be forced to confront the issue that the game is moving away from hit-it-and-run towards swing-and-walk-back-to-the-dugout. The league has shown that, if pitching begins to dominate too much, they will intervene to make things more equitable and move the sport back towards a more reasonable balance; after the 1968 season, they lowered the pitching mound, and in 1973, the American League adopted the Designated Hitter.
Things aren’t quite to those extremes yet, but the offensive levels of 1972 and 2014 maybe aren’t as different as you might think. The last year that pitchers had to bat in the AL, MLB as a whole hit .244/.311/.354; this year, MLB is hitting .248/.317/.389. There’s more power now than there was then, but the rate of hits and outs in the game are nearly equal to what they were before the DH existed. Having the National League adopt the DH would force offensive levels up, but it wouldn’t do much to turn the game away from its affection for strikeouts.
Instead, I’d like to suggest an alternative remedy that doesn’t require any new rules or any change to an existing rule. That alternative? Help Major League umpires move the strike zone back over the plate. More specifically, to make this adjustment when left-handed batters are at the plate.
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