Feast or famine hitters, power pitchers dominating MLB
I can hear my coach yelling to me at Lakeshore Playground to this day.
“Shorten up, put the ball in play, don’t try to kill the ball.”
Sometimes, I killed it.
More often than not, that approach killed me as I found myself walking back to the dugout after waving at air, head down.
Of course, as a batter, we all want to kill the ball.
Of course, there is a time to do so, ahead in the count or on the first pitch.
Of course, there is a prescribed progression in each at-bat. When you fall behind in the count, your approach should change.
When it comes to change, there is change occurring on the Major League level.
Previously, we have seen the dead ball era, the live ball, tight-stitch era, hitter and home run-friendly new ballparks and pitcher friendly new ballparks.
Now, there is an alarming change taking place.
With Corey Kluber of the Yankees pitching a no-hitter Wednesday night at Arlington against the Texas Rangers, there have now been six no-hitters this season, the most ever prior to June in Major League Baseball history.
Amazingly, the six no-hitters involved just three teams.
The Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners and Rangers have each been held hitless twice.
Incidentally, we are not talking about elite pitchers have elite performances.
The authors of the no-hitters are, by and large, average guys by career performance standards and are not household names.
The only pitcher who has had excellent results in his career is Kluber, who fits the elite category as a two-time Cy Young award winner with an impressive 102-60 record in 11 seasons.
John Means, Joe Musgrove, Carlos Rodon, Spencer Turnbull and Loranger’s Wade Miley of Southeastern Louisiana have fashioned the other gems this season.
For that matter, Madison Bumgarner did not allow a hit in a seven inning victory for the Giants against Atlanta on April 25 but MLB rules adopted in 1991 do not recognize no-hitters which cover less than nine innings.
Means is talented, having been named to the All-Star team in 2019. Still, Means has just 18 big league wins.
Musgrove has an overall record of 33-42 in six seasons.
Rodon is 34-34 in seven seasons.
Turnbull is 10-25 in four seasons and led all of Major League Baseball in losses two years ago.
Miley is 89-89 in his solid 11-year career.
The explanations are plentiful. Take your pick.
1) Hitters are only concerned about hitting home runs and swing big, even with two strikes.
2) So many pitchers now throw 95 miles per hour or above.
3) Strike zones have grown.
4) The weather has not warmed up yet and fly balls is not carrying
5) The ball being used is not as lively as it was even two years ago.
6) The dramatic proliferations of massive infield shifts have worked.
7) Very few hitters are willing to or accomplish enough to bunt for hits.
8) The influence of PED’s has faded with hitters.
Yes, there are ballparks favorable to pitchers but there are also good stadiums to hit in as well.
Since 1990, the record for no-hitters in a season is seven. That has happened four times, most recently in 2015. Clearly, there is a good chance that record falls this season.
There were eight no-hitters way back in 1884.
Since the mound was lowered after the 1968 season from 15 inches to 10 inches, this may well be the worst look we have seen offensively in MLB.
Collectively, the overall batting average is a paltry .236 while strikeouts encompass just over 16 percent of all at-bat results. Hitters are striking out at a rate of 9.2 times per nine innings.
The .236 average would be the lowest in the modern era. Only five teams (Houston, Boston, White Sox, Toronto, Washington) are batting above .250, collectively. The Mariners are below the “Mendoza Line” at .198.
Three teams have averaged 10 or more strikeouts per game (Philadelphia, Detroit, Tampa Bay).
Only one team, the Houston Astros, are averaging more than nine hits per game (one per inning), averaging 9.30 hits per nine innings. The Mariners, no-hit twice, are averaging a mere 6.2 hits per nine innings.
Six teams (Milwaukee, Baltimore, Miami, Detroit, Cleveland, Seattle) are averaging under .300 in on-base percentage, a miserable offensive statistic, considering how many ways there are to reach base safely.
Of the 30 teams in baseball, 25 have averaged leaving three or more runners on base in scoring position per game.
As of today (Thursday, May 20), only 21 players were hitting .300, an astonishing number.
Before analytics and over analytics took over the game, the way outstanding batters were judged was largely all about being a .300 hitter.
While that is a milestone is a magical number, for me, it has always been about on-base percentage.
As of today, only 14 players were at .400 or better in that category, an alarmingly low number. How many grinders and grind-it-out at-bats do we see these days?
This many no-hitters is not good for the game. The accomplishment has been cheapened, lessened.
That does not take away anything from what the six pitchers have done.
I have the MLB package and as a huge baseball fan, watch games regularly, much to my wife’s chagrin.
The pitchers are definitely better.
Aside from more pitchers who throw hard, more pitchers have wipeout secondary pitches as well.
That is particularly true of bullpen pitchers as games have been shortened to six or seven innings virtually across all of baseball as teams have guys throwing 95-100 with outstanding sliders, curves, cutters or change-ups poised to come in and blow it out for an inning and shut down opponents.
The juiced ball, juiced players and juicy shootouts of the 1990’s and early 2000’s were exciting initially but ultimately, were not good for game.
The same was true of college baseball and the reflex bat era of ball bashing, which LSU perfected with its “Gorilla Ball” approach in winning five national championships.
While Tiger fans and all around Louisiana were thrilled with the incredible success of LSU and Skip Bertman, the numbers were eye-opening.
LSU did nothing wrong.
In fact, the Tigers and Bertman did everything right, recruiting big, strong, power hitters to fit the direction of the game and did it better than anyone else.
In 1998, Division I records were broken, actually obliterated by hitters.
Those records that year included an overall batting average of .306, an average of 14.2 runs per game, an average of 2.1 home runs per game and an overall earned run average of 6.12.
The NCAA reacted in appropriate fashion, reducing the performance of the aluminum bat as the manufacturer was ahead of the game, so to speak, with making those bats lighter while not lessening impact performance and exit velocity, regardless of bat speed.
The reaction was to reduce the barrel of the bat by 3/8 of an inch and by instituting a regulation where the difference between the length and weight of a bat could not exceed three inches.
The moves worked as the home runs and runs scored were reduced and the game plays noticeably better today, favoring teams who can pitch it, catch it and execute offensively.
The question of balance comes into play, balancing good pitching with good hitting to produce a good result.
If you are a fan of bunting, hitting behind baserunners, working a count or painting the strike zone as an artist, rather than just heaving it is hard as you can past hitters, you cannot be enjoying what you are watching in American and National league play.
If you are a fan of home runs or strikeouts, you love what you are seeing at the highest level of baseball.
Somewhere in the middle of the equation is a good answer.
We do not appear to close to finding that solution and I can still hear the words of my coach, in the third base coaching box or thereabouts, ringing in my ears.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…