SNYDER: More to baseball than homers and strikeouts – Washington Times

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Like bombs and long runs in football, and dunks and three-pointers in basketball, everyone loves home runs and strikeouts in baseball.

Regarding the latter, you better love them. The game is offering little else these days, all or nothing.

The Steroids Era is long gone, but major-league hitters just set a record for homers in June. They went deep 1,101 times, topping the mark of 1,069 taters set in May 2000. The season mark for home runs is on pace to be broken, too, with just under two-and-a-half being hit on average per game.

Whiffs are occurring at an unprecedented pace as well. Major-league pitchers have combined to set strikeout records for nine consecutive seasons, from an average 6.30 per team per game in 2007 to 8.02 last year. This season’s average is an all-time high of 8.23 per team per game.

The question for baseball is how much is too much? At what point does all that power hitting and power pitching become humdrum? Because the rest of the “action” is dwindling and what’s left too often mimics a sleep aid.

Sports Illustrated outlined the problem perfectly by dissecting the Dodgers’ 2-1 victory in 12 innings against the Brewers last month. The game featured a National League-record 42 strikeouts. Three solo homers accounted for the scoring. The ball was put in play just once every six minutes and the contest lasted nearly four hours (3:57).

I could be wrong, but that’s not a recipe for a long-term success.

Especially when future fans must sprout from the attention span-challenged generations budding behind us.

Commissioner Rob Manfred realizes the increase in “dead time” is a problem. The pace-of-play has slowed to a crawl between each pitch, mound visit and call to the bullpen, leading Manfred to suggest changes like a 20-second pitch clock and limited timeouts.

He hasn’t shared his thoughts on the barrage of homers and strikeouts but he notes what customers say.

“Our fan research suggests that people like home runs and they actually like lots of strikeouts,” Manfred told Yahoo Sports last month. “Whether that’s the definitive position we take or not, I can tell you again, being a numbers guy, our first step was to try to figure out what fans think. And our initial indications from our fan research is they like it.”

Other folks have conducted their own research. A pair of recent studies argue that changes in the ball are at least partially behind the home-run rampage.

The Ringer found “significant differences in balls used after the 2015 All-Star break in each of the components that could affect the flight of the ball, in the directions we would have expected based on the massive hike in home run rate.” FiveThirtyEight reached the conclusion that “smaller baseballs with flatter seams are carrying farther, turning some warning-track outs into round-trippers.”

There already was enough anecdotal and circumstantial evidence to make conspiracy theorists all aflutter. Now some are apoplectic, armed with scientific research to support the eyeball test. They’re convinced that the ball is juiced, unintentionally or not.

Not surprisingly, the most-ardent truthers are pitchers. Asked if something happened to the spheres they hurl at 90-plus miles per hour, their response hits triple digits.

“One hundred percent,” Boston Red Sox starter David Price told USA Today. “We have all talked about it.” Miami Marlins reliever Brad Ziegler added: “They’re being hit a long ways. Basically, it feels like every park is Colorado.”

Manfred said baseball’s own studies reveal that substantial changes to the baseball are nonexistent.

“We have tested the baseball really thoroughly and consistently over a period of time,” he told Yahoo. “I know others have tested it and have said certain things. Our test results from the labs we believe are the most skilled in this suggest there is nothing about the baseball that can account for the increase in home runs.”

Be mindful that enough natural variance exists between sanctioned baseballs without the aid of devious plots to increase round-trippers. According to a 2000 report commissioned by MLB, two balls could pass inspection even if differences in their construction allowed one to be hit 49 feet further than the other.

So there’s that.

Batters insist the homer binge is a result of launch angles and pitchers’ increased velocity. They say those factors, plus determination to overcome infield shifts, contribute to the higher strikeout totals.

“Averages may go down, strikeouts may go up — but power numbers may go up,” Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison told USA Today.”

Such increases would be less problematic if they weren’t accompanied by decreases in key aspects of the sport, like making contact, baserunning, defense, strategy and situational hitting.

The overemphasis on two components is creating a desert around them.

If that dichotomy continues, it could stunt the growth of future fans, leaving a generation thirsty for action that juice can’t quench.

Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

 

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