This isn’t the first time I’ve given my two cents on this subject, but as the debate continues, so does the urge to speak up against pace of play rules in baseball. This is never to say that each baseball game is a perfect, highlight-filled contest ready to be chopped into chewable and easily digestible two-minute segments for the highlight generation to enjoy, it certainly isn’t always that way. The thing is that baseball fans like it that way. A pitcher’s duel can be just as enjoyable as a slugfest, but the general public is looking for the latter. The good news is that baseball is leaning that way on its own, and no intervention is needed.
In 2017, on the broad and hard-to-reach shoulders of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, among others, baseball players hit a Costco-sized tub of baseballs out for home runs. A new MLB record for overall home runs was set, and a craze and focus on launch angle was born. Guys like Chase Headley, who had altered his swing early in his career to hit the ball flat or even (gasp) on the ground in spacious Petco Park, where he played as a member of the San Diego Padres. New statistics have, shockingly(?), shown that hitting the ball harder and in the air results in more runs. That seems to be the least surprising and most useless sentence I’ve ever written, but it revolutionized baseball last year, and it continues to influence the game this year.
Players are going hard to go yard again this year, but it’s resulting in fewer home runs to this point. As of April 20th, the league was averaging 2.14 home runs per game, whereas last season the figure was 2.34 per. At the same time, strikeouts are going up. This certainly isn’t a function of better pitching, pitchers are being taken out on the town more often than ever, and inning-eating starters are harder and harder to find. The launch angle craze is still there, but fewer guys are getting the job done.
The fact of the matter is that even when guys are hauling off and missing, the hauling off that they do keeps fans interested. When they see big guys taking big hacks, they get excited. When those big hacks make contact, even the most disinterested and entitled and offended millennial can’t help but stare in awe (blonde caramel mochachewbaccachino running down their chin, if you need a better mental image).
The effort and eagerness for power is doing its job. The game is as exciting as ever. There is no need for synthetic interventions like a pitch clock or an automatic runner on second in extra innings, which is perhaps the worst idea ever. Through this spike in occurrences of a natural and exciting baseball play, the sport is making itself great again, and Rob Manfred and co. just need to sit back and enjoy with the rest of us.