On whiffing

Bill James has a couple of interesting articles up on his subscription site. The first one quickly chronicles the history and inexorable rise of the strikeout. To sum up: “Strikeout rates have increased in the majors in every decade since 1920, except for the 1970s.”

The strikeout has gained ground steadily for many, many years for two fundamental reasons: strikeouts are good things for pitchers and not necessarily bad things for batters. Theoretically, the rise in strikeouts could end someday, but there is nothing stopping it right now. In fact, the rate of increase has grown in recent years.

But Bill has an objection:

Strikeouts, observed that great philosopher Crash Davis, are boring—and they’re fascist. Strikeouts minimize the need for defensive play, thus taking the fielders out of the game. If we want to live to see the end of the Dave Kingman generation, we need to take deliberate actions to bring about the end of it.

In a follow-up piece, Bill raises specific ideas for slowing the strikeout takeover, primarily shrinking the edges of the strike zone while simultaneously doing other things to deaden the impact of the batted ball, such as regulating “deader” balls and thicker bat handles.

What do people think? Is the strikeout strangling the game? Is it time to fundamentally change some of the playing conditions to make the game more interesting again? My replies: yes and yes.

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  1. Devon Young said...

    I love watching a pitcher knockout hitters. I don’t want to see the end of the strikeout! Where did all this come from? It’s one of the more fun things of the game. I mean… bases loaded, 3-2 pitch coming in…you’re on the edge of your seat wondering “contact? walk? strikeout?” It helps give a dynamic that makes things a little more complex.

    Can you imagine what would happen to ERA’s without the possibility of a K? Yikes. There’d probably NEVER EVER be another no-hitter if strikeouts are outlawed.

    And how would we compare modern pitchers that don’t get K’s to their record, to older ones like Koufax, Gibson, & Ryan? Because, it is a totally different game.

  2. Dave Studeman said...

    Um, no one is talking about “ending” strikeouts, just slowing or stopping the rate of growth.  Maybe decreasing it somewhat.

    Batters actually strike out more often these days than in the days of Koufax, Gibosn and Ryan.  In fact, they strike out more often now than in any time in major league history.  So you already have records that aren’t directly comparable.

    The pitcher/batter drama is indeed a fun part of the game, but why does it have to end in a strikeout?  Isn’t a foul pop just as much a victory for the pitcher?  A home run just as much a victory for the batter?

  3. Nick Steiner said...

    I personally like strikeouts.  It forces the count to go longer and the pitcher to have to throw his best stuff to get the out.  Balls in play are fun also, but too many first pitch groundouts can get boring.  I guess you can say the same about strikeouts though.

  4. Richard Gadsden said...

    I like the strikeout.  I think I’m too much of a cricketer emotionally, because I always regard any contact as a victory for the batter.  If I ruled the world, there wouldn’t be a force at first; you could stand still in the batter’s box and make the pitcher strike you out.

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