MLB's continued rise in home runs and strikeouts down to all-or-nothing approach by hitters


MLB's continued rise in home runs and strikeouts down to all-or-nothing approach by hitters
  1. MLB's continued rise in home runs and strikeouts down to all-or-nothing approach by hitters
    thenational.ae
    Gregg Patton explains the reasons behind MLB's continuing rise in home…
    All Sports

A generation ago, aspiring baseball players were advised to take a level swing at the ball.

Keeping the bat on the same plane as the pitch, as it came through the strike zone, produced desirable, solid line drives. It also was the best way to assure contact, avoiding strikeouts.

That theory has gone the way of asbestos insulation. Or drinking diet soda for your health.

Today it’s all about the home-run swing. More and more hitters are using the upper cut, or in today’s parlance, a "steeper launch angle."

Major League Baseball (MLB) is awash in home runs, and of course their by-product, more strikeouts.

A total of 5,610 home runs were hit in 2016, the second most in baseball history. That total was bested only in 2000, at the height of performance enhancing drug use by players.

According to a recent SI.com article, this year’s sluggers already are taking the homer rate up another notch.

At the same time, strikeouts have been on the rise for 11 consecutive years, and on pace for 12 straight as more hitters take the "all-or-nothing" approach to the plate: swing hard on an upwards arc, get the ball in the air.

Back in the dark ages, like the 1970s and 1980s, the idea of "swinging for the fences" was considered wrong-headed.

Hitters like Dave Kingman, who crushed 442 career home runs while reaping a paltry .236 career average, and Rob Deer (20 homers per year for 12 years, while batting .220) were tolerated, but not highly respected. Deer was at least as notorious for his strikeouts, coming within three of the then-record 189 in 1987.

In the past four seasons, that mark has been topped 10 times. Why is this happening? Without question, over the past decade, statistical analysis heavily favours the value of the home run.

Meanwhile, strikeouts have been de-criminalised. That is, it’s statistically better to risk a hearty home run swing than to simply put the ball in play with a weak swing, and maybe come up with a paltry single.

At the same time, defences have stepped up the use of defensive shifts, encouraging hitters to lift the ball over the infield, rather than through it.

The result is that some see the sport as being reduced to, as countless broadcasters lament every night, a homer-strikeout festival.

Certainly numbers do not lie. Modern-day Rob Deers like Joey Gallo, Mike Napoli, Ryan Schimpf and Khris Davis have regular jobs.

Each has at least eight homers, with batting averages ranging from .151 to .207, and tons of strikeouts.

But they are only the worst of the trend. There are other, much more exciting things going on.…

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