Gossage: “I find it very difficult to be able to watch today.”
Just about everything they are saying is accurate, but it’s also inevitable. The point of any professional game is to win. Baseball has been a tradition-bound game in which the traditions became more important than winning. But that can’t be expected to go on forever, as clubs discover that unsuccessful steals are disastrous plays, and the sacrifice bunts aren’t even that valuable when they succeed. Clubs have started to abandon tradition in favor of the strategies they think will improve their W-L record. There was no reason to believe the that complete game was the best way to use a starter. It was just the way it had always been done. So people started tinkering with that formula, first tenuously, now often radically. Although nobody wants to be the first to break the tradition, the floodgates open once a new strategy succeeds.
I agree with Gossage that the game is now frustrating to watch. I miss the rich variety of offensive strategies that have been replaced by the homer-or-nothing mentality. Where are the opposite-field doubles, the daring base stealers who try to throw off the pitchers’ timing, the bunting for base hits? And speaking of bunting, why is it that these guys, with all their talent, can’t lay down a bunt or an Ichiro-style swinging bunt to beat the “shift”?
But the people in charge believe that the new strategies work. After all, every team is free to do things the old way if they think that will produce better results, but nobody seems to think that’s the smart move.
At least for now.
The strikeout rate has now increased for 13 consecutive years. As recently as 2005 there were 6.30 Ks per 9 innings. The number is now 8.48. In the old days, a pitcher who struck out that many guys per game stood a good chance to lead the league. In 1980, at the mid-point of his career, Nolan Ryan struck out 7.7 per nine innings. Chris Sale struck out 13.5 per nine this season. (That would have been the all-time record, but Sale pitched only 158 innings and a pitcher must toss 162 to qualify for the “rate stats,” so Sale’s all-time record is unofficial. He did qualify in the previous year, and finished with the third-best rate in history. In fact, ten of the top 20 seasons have occurred since 2015 – and that excludes Sale’s 2018, which would have topped the list had he thrown only four more innings.)
The MLB batting average was .248 this year. That’s the lowest since 1972, which was in what is now called “the second deadball era.”
Stolen bases are also at the lowest point since 1972.
There are .17 sacrifices per team per game. That is the lowest in baseball history and is still declining year after year.