How much has the game changed?

In the first year I ever became interested in the game, 1957, a big outfielder named Jim Lemon got a lot of grief about striking out too much when he led the AL with 94 strikeouts.

This year, with about 20 more games to play, there are 137 men in MLB who have struck out at least 94 times.

The team which strikes out the LEAST is the Houston Astros, who have 1018, which is an average of 113 per batting position. The Texas Rangers have 1401 strikeouts, which is an average of 155 per batting position. Remember, that’s with 20 games still to play.

Jim Lemon would now be considered a bat control guy!

The number of strikeouts per team per game is 8.73. That number has now increased 14 consecutive years. As recently as 2005 the number was only 6.30, which wasn’t much more than the 5.99 per game in 1967, so the game barely evolved for some forty years, and then exploded with revolutionary change.

Why is this happening? There are many reasons which have come together to form a perfect storm.

First and foremost, that is the modern strategy – all or nothing. Home runs have gone up at a similar rate. In the year of peak steroids, 2000, there were 1.17 homers per team per game. That seemed like a lot at the time, because as recently as 1992, the number was 0.72, but today there are 1.40 – about twice as many as in 1992! So homers have gone up almost 100% since 1992, but strikeouts are “only” up 56% over the exact same period. Batters are swinging harder and are trying to loft the ball.

Second, batters are facing fresh pitchers more often, and those pitchers throw the ball harder than ever. The AVERAGE fastball now comes in at 93 MPH, and these fresh relievers have a variety of pitches to mix in with the heat. Guys who played in the era between Feller and Nolan Ryan may never have seen a 95 MPH fastball. Today the hitters see them in every game.

Third, batters are now getting more opportunities to fan. The number of plate appearances per team per game is right about where it always has been at 38. It was 38 in 1878. It was 38 in 1919 and 1946 and 1983. Although it can go up and down in brief spurts, the number 38 is one of baseball’s great constants. But in the old days some of those plate appearances were filled by intentional walks and sacrifice bunts and other strategic gambits. Those strategies are mostly gone. Those two events added together contribute only .32 plate appearances per game, the lowest in history.