If you’ve paid any attention to Major League Baseball this season, you’ve probably noticed a trend; pitchers are dominating hitters like they never have. Strikeouts were already through the roof in recent years. Now they’ve completely blown the roof off. There have been six no-hitters thrown and we’re not even in June. It’s absurd. With guys routinely throwing 100 MPH with movement, to go along with wipeout off-speed pitches, MLB hitters often look helpless in the box.
The consensus seems to be that Rob Manfred needs to step in and tweak things in order to get things back to normal. There is a scarcity of outcomes in today’s MLB game, with the trio of home runs, strikeouts, and walks dominating the action. That’s not good for viewership, which has led the Commissioner to explore rule changes in the Minor Leagues. He’s also testing out these rules in order to potentially shorten the game, which is very stupid in my opinion, but that’s another discussion.
I understand why Manfred’s hand is being forced to create more action for the viewer. However, if he decides to exercise a little patience, I think things will sort themselves out.
MLB hitters have modified their swings in order to hit the ball hard and in the air as often as possible. This is the main culprit behind the uptick in home runs in recent years; guys try to drive the ball as often as possible. That’s all fine and dandy, but the pitchers have adjusted. You don’t see guys pitching to contact as much, as contact nowadays is louder and more destructive, on average. They also dominate the upper half of the zone. A swing with loft in it tends to work better on lower pitches, hence today’s emphasis on high spin rate, which makes higher pitches more effective.
The pitchers figured it out. Now it’s time for the hitters to counter.
3-0 hacks need to become the norm. Pitchers are nastier than ever and there are less and less get-me-over pitches for hitters to crush. They still groove fastballs over the heart of the plate on 3-0, though. Hitters have the ultimate upper hand in that count, and if they want to combat the way modern pitchers throw, it would behoove them to swing out of their shoes there. The pitchers will then adjust by throwing more breaking balls in those counts, but that will lead to more walks, which are also a plus for the hitter. Either way, the hitter wins. Swing 3-0 if you get a meat ball.
Against the Shift
You’ve started to see this a little more, but I think it should become even more popular. I’m talking about hitters shortening up and slapping a ball against shift, towards the wide open part of the field. A bunt works as well, something we see Joey Gallo do every now and then. Singles aren’t sexy anymore, but there is still value in them (although a ground ball hit against the shift can also turn into a double with a fleet-footed baserunner). You’re telling me players like the aforementioned Gallo wouldn’t take 20-30 extra ticks on their batting average and on-base percentage per year, solely on the back on hitting a lazy ground ball every now and then (about one per week)? It’s good for them and the team, which helps them get paid. All good things.
Lower Launch Angle
Mike Trout has made this adjustment to his game, and it paid huge dividends this season prior to him injuring his calf. The idea is that if a hitter lowers his launch angle, it allows him to hit pitchers harder and more consistently, particularly high pitches. They just won’t go as high, on average. Hitting the ball in the air is great, but there’s little value in weak pop flies. Trout traded in those fly balls for missile line drives and worm burner grounders, while still producing the power numbers we’ve grown accustomed to. His 199 OPS+ suggests his minor swing tweak has, uh, worked pretty well. There’s only one Mike Trout, but other hitters can certainly take a page out of his book and not sell out so much for launch angle.
Give it a Year or Two
MLB hitters are some of the best athletes in the world. All they need is a year or two in order to restore balance in the never-ending war between pitcher and batter, in my opinion. I’m not certain Rob Manfred will be able to hold out, but just in case he does, there are several options for hitters to resort to in order to tip the scales back in their favor. Let them figure things out. No need to move the mound back or change the strike zone or any of that bullshit.