There is an epidemic of huge proportions happening in MLB and many fans, owners and players do not seem to be too worried about it. It is steadily getting worse and it appears to me that no one has noticed. Or, if they have noticed, it seems no one cares.
It has begun eating away at the core of the game itself. The fundamentals and basics of the game are eroding due to this epidemic.
While most fans and some players are still reeling over the whole steroid controversy, this epidemic is moving in like a thief in the night and becoming such a normal or common occurrence that it is widely accepted without any thought.
That epidemic or blight that I am referring to is the ever increasing number of strikeouts that players are posting each year and the fact that most managers, owners and fans are casually accepting those numbers as normal.
Well, I for one do NOT accept them. I think they are a travesty of the game and batting coaches at all levels should get back to the fundamentals of hitting and plate discipline.
Did you know that Gus Zernial led all hitters with only 101 strikeouts for a full season in 1951? Now before you go giving me all the “buts”, I will acknowledge that a full season in 1951 was a few games short of the current 162 game slate (154 for most teams); however that 101 strikeouts is a damn sight short of the 222 strikeouts that Adam Dunn had in the 2012 season with only 8 more games.
In 1944 Vince DeMaggio of the Pittsburgh Pirates let the National League in strike outs with 83. Maybe World War II saw a decline in pitching talent but you would have to figure that it equaled out in the batting cage as well.
It wasn’t until 1963 that MLB saw a hitter strike out 150 times or more. Dave Nicholson of the Chicago White Sox was the first to record that feat with 174 k’s that season.
After that season it became quite common place for the leader in either the NL or AL, sometimes both, to record 150 strikeouts. However, it was NOT common for both leagues to have multiple 150 strikeout players.
And now, MLB is facing an epidemic where the leader is striking out over 200 times in a season and folks just seem to accept it like its normal.
Well let me tell you, it is not normal; and as a professional hitter it should not be acceptable. I don’t care how many home runs a player can give your team, if he strikes out over 1/3 of his plate appearances, just how valuable to your team can he be? How much will young players learn from this guy when the hitting coach is trying to instill hitting fundamentals and plate discipline and their big slugger on the team is averaging about 1.5 strikeouts per game? Answer? None.
And it’s not JUST the leaders in strikeouts; it’s affecting all Major League players. You think not?
In 1968, the last season before the mound was lowered to help batters improve their offense, Reggie Jackson struck out a MLB leading 171 times. Only 18 players struck out 100 times or more that season. Frank “Hondo” Howard led the majors with 44 dingers. Pete “Charlie Hustle” Rose led the majors with a .335 BA.
In 1969, after they lowered the mound, an increase to 24 guys struck out 100+ times but the home run leader, Harmon Killebrew only hit 49 HRs. There was however a small power surge that year since 7 guys hit 40 or more HRs. Only two batters stuck out more than 150 times; Bobby Bonds and Larry Hisle.
In 1970, the increase continued. There were 27 batters with 100+ K’s, and now there were 3 with 150k’s. Johnny Bench led the majors with 45 HRs and there were only five others with 40 or more.
1971 saw a slight drop in all these categories. Only two had 150k’s. Only 22 had 100k’s or more. And, only two had 40 dingers or more. The overall offense was on the rise. Four players BA was .340 or more with Joe Torre leading the Majors with .363.
In 1972 the push for more plate discipline was back in swing and NO ONE whiffed 150 times or more, however this was a 6 game shortened season from a strike. Only 20 guys had 100 or more that year as well. But, the Homerun totals were way down that year as well. Johnny Bench led MLB again with his 40 round trippers. While averages were down a bit from the previous two seasons there were 27 players that batted .290 or above.
In 1973 there were 22 players with 100+ k’s but again, NO ONE hit the 150 mark. Rod Carew left his mark leading MLB with a .350 BA and again the power numbers were down. Stargell led MLB with 44 and a guy named Aaron hit 40.
In 1974 not a single player hit 40 or more home runs. Rod Carew again led MLB with his .364 BA. And another amazing thing happened; no player struck out 140 times led alone the elevate 150k mark. Again, only 20 players struck out 100 times or more.
As time passed and more strikeouts were posted, it was due to the ever increasing long balls that were supposedly being hit. Managers and Coaches alike seemed to be more willing to turn a blind eye to the strikeout numbers, especially if they were from a fan favorite that was putting up stellar home run and/or RBI totals. But that is what started the erosion of the game.
Most fans believe we have the Steroid Era behind us. They are willing to believe that MLB has the problem under control. The fact is however there is a residual effect that still lingers in the performance of the majority of the players and the mind set of coaches/managers.
That of course being that it is acceptable to strike out consistently if you are a power hitter. But the actual stats speak for themselves.
During the purported time when Barry Bonds and others were cheating with Steroids and putting up Gaudy numbers on the homerun boards, the strikeouts were ever increasing as well. We now know of course that not only batters but pitchers as well were using and this could account for some of the increase in strikeouts.
But the fact remains that IF Major League Baseball has the problem under control then why are we still seeing such a decline in plate awareness and overall horrible numbers in strikeouts?
Here are the numbers for the last 37 seasons. The scariest part of this is the total number of players that struck out over 100 times as well as the increase in those that had 150 strikeouts or more.
Let’s look at it this way. Here is a table of the top ten leaders in strikeouts for 2012 and their reported salaries as posted on BaseballReference.com.
Now I understand that money should not be the “all inclusive” value that separates players, it is however something that if businesses used a Cost Benefits Analysis, most of these guys would not be donning a Major League uniform. We continually hear that Professional sports are a business first venture; but in the end, who foots the bill? Those folks that show up and pay exuberant prices at the gates, large sums at the vendors and large amounts at the retail stores are the primary source for these business ventures.
We have been duped into settling for this type of performance for the occasional long ball. I for one want the players and teams to get back to the days when a hitter took pride in not striking out. So many good things can happen when you put the ball in play.