Yes, this has become a home run and swinging for the fences game of baseball. And it’s become a strikeout game for the pitchers. Last week I discussed and analyzed the array of injuries that have sidelined starting pitchers and bullpens.
Thing is, injuries are one component that have not been emphasized enough with MLB. Here in New York, the Mets hold on to first place because the NL East is mediocre and feeling the impact of injuries to the Braves and Phillies and to a certain extent, the Nationals.
That is one part of the issue that confronts MLB. When you look at percentages, overall team hitting is at an all-time low in the game. The Mets, partly due to injuries, are at the bottom of the league in hitting. Three starters from their Opening Day lineup have avoided the injured list.
Heck, if you are a fantasy baseball player I can imagine what your lineup looks like. It’s more of an issue for the manager and front office personnel to find the reliable replacements until the casualties return. The Mets, up to this juncture, have managed to fill the void.
So, why has hitting overall been an issue as the season approaches a key point before Memorial Day weekend? There are theories about a new baseball, the dependency of pitchers throwing a 95 fastball and hitters looking for the 4-seamer.
The numbers say a batting average for a hitter is under .100 with an 0-2 count. Most hitters appear to be looking away with two strikes and adjusting in.
I spoke with former players that are watching this great game of baseball go in another direction. I also asked some of the longtime scouts that would be the first to know why the hitting approach has changed.
“A two-strike approach might be choking up some, spreading out in the box,” said a veteran scout who has analyzed the difference prior to the 60-game pandemic shortened season of last year.
He emphasized the short swing, launch angle and using the entire field, of course, dependent on pitch location.
“A pitcher is trying to make a great pitch to get a called strike or get a hitter to chase out of the zone for a swing or miss or to set up the next pitch.” he said. “This, like all pitches, demands command of the most important quality of a good pitcher. Command means both inside and outside the zone. The pitcher must exploit the advantage of the count.”
Now that could be a logical explanation but the average fan will never surrender to those baseball insights. Mets fans are waiting for Francisco Lindor and James McCann to make the necessary adjustments and live up to expectations as their two key pieces acquired during the offseason.
There will be constant questions about the inconsistent and below average at bats across town in the Bronx with a Yankees lineup that is expected to score a lot of runs and depend on the home run ball.
Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Gio Urshela, Brett Gardner, Clint Frazier are hitting below average and swinging at that 0-2 count. Prior to hitting the injured list again, Giancarlo Stanton has been notorious for swinging at bad pitches and getting behind the count. Remember he is one of two Yankees that has struck out five times this season.
Yes, they are looking for a fastball and pitchers are throwing at high velocity even with their secondary pitches of a slider, sinker, or a curve.
Another longtime scout said “A pitcher can be almost unbeatable if he can locate any pitch for a strike on any count. Also there is that ability to expand the zone when he is ahead in counts. Hitters make mistakes. They rarely hit a quality located pitch. Hitting is all about timing and pitchers that can change speeds will elicit real contact. We are also so intoxicated with velocity that we have gotten away from pitching.”
Of course increased velocity has been attributed to a great number of inevitable Tommy John surgeries and that has increased to a high volume the past few years.
In the end, though, pitchers need to be ahead in the count. It is to their advantage to get a strike one call on the first pitch but it does not always mean it has to be a fastball.
“In my observation, I see a hitter’s command as the ability to not chase out of the strike zone,” said another scout. It’s offensive discipline and Ronald Acuna (Braves) has made progress on reducing the chase rate, getting better counts and pitches to hit.“ The Acuna numbers reflect that principle.
Baseball has an issue with two strike counts. Until there are more balls put in play and less strikeouts, this will be a continuing trend.
Purist or not, admit as I do, the game has changed and it’s not good.
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