There’s been a lot of talk over the past few off-seasons about “pace of play” issues. Dawdling during the game has caused the average game time to grow by an excruciating five minutes or so over the past couple of years!
In an effort to speed things up, rules have been introduced that turn the Intentional Walk into a simple “go ahead and take your base”, compel batters to stay in the batter’s box during an at-bat, and limit the number of “meetings on the mound” a team can have.
This is all well and good, but there’s something else that needs attention. As the number of strikeouts continues to rise, it’s not just the pace of play, but the lack of play that’s affecting the game.
Percentage of Plate Appearances Ending Without a Ball In Play:
(strikeouts, walks, hit batters, and intentional walks)
2013 – 29.2%
2014 – 29.4%
2015 – 29.4%
2016 – 30.7%
2017 – 31.7%
2018 (as of the start of play on April 30) – 33.3%
One in three plate appearances ends with nothing happening in the field! The fielders could take naps out there, and very few people would notice. Much of it is due to the significant rise in strikeouts, which is the downside of increased use of bullpens and more “swinging for the seats”. It affects the pace of play too; a study from a few years ago found that it takes 4.5 pitches on average to strike out a player, compared to an average of 3 when the out is recorded on a ball in play.
I’m not sure what can be done about this; tinkering with the strike zone and pitcher’s mound are obvious places to look.
But something probably should be done. Speeding up play is nice – but there need to be actual plays first.
Forgive me; I realized I forgot to include some baselines for reference. While I did give the percentages from a few years back, that’s really not too helpful in understanding the overall trend and just how serious the situation is.
1968 is called “The Year of The Pitcher”. Offense was way down; the collective batting average of .231 was the lowest ever. The percentage of plays without a ball in play? 25.1%. Guess pitchers trusted their defense a lot more. An interesting stat for the year: There were 1,223 intentional walks. The past five years, with more teams and more total games, saw an average of 971 intentional walks each season….
If 1968 was the pitchers’ year, 1930 was the Year of the Hitter. The collective batting average over all of baseball was .296 – the Red Sox had the worst team average with .263 Right now, the Braves are leading all of baseball with a mere .273 average. The percentage of plays without a ball in play in 1930? 16.4%.
In 1944, the talent level over all of baseball was depressed thanks to the needs of WWII. The percentage of plays without a ball in play? 17.2%.
There’s definitely something going on these days, and it doesn’t look good….