Baseball-ball

I’m sitting on the back patio at my girlfriend’s apartment. We ordered Wingstop, so she just went inside to eat. I’m just here, drinking a Corona and thinking about baseball for some reason. I only got like four hours of sleep last night so I’ve been thrown off kilter almost all day.

There isn’t a lot I have to say about baseball that I haven’t already said. It used to be my favorite sport — by far I would say — from circa 2004 (when I was 14) until my mid-20’s. To me, it was the perfect sport. There was no game clock… The relationship between pitching and offense was “fair”… I understood the economics of the game, inasmuch as any normal outsider could, and towards the end there I could pretty accurately predict how many years a free agent would sign for and be plus or minus $10 million or $20 million on whatever contract that was… Baseball became so familiar, like the back of my hand, that eventually I felt like there was nothing left to learn.

I can trace where baseball failed (or failed me anyway) back to an article I wrote in 2014, titled Joe Sheehan, and Strikeouts. This was back when I wrote about baseball all the time, where every day of the year there was some sort of baseball news that interested me. It was the sport with no offseason. Anyway, in that 2014 article I quote Joe Sheehan, and it perfectly encapsulated the way I felt about the way the game was changing. I don’t know how he was so far ahead of the game, and I also don’t know why it made such an impact on me. But I never saw baseball the same after that (emphasis mine):

The trend of increasing strikeouts is quite literally the only constant in baseball history, and the acceleration of that trend over the last five years, coupled with greater efficiency as measured by walk rates, along with the success all that has had in keeping run scoring down, is breaking the game. People are still going to games, still watching them, still buying beer and sporting gear. Any concerns about fan interest tend to be tied to the length of games — a complaint that can be silenced by paying beat writers on an hourly basis — and pace, an amorphous idea that can be addressed by shortening the unnecessarily long breaks between innings. Eventually, though, the lack of balls in play will become a problem. For me, that’s happened at a 20% strikeout rate; maybe the tipping point for you was 18%, for your sister it will be 22%, and your husband won’t care so long as the Cubs win. Eventually, however, the lack of balls in play is going to finally lend truth to three words that have always been a lie.

“Baseball is boring.”

The trend of increasing strikeouts never stopped. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where teams are starting relief pitchers and pitching entire games out of the bullpen. To combat this, offenses have started loading up on all-or-nothing hitters, guys who strike out 25 or 30 percent of the time but occasionally make strong contact and hit home runs. That’s what baseball has become: strikeouts and homers.

I have argued over the last half-decade that the only reasonable solution to restore some balance between pitching and offense is to automate the strike zone. Give us robot umps calling balls and strikes, force pitchers to bring their pitches in the zone, and you’ll see on base percentage — and thus, run scoring — increase, leading to a more enjoyable sport to watch. Until that happens, pitchers are going to dominate.

I can’t deny that even though I’ve been checked out on baseball for the last few years, I do enjoy the current World Series matchup between the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s the perfect David vs. Goliath series, where the small market Rays are going toe-to-toe with the extremely large market Dodgers.

The only reason I say so is because the Rays being in the World Series gives me some of that happy nostalgia. The last time they were in was 2008, when I was away at Virginia Tech, and I remember watching them play the overwhelmingly favored Phillies (who went on to win). Andrew Friedman, who is now the Dodgers President of Baseball Operations, was the Rays GM back then. He brought Tampa Bay to relevance, and now he is on the other side trying to capture his first World Series against his former team. It’s perfect art.

So that’s what I have to say about baseball. It’s been a long time since I’ve written about it, and it’ll probably be an even longer time before I write about it again.

Go Rangers, I guess?