My son Christopher is a baseball student. The statistics he compiled as a kid in a hard-nosed Rotisserie competition called the “Bush League’’ made him a numbers savant that has served him well in the job market.
On Sunday night, I received a text from him reading, “Baseball sucks. Lower the mound. I can’t watch all these strikeouts. Ugh!’’
He was not offering this merely as a follower of the Twins, but by watching the endless games that were being televised on the MLB Network, ESPN and other outlets during the first week of the 2016 season.
There was a time not long ago – in August 2007 – when it was enthralling to see a 17-strikeout masterpiece from Johan Santana. He threw eight innings and allowed two hits in a 1-0 victory over Texas in the Metrodome.
Now, you see 13, 14 or 15 strikeouts from a starter and three relievers and hardly blink an eye. Yes, the Twins took the strikeouts (72) to a ridiculous extreme during the 0-6, season-opening road trip, but the hacking has been taking place around the big leagues for several years.
This has become the latest quandary for baseball: The game is most-interesting when the ball is in play. Strikeouts do not provide action and bunches of them make baseball significantly more boring.
The last time baseball had a crisis when it came to a lack of hitting was in the second half of the 1960s. The first response was to lower the mound from 15 inches to 10.5.
It is unlikely the major leagues will try that again, as there have been some orthopedic suggestions that a lower mound has contributed to pitcher’s arm injuries.
That leaves only one solution: a smaller strike zone.
During the steroids era, when hitting ruled the game, Sandy Alderson was in the Commissioner’s Office and pushed for enforcement of a true strike zone, with the pitch at the bottom of the letters being called a strike. A computer system was installed to rate umpires and encourage the calling of that higher strike.
“I didn’t have a third strike called on a pitch above the belt more than 10 times in my career,’’ Jack Morris said last week. “The strike zone is definitely bigger today.’’
The problem is that hitters also take more pitches than when Morris was pitching. If the strike zone is reduced to create more hitting, it also will lead to longer counts, more walking and longer games.
And, baseball has had a well-publicized effort since Rob Manfred became the commissioner to improve the pace of games, and take some minutes off the average time in the process.
In Joseph Heller’s grand novel of 1961, Capt. Yossarian found himself in constant conflict with the military’s Catch-22 — a vague policy used by superiors to justify illogical demands.
Major league umpires have enough trouble getting things right. If Manfred’s office suggests a smaller strike zone to increase hitting added on top of time-consuming replays, and at the same time demands faster games, the umps would be left reeling like an entire platoon of Yossarians … stuck in Catch-22.
Which leaves me to propose this solution:
OK, I don’t have a one. I just know that pitchers striking out 15 times should be a special occasion, and not the routine that it has become.