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Why pitching is dominating hitting in this era of baseball

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TSN Baseball Insider


Strikeouts have always been part of baseball. It’s not easy to hit a round, hard ball that arrives in the strike zone at 90-plus mph as you swing a bat. In fact, it is the toughest thing to do in sports.

Players mostly strike out when they have mental and/or mechanical flaws in their approach at the plate. They may get caught looking for the wrong pitch and get fooled. They may have bad timing and be out in front or behind a pitch. They may be lunging at the baseball. It could be some combination of all of those. Plus, sometimes hitters just swing and miss. Strikeouts happen.

The game has definitely changed over the years. Last season, we saw the most strikeouts ever recorded in a season (41,207). We had more strikeouts than hits for the first time ever. The overall batting average was .248, which was seven points lower than 2017 and the lowest since 1972. The reason? Pitching is dominating hitting in this era.

There are a number of reasons for the increase in strikeouts and falling batting averages. Firstly, pitchers throw harder now than ever before. The average fastball has increased in speed by about three mph over the past 10 years. Secondly, hitters focus on launch angle now more than ever, believing there are more runs to be produced when hitting fly balls instead of grounders.

I’m a big believer that hitters remain fairly similar as they work their way from the minors to the majors. Contact hitters stay contact hitters. Hitters vulnerable to strikeouts in the minor leagues tend to punch out a lot at the major-league level.

Pitch recognition and plate discipline are tools that hitters either have or don’t have, for the most part. They can certainly improve a bit, but usually players who have the ability to recognize a fastball from a curveball and a ball from a strike bring it with them into professional baseball. Hitters who don’t have that “good eye” at the plate tend not to all of a sudden develop the skill. Good hitters can become power hitters. But power hitters don’t necessarily become good hitters.

One of the first stats I look at for young hitters is base on balls. If they walk a lot, then they see the ball better and have a better chance to develop into good hitters. Walks take away from outs more than they take away from hits.

You will know when a player has figured something out at the plate when his walks and home runs increase. That means he is seeing the ball well and can recognize the pitches. Hitters who walk a lot find themselves in more 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-1 counts where they can look for a pitch to drive the ball. That’s where home runs increase.

The Toronto Blue Jays have been striking out at an alarming clip so far in 2019. They have the third-most strikeouts........