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Thursday 29th Jun 2017

If you are familiar with the "Three True Outcomes," you know that within baseball nomenclature, the phrase refers to the strikeout, the walk, and the home run: the three baseball play instances that involve only the pitcher, catcher, and batter. That is, there are no defensive aspects to the clarity of the play.

Clearly the strikeout and homer are those things that dominate the game and our interest these days, something that is a far cry from the game I watched as a kid, which, in and of itself, was a far cry from the game being played 50 years earlier.

As long as I have been able to understand and interpret statistics, I have felt that walks and strikeouts were indeed the key numbers that are important in determining the potential success of a hitter.

Now remember, I am not a mathematician or scientist like my mate Lord Zola, so there are not necessarily probabilities or algorithms that lie at the bottom of my wonderings about numbers. But I have always felt that hitters who do get walks, and and keep the whiffs down, will become better hitters and as a result, producers.

But, at least as a player of simulation and Fantasy games involving baseball, it has been strange for me to see the rise of the whiff and the fall of the walk, although surely in deference to the big fly.

I did wonder over the last century just how much flux there had been in the increase of whiffs, to those of dingers, to the expansion of the leagues, and the ostensible drop off of the walk. Or, at least that was the theorem--if that is the term--under which I was operatiing, that although the number of homers might indeed be up, hitter effectiveness is certainly way down.

But, in sticking with the three true outcomes, I was surprised to see that over the decades, the average number of walks per game has indeed increased, but nothing like strikeouts, which are up almost six, while homers are up one entire home run over the turn of the 20th Century. 

Year # of Teams #of Batters League BB League K's BB per Game K per Game HR per Game
1900 8 188 3034 2681 2.67 2.3 .22
1910 16 508 7838 9667 2.97 3.87 .14
1920 16 495 6820 7247 2.76 2.94 .26
1930 16 493 7654 7934 3.1 3.21 .63
1940 16 514 8273 9049 3.35 3.66 .64
1950 16 530 9955 9554 4.02 3.86 .84
1960 16 575 8384 12815 3.39 5.1 .86
1970 24 849 13727 22374 3.53 5.75 .86
1980 26 916 13190 20212 3.13 4.8 0.73
1990 26 1030 13852 23853 3.29 5.67 0.79
2000 30 1230 18237 31356 3.75 6.45 1.17
2010 30 1249 15778 34306 3.25 7 0.95
2016 30 1353 15088 38982 3.11 8.03 1.16
2017* 30 1006 4690 11441 3.35 8.13 1.22

*In progress

The thing is, at least to me, while I dig homers, doubles and walks seem easier to come by, and walks and doubles and singles, even easier. More important, regular runners on base similarly adds advantage to the offense, for it forces the defense into a formation that potentially opens the area for a fair hit to be placed.

Similarly, it seems to me that working the count, forcing pitches, and working walks--which does not necessarily mean being a passive hitter--was a fun way to win, for playing small ball is a lot like David whipping Goliath, and that appeals to my sense of the underdog. However, looking at say the Royals of the 70's, who had great teams playing small ball, I have to think that is the defense to the Whiff/HR game that dominates today.

I do love watching teams rebuild, assembling the parts that will lead to success in a fashion the front office thinks will be successful. By the same token, I admire coaches like Bill Belichick, who see the game as the masses approach it, and figure out how to exploit in a different way, and to a new level.

That was what made Bill Walsh, Don Shula, and Tom Landry great football coaches, but similarly, seeing the path to victory differently is also what made Bobby Cox, Earl Weaver, Whitey Herzog, and maybe now Bud Black, who seems to have figured out how to make pitchers successful in Coors.

I guess what I am saying though, and what I miss with the game as it is played today, is that I like when players think, and while I admire power, outthinking and outsmarting the opposition has always been way more satisfying to me. 

I do think, however, that there will be a renaissance of small ball, at least with some teams and managers, and that maybe the beauty of the walk, as it forces the pitch and subsequent play, will get some better respect. It might slow the game down again, but to me the game becomes chess instead of checkers.

Holler at me @lawrmichaels.


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