Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Thoughts on 1-0 Games(Part 3)

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the downward trend in run production in MLB that is not into it's second decade and the potential impact that could have on interest in the game going forward.  In Part 2, we looked at some of the possible reasons for this trend including the PED ban(probably a small impact), influx of young pitching talent, evolution of the strike zone and increase emphasis on individual and team defense.  In Part 3, we will look at what, if anything, can be done to halt or reverse this trend.

Generally speaking, if you are wanting to solve a problem, it helps to look at the causes of the problem and correct them.  In the case of declining run production in MLB, that may not be the case.  Lifting the PED ban is a non-starter from a public relations standpoint.  Fans have to believe that what they are seeing is real and possible for anyone with some talent and a willingness to work hard.  MLB certainly does not want to discourage the influx of new pitching talent.  Emphasizing defense is just smart baseball.  Not much you can do if teams want to put quick and fast players out on the field.  We certainly don't need more juice in the baseballs, if any such thing exists, as pitching injuries from batted balls is already a growing problem.

The strike zone is not set in stone and could be altered with a rule change.  Pitchfx could be an effective way to enforce the new zone.  How much this would help or what unintended consequences might ensue, is unknown.  In general, a smaller strike zone should help hitters, but it also might just result in more walks and a slower game.

When pitching dominance threatened the popularity of the game in the 1960's, MLB responded by lowering the pitching mound.  This knowledge got me to thinking about the history of the pitchers's mound.  The pitcher's mound is not an original part of the game.  Pitching mounds were invented by pitchers specifically to help them throw harder and on a downward plane.  Since there was no rule specifically prohibiting pitching off a raised surface, pitchers started asking the ground crews in their home parks to build mounds of dirt for them to pitch off of.  In fact, individual pitchers would often get their mound build to their specifications!  With mounds of of varying size and shape for every game, MLB decided to standardize the height at 15 inches.  Rumor has it that the Dodgers continued to customize theirs with a height of 20 inches in Dodger Stadium in the 1960's.

After the 1968 Year of the Pitcher, MLB lowered the mounds to a height of 10 inches.  There was an immediate uptick in RPG from an alltime low of 3.42 to 4.07 in 1969 and 4.34 in 1970.  Scoring dropped back down to 3.89 in 1971 and 3.69 in 1972, so it appears that after the pitchers adjusted to the new mound height, they went back to dominating suggesting that the height of the mound may be less important than the pitcher's familiarity with it.  Further lowering of the pitching mound is something MLB could consider if the downward trend in run production continues.  The results of lowering the mound are uncertain.

As defensive shifts have more impact, hitters may have to return to an emphasis on hit placement(hit 'em where they ain't) rather than trying to beat the shifts strength on strength.  Of course the opportunity cost of hitting 'em where they ain't is loss of HR's, but as pitching becomes more dominant and run scoring goes down, the value of an extra-base hit to an unguarded area goes up.  Unless you are Chris Davis and hitting 50 HR's in a season, it may be wise to take what the defense gives rather than hoping to hit it over the fence where the defense can't touch it.

At this point, it is probably too early to panic and change the rules of the game which is, and should be, a big step, but MLB needs to be contemplating possible changes if the downward trend in run production continues.

One trend that has paralleled the drop in run production is a steady increase in strikeouts.  This may be the reason why the Giants appear to have started to emphasize low strikeout rates in hitters they draft.  Of course, it is too early to judge the results of this philosophy.


  1. I was thinking about this afew days ago and moving the rubber back to 61 feet might have a beneficial impact. Long travel time both coming and going.

    1. I actually think there is some merit in that. If you read the history of the game, the 60' 6" is not set in stone any more than the height of the mound. Good suggestion!

  2. Interesting that a lot of things are not set in stone.

    How about making the size of the ball just a little bigger?

    1. That's an interesting one. If the ball was bigger with a bigger mass, would it just break more bats? I don't know. Any change you make is almost certain to have both wanted and unwanted effects.

    2. If my pitching is not as strong as the visiting team, I'd wax the baseballs to make them a little less easy to grip.

      I wonder if you can do that...