Prison of Perfection

By Lloyd Graff

Major League Baseball is facing a major league problem. Its audience is bored and fading away.

For a fan like me, this is a minor problem. I love my team, the Chicago Cubs, but if they are awful and boring, I can switch to Netflix, reading, or a podcast for entertainment. But for the baseball industry and the gambling community, which make their very profitable livelihoods from fans like me, baseball and boring cannot afford to go together for long before it really starts to hurt.

From an entertainment standpoint, it is not too hard to figure out why the sport is shrinking. Major League Baseball has become the prisoner of its own perfection. A game with 20 strikeouts is becoming commonplace. Pitchers routinely throw in the mid 90s, and many are stunningly accurate. A top pitcher in today’s game is aiming his pitches not at the center of the plate, but at a corner of the strike zone, 4″ by 4″. 

Good scouting and computer records have identified hitters’ weaknesses. If you combine tremendous velocity with computerized analysis and superb accuracy, plus catchers’ well-honed ability to “frame” pitches, deceiving fallible umpires by subtle movements of their gloves, you end up with strikeout after strikeout.

Another addition to the pitching arsenal is “spin rate.” Again, the computer mavens are spoiling the game by analyzing the effect of spin and the movement of pitches, which shrewd pitchers and their coaches translate into manipulation of pitches, to accentuate hitters’ weaknesses. Add in sticky materials, which pitchers can hide in their scalp or uniforms, and you get even more pitch movement, which fosters batter failure.

Hitters have not solved the problem of pitcher mastery to bring more balance to the game, partially because of their tendency to overswing to pad their home run statistics, for which the teams have rewarded them by paying huge bonuses. 

Because taking walks is infrequently lauded by management, players are now swinging without remorse, hoping for a lucky long ball. The result is, again, more hitting failure. It used to be that a 200 hitter was banished to the minor leagues. Today, he may bat cleanup if he hits more than one homer per week.

Jacob deGrom has a 0.95 ERA in 2021, CREDIT: USA TODAY

Jacob deGrom has a 0.95 ERA in 2021

Add in dynamic relief pitching, which features pitchers who specialize in throwing 100mph and pitch only one inning. With starting pitchers generally limited to 100 pitches maximum, the bullpen becomes extremely important. The “closer,” who pitches the ninth inning, is often the highest paid pitcher on the team. Put it all together and you have the formula for “boring ball.” 

The leaders in the sport have just begun to figure out how baseball is killing itself with its precision and velocity on the mound. Pitchers are now inspected after every inning by the umpire, checking them for sticky stuff. It does not seem to be changing pitcher-batter balance yet.

Some folks are proposing that the pitcher’s mound be lowered or even moved back a few feet. Others want robots to call balls and strikes to combat umpire fallibility in the age of spin and velocity.

These changes are probably necessary to combat the hitter failure rate. Every sport needs to change with the times. Basketball added the 3-point shot, and football has made it harder to crush the quarterback because people want to see Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, not some pretender. 

Sports needs to be fun, with a balance between offense and defense. When hitters rarely swing successfully, even fans who have loved the game for decades, tune it out.

Question: Are you losing interest in baseball?

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7 thoughts on “Prison of Perfection

  1. Todd Miller

    I still enjoy it, but I’m in the minority. I agree with you, Lloyd, that there’s room for improvement. Eliminating defensive shifts that have become commonplace over the past decade-plus would go a long way toward injecting more offense into the game. By requiring two infielders to be positioned on each side of second base, hitters would once again swing for base hits rather than strike out excessively trying to beat shifts by trying to hit home runs. The rule is being tested in the minor leagues this year, and I hope MLB adopts it next year or in 2023.

  2. Jeff

    Not very interested in the professional game anymore. The College World Series (along with the regional payoffs) is what baseball should look like – young men playing their hearts out for a win. The pros go thru the motions, the pitchers win too many battles & the fans are tired of showing up for expensive food & drink plus local TV markets are jabbing their best fans with blackouts. I would be worried if I were an owner when these next few generations pass on. Many of the younger people are not truly passionate about the game like us old geezers.

  3. Lloyd+Graff

    Todd, you are right on. The shift is really challenging for left handed batters, particularly, but a few are beginning to go to left for easy singles and doubles. I wonder why it has taken so long and so few are still determined to pull and go for homers.

    Also the upper cut home run cut swing has left “powerhitters” helpless against high velocity at the top of the strikezone.

  4. Big Al

    Personally, I totally lost interest in MLB after the second player strike. Over paid owners arguing with over paid players with the fans paying the ultimate price (also costing too much).

  5. Seth Emerson

    If you want to see some fun and interesting baseball, go see a minor league team in your area. Lloyd, next time you are visiting your daughter in Palo Alto, drive down to San Jose and watch the San Jose Giants. Fun stadium (WPA concrete from the 30s), and a fun team! Players on their way up – or on their way out. I like watching guys play a kids game – none of whom are millionaires – at least not yet! Keep your eye out for the “Beer Batter”, chosen ahead of time from the visiting team. If he strikes out, beer is two for one for 15 minutes. I watched some poor guy strike out twice. He was the most popular player at the game!

  6. Dan Ewing

    I am still interested in the game if only to see how my Fantasty League team is doing.
    It is sad that so many players are batting below the “Mendoza line” (.200 batting average) and still playing every day.
    I really like the idea of banning the defensive shifts that take away the up the middle hits.
    And what about moving the pitchers mound back a little. Simply push that mound back a bit and see what happens.
    The mound was lowered back in 1969 after the pitchers were so dominant in 1968.
    Bob Gibson and Denny McLain set records that year that may never bee see again.
    That move certainly helped the offense and could be just the ticket.
    I really enjoy watching the new Superstars with their flair, style and excellent all-around game. Tatis, Acuna, Guerrero (the Jrs.) Trout and several others including deGrom still get me to tune in to see them.
    I think it’s still a great game and just needs a little tweaking to get the fans to start coming back around.

  7. Gary

    Lloyd and others, totally agree with all your comments.

    Tired over the bat flipping after a HR. Put your head down and trot around the bases.
    You didn’t just win the World Series in game 7 bottom of the 9th.

    Next time a pitcher strikes out a bat flipper, he should toss the rosin up about 20 feet !


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