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Verducci: Take-and-rake baseball is the game's biggest problem

May 4, 2010, 4:30 PM EDT

Tom Verducci believes he’s figured out what’s wrong with baseball, and, in the course of what really is an interesting article, says what it is: there is simply not enough contact:

. . . we are missing an essential part of the game’s allure and
romance: the crack of the bat. You hear it less and less in today’s
game. Hitting and pitching have evolved in ways that mean the baseball
is put into play less frequently than ever before.

Today baseball includes fewer hits, less contact and more walks and
strikeouts. Baseball remains a beautiful, fascinating game that becomes
even more interesting the more you know about it. But if you’re the kind
of fan who simply likes to see the ball put into play, there is less to
like.

I’m usually the last person who hops on the “what’s wrong with baseball” wagon, because it often serves as a vehicle for “back when I was a boy, they used to . . .” stuff.  Everyone loves the baseball they grew up with. Guys in their teens and 20s have never known anything other than Yankees-style baseball. It’s what they came to love.

I’m younger than Verducci is, but my 80s baseball is pretty close to his 70s baseball, so on some basic level I’m sympathetic to his argument. There were fewer strikeouts and walks when we were kids learning to love the game. And while, yes, I totally appreciate the take-and-rake school of baseball that has evolved over the past 15 years or so, I can’t say that I always enjoy it as much.

All that said, I think Veducci’s concerns are somewhat overstated. While walks and strikeouts are up over where they were thirty and forty years ago, it’s only by a couple a game, max.  That has some impacts on flow and game times, but I don’t think they’re dramatic effects. In no event are they as aesthetically-troublesome as guys stepping out of the box all the time.

But overstated or not, Verducci’s prescription for the problem he identifies seems like a good one: umpires should be more generous with the strike zone.  That would solve the game time problem I and Major League Baseball seem to be having, and it would likely lead to a lot more contact, which would make Verducci happy.

  1. Jonny5 - May 4, 2010 at 4:46 PM

    “umpires should be more generous with the strike zone. That would solve the game time problem I and Major League Baseball seem to be having, and it would likely lead to a lot more contact, which would make Verducci happy.”
    AMEN! Seriously, tell Bill West and his trusty plate eye Quatto, who is snuggling in his neck pouch. http://www.milesteves.com/gallery/d/417-2/Quatto-72.jpg

  2. APBA Guy - May 4, 2010 at 4:49 PM

    As long as they are consistent within the game that they are calling. Both the pitcher and the batter spend a lot of time staring at the sky and strolling around after a pitch that’s been consistently called in a game all of a sudden is no longer called.

  3. wpcorbett - May 4, 2010 at 4:57 PM

    “Batters stepping out of the box”–For several years, while watching the occasional ’50s or ’60s game on ESPN Classic, I’ve kept track of how many times batters stepped out between pitches, other than foul balls. Short answer: they didn’t.
    Crack down on the Sons of Nomar, call the rule-book strike zone, and we’ll all get home before midnight.

  4. Jim Abbott's Right-Hand Man - May 4, 2010 at 5:08 PM

    I know it’s always popular to lean on the umpires depending on how the game looks every few years. But how far are we from removing the umpires from the strike zone equation altogether?
    How far are we from the day when technology will be able to determine the strike zone boundary, and automatically tell whether a pitch was in that boundary or not? I know they must go through a lot of baseballs each game, so maybe it’s not feasible yet to implant the balls with some tiny sensor that communicates with a sensor built into home plate to tell when it crosses that plane (sort of like those shock collars people buy for their pets, which automatically sense when they’ve crossed some invisible boundary). But they’ve got to be approaching the point where it’s conceivable to make it happen. I know purists hate the idea, but the game will become so much better when something as basic as balls and strikes are no longer wildly fluctuating concepts. Take away the emphasis on players’ reputations (for locating pitches or having plate discipline) and put the emphasis on players’ actual performance.

  5. okobojicat - May 4, 2010 at 5:23 PM

    the correct way to finalize the strikezone would be simply to have enough cameras in the correct locations that would be able to detect a precise location of a ball and when it crosses the plate. Basically, making the pitch f/x data even more robust.
    little sensors in balls would have issues with being impacted by bats, would be much more expensive, and would have issues with the spin velocity…but how awesome would it be to know how many rotations a rnady johnson slider has vs. a livan hernandez

  6. Jeremy - May 4, 2010 at 5:28 PM

    Would calling a more generous strike zone lead to more balls being put into play, or would it merely lead to fewer walks and more strikeouts? Even with a more generous strike zone, wouldn’t it still pay for hitters to take-and-rake, and pitchers to work the edges of the strike zone?

  7. YankeesfanLen - May 4, 2010 at 5:42 PM

    Craig, you have me completely flummoxed with the “Yankees-style baseball” thing, as it refers to guys in their teens and 20s.
    (At least attempting to) Recruit the best possible players?
    Scoring around 900 runs per year
    Building dynasties
    Having a world wide brand presence
    Seems things have been mostly consistant for 90 years.
    Anyway, I hate pitchers’ duels, so there.

  8. Joey B - May 4, 2010 at 5:43 PM

    “Today baseball includes fewer hits, less contact and more walks and strikeouts.”
    Here’s my problem. This falls under the heading of ‘seems like’. If I’m at a bar, I might suggest that it seems like Wright is struggling, which he might or might not be. That’s okay at a bar, but not for an article.
    Just for the record, walks and hits are almost identical to what they were 30 years. Walks up about .1 per game and hits up about .02 per game. So what he is really complaining about is guys striking out too much. But they strike out more because it’s not the negative it once was, and is presumably offset by more HRs, which seems to negate his original point.

  9. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - May 4, 2010 at 5:47 PM

    I know it’s always popular to lean on the umpires depending on how the game looks every few years. But how far are we from removing the umpires from the strike zone equation altogether?

    You could do it now, here’s the pitch f/x data from CC last night:
    http://www.brooksbaseball.net/pfxVB/cache/location.php-pitchSel=282332&game=gid_2010_05_03_balmlb_nyamlb_1&batterX=&innings=yyyyyyyyy&sp_type=1&s_type=.gif

  10. Curious George - May 4, 2010 at 5:56 PM

    I think you have it right. The strike zone isn’t the culprit, necessarily.

    If more balls in play were the goal, I’d suggest that changing the game to reduce the number of homeruns (humidoring the baseballs, moving back fences, shutting off Gotham-based wind tunnels) would trigger a sequence of events that would lead to that result.

    If fewer homeruns are hit, the strategy to try for homeruns would decrease, which would lead to fewer strikeouts and a greater emphasis on players who can attain high batting averages rather than high slugging percentages. The Ichiro profile of high AVG/OBP and moderate SLG would become more valued in a game where a high SLG would be difficult to achieve.

    From a pitcher’s perspective, the pitching-to-contact strategy would carry with it less risk (because fewer balls would be leaving the yard) which would mean less of a need to nibble and thus fewer walks issued. And lower pitch counts would mean longer outings and a movement away from 12-man pitching staffs.

  11. Pythagoras - May 4, 2010 at 6:23 PM

    To expand on Joey B’s point above, and using high level math (addition, subtraction, muliplication and division), 15 minutes, and BR. I found the folowing.
    In play balls that hit the bat
    AL 1969 29 per game
    AL 1979 30 per game
    AL 2009 28 per game
    My top secret formula:
    (PA – (SO+BB))/(Total # games)
    What this doesn’t take into account is foul balls. I think that players foul off way more balls now than they used to (See what I’m doing here is using an assumpition without any statistical basis ala Mr. Verducci), so really you hear the crack of the bat more nowadays.
    Yikes Captcha “to inbreed”

  12. Eric Cioe - May 4, 2010 at 6:50 PM

    You hate pitching duels because your aesthetic bone is broken.

  13. scatterbrian - May 4, 2010 at 7:14 PM

    1982-1994 wasn’t so hot.
    reply to comment from Pythagoras: Warlock! Your sorcery has no business here!

  14. Rocky - May 4, 2010 at 9:07 PM

    Either you like it or you don’t, if you don’t like watching or listening to baseball it may be the announcers, or your popcorn, your beer, or whatever, or you may be going through male menopause, trying to rediscover your youth, or your team may stink. Get ovet it and quit whining, adjust, life goes on. Try watching more women’s beach vollyball or record the games on TIVO and flash through to the good parts.

  15. Michael - May 5, 2010 at 4:52 AM

    Wait, I thought steroids made the hitters better.
    What Verducci actually seems to be saying is that the problem is pitchers nibbling, implying that pitching has declined. If umps become “generous with the strike zone,” pitchers will then work the edges of the newer, generous zone, giving us…more strikeouts, with probably no less walks.
    What seems to be the need here is to squeeze the zone. Reward pitchers with great stuff, and punish the guys who just can’t get it over, or who can’t get it over in such a way that will fool a major-league hitter.
    Problem solved. Run scoring up, problem of not enough hits taken care of.
    You’re welcome.

  16. michael standish - May 5, 2010 at 5:33 PM

    I think we could satisfy Verducci (a worthwhile goal if ever I’ve heard one) by simply making the batters wear glasses of an incorrect prescription, and weighting the bats with lead cores in the barrel.

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