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It’s time to shrink home plate, apparently

Feb 27, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT

Home plate

I don’t think so, but what do I know? Someone no less well-known and respected than Frank Deford feels differently, however:

It’s time to make home plate smaller. I know: That’s heresy; that’s sacrilegious. But there are simply too many strikeouts in baseball now, and that hurts the game, because if the ball isn’t in play, it’s boring . . .That’s too broad for the pitchers today, especially when so many strikes are on the corners, or even “on the black,” the small fringe that frames the plate. If you cut, say, an inch and a half off each side, pitchers would have a 14-inch target. Batters would have a more reasonable chance to try to connect. They’d swing more, put more balls in play. It’d be more fun, a better game both to play and to watch.

He explains it more in the audio version, to which you can listen at the link. Somehow he doesn’t acknowledge that making the plate smaller would lead to more walks which also don’t have the ball in play, but never mind that.

Never mind it because Deford knows better and this is not to be taken seriously. Evidence that he knows better is contained in his own essay, as he notes that, in the past, offense and pitching have fluctuated historically. That baseball has, in the past, made rules changes such as lowering the mound or — though they don’t admit it — juicing the ball in order to juice offense. There are ways to deal with this if baseball wanted to that fall short of shrinking the plate, and if baseball chose to do something they’d do any number of them before shrinking the plate. And, really, they’ll probably do nothing because this is just cyclical stuff the sort of which has always happened in baseball.

But Deford is getting my attention with this and now yours, so it’s not worthless. And he has given me a blueprint for my next essay about how we should legalize steroids in order to cut down on the strikeouts. Maybe that’s controversial, but it’s far less of a radical change than shrinking the plate. I mean, heck, we had such an environment a mere decade or two ago and baseball survived. Even thrived!

Honestly. It’s the more conservative approach to the problem.

  1. jm91rs - Feb 27, 2014 at 9:44 AM

    Shrink the plate, allow steroids, move in the fences, shorten the base paths. Hell, let’s make the ball bigger so it’s easier to hit and harder to throw.
    Or maybe just realize pitchers are dominating now and eventually it’ll shift back the other way. The sport cycles that way and it’s one of the things that makes it great.

    • The Dangerous Mabry - Feb 27, 2014 at 9:52 AM

      I’m not sure it’s fair to say that pitchers are dominating when there are more runs scored per game now than there were at basically any time between 1940 and 1990. Yes, we’re down a little from the massive offense spike of the last decade, but we’re still in a high-offense era when the entire history of baseball is taken into account.

      Plus, league-wide on base percentage is still over .330, which you couldn’t say during the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s, which are probably the time that people like Deford are looking back on as the golden age.

      Yes, strikeouts are an ever-increasing trend, but that doesn’t mean pitchers are dominating. It just means fewer weak pop-ups to the second baseman.

      Source for all of this wonderful trend info: http://michaelbein.com/baseball.html

      • dfj79 - Feb 27, 2014 at 11:51 AM

        League-wide OBP has actually been under .330 each of the last four years, and under .320 the last two. According to FanGraphs:

        2009 .333
        2010 .325
        2011 .321
        2012 .319
        2013. 318

        Even if you don’t count plate appearances by pitchers and just look at what the hitters are doing, it’s still been at .325 or under the last three years:

        2009: .338
        2010: .330
        2011: .325
        2012: .324
        2013: .322

      • The Dangerous Mabry - Feb 27, 2014 at 3:25 PM

        Well I’ll be damned. You think you’re doing the research to make a statement, and it turns out the source isn’t reliable. And he has such nice charts, too.

    • jfk69 - Feb 27, 2014 at 1:23 PM

      Make the ball the size of a softball. 200 avg hitters become 400 hitters. Only 8 men on field. A perpetual shift depending on who is up. Rotate the fielders every three innings to liven things up. No more mound and move back the pitcher 3 ft. He will be safer that way. i must confess these ideas came from Buddy boy Selig.

  2. zemensd - Feb 27, 2014 at 9:45 AM

    Yeah, its all the plates fault. Not the fact that MLB has trended towards free swingers looking for power. God forbid batters show some patience and refine their approach.

    • karlkolchak - Feb 27, 2014 at 11:40 AM

      Or that the umpires can’t call a proper strike to save their Coke bottle glasses.

    • moogro - Feb 27, 2014 at 12:53 PM

      The best way to increase offense is to have computers call balls and strikes. Batters would know their strike zone and it would increase their comfort. Only elite pitchers would still be dominant, and they would be more fun to watch also.

  3. jkcalhoun - Feb 27, 2014 at 9:50 AM

    Such a modest proposal.

    • voteforno6 - Feb 27, 2014 at 9:58 AM

      Jonathan Swift?

  4. themanytoolsofignorance - Feb 27, 2014 at 9:53 AM

    Mr. Calcaterra you are doing nothing but encouraging those who would call you a “steroid lover” or whatever arglebargle. Now you’re going to have to explain how steroids help with hand-eye-coordination, the sine qua non of not striking out. They simply do not. They just see to it that some fly balls turn into homeruns. So I think you have an argument you cannot win.

  5. halladaysbiceps - Feb 27, 2014 at 9:53 AM

    If you click on the link to Frank Deford, there is a picture of him in the top left corner. He looks like Grandpa Al Lewis from the Munsters. That’s all I have to say about this dope.

  6. wonkypenguin - Feb 27, 2014 at 9:55 AM

    Two words to really revolutionize the game: Slow. Pitch.

    Jamie Moyer approved this message.

  7. thedudabides - Feb 27, 2014 at 9:56 AM

    This is just another example of a person who thinks baseball is”boring” because “nothing happens”. When in reality, something is happening during every pitch.

    “Baseball is dull only to dull minds”. – Red Barber

    • Glenn - Feb 27, 2014 at 10:19 AM

      Agreed, and why is a walk more exciting than a strikeout? Why is more offense better than a pitcher’s duel? The best game I ever saw in person was 1-0. Dave Stewart beat Clemens at Fenway. Lee Smith and Dennis Eckersley were the only other pitchers in the game. Every pitch mattered in that game.

  8. detectivejimmymcnulty - Feb 27, 2014 at 9:56 AM

    I’m only in my early 20′s, but I’ve always heard a myth that batters used to choke up and alter their approach with 2 strikes in order to have a better chance to put the ball in play. The plate isn’t the problem, it’s the approach the batters take now.

    • 18thstreet - Feb 27, 2014 at 10:41 AM

      A lot of that was cultural norms. It used to be considered shameful to strikeout so players would avoid it. That was pretty stupid, because there’s no more shame, mathematically, between a strikeout and most of other outs.

      • larrytsg - Feb 27, 2014 at 8:04 PM

        Bullcrap. A Strikeout is one of the “3 True Outcomes”, the other two being a walk and a home run. A strikeout doesn’t give the baserunners a chance at advancing, nor does a strikeout give the batter any chance of reaching base (except for the dropped third strike, which is an easy play unless the ball gets away). But putting the ball into play, even if it results in an out, could potentially not be an out, or could potentially help any runners already on base.

      • 18thstreet - Feb 28, 2014 at 7:25 AM

        Okay, fine. I simplified things. I doubt the players were aware of that when they avoided the embarrassment of striking out.

        One could argue that a 9-pitch strikeout is more valuable than a first pitch grounder to short.

  9. bostonboresme - Feb 27, 2014 at 9:56 AM

    What an awful idea.

  10. stex52 - Feb 27, 2014 at 10:05 AM

    Deford has been getting crazier of late. I listen to these morning essays. I honestly can’t decide if he means the stuff he says these days or he has the old tongue in cheek and knows he can get away with it.

    It was the worst idea I came across yesterday, though.

    • themanytoolsofignorance - Feb 27, 2014 at 10:27 AM

      I think he’s messing around. This just doesn’t seem like a reasonable idea to me. Not when encouraging the umpires into a more consistent strike zone would work, too. MLB could do it by supplying the umps with technology to allow them to calibrate their eye for the zone. A combination of pitch fx and an audible ball/strike signal would do it. The umps could, like the players, “warm up” before the game starts in a pre game pitch session, calling balls and strikes with feedback from an electronic pitch tracker. Getting the strike zone right would force pitchers into it if they want to strike out batters with good plate discipline. As it stands, too often batters are struck out or put into “swing now” situations from called strikes that simply are not in the zone.

      • stex52 - Feb 27, 2014 at 11:19 AM

        Frank’s been at it a long time. I think these days we get a curious mix of “I’ll mail this one in” and “No, let’s stir the pot this week.” Which can be fun. He got us talking.

        It is not out of the question. They lowered the mound in my lifetime.

  11. khar9 - Feb 27, 2014 at 10:07 AM

    Put the ball on a tee and also give everyone a trophy at the end of the season

  12. happytwinsfan - Feb 27, 2014 at 10:14 AM

    if mlb changed the size of the plate they’d want to and would be able to change it in the minor leagues so players wouldn’t have to transition, but how could they get all of college baseball to go along. would a team want to sign a tanaka if Japanese baseball didn’t go along?

    • misterschmo - Feb 27, 2014 at 12:14 PM

      Japan already uses a different size ball.

  13. spudchukar - Feb 27, 2014 at 10:16 AM

    DeEdsel.

    • halladaysbiceps - Feb 27, 2014 at 10:19 AM

      Great combination between the two names. The Edsel automobile, like Frank DeFord’s ideas, are full of failures.

  14. El Bravo - Feb 27, 2014 at 10:23 AM

    NO!

    • halladaysbiceps - Feb 27, 2014 at 10:25 AM

      I’m waiting on the 2014 douchenozzle list, Jason “El Bravo” Heyward.

  15. sdelmonte - Feb 27, 2014 at 10:23 AM

    I loved his stuff when I was a kid. So was he always like he is now, and I was too young to know better? Or did he change?

    • raysfan1 - Feb 27, 2014 at 11:36 AM

      I can vouch that he was a curmudgeonly pot-stirrer in the 1970s. However, that’s not always a bad thing.

  16. favrewillplay4ever - Feb 27, 2014 at 10:32 AM

    Hell if you’re going to get crazy on us.. Why not go full on crazy and use the gun.

    make pitches:
    79-88 balls,
    89-93 strikes,
    94-98 balls,
    and 99+ strikes.

  17. 18thstreet - Feb 27, 2014 at 10:38 AM

    I’m all for cutting down on strikeouts and walks, and (for that matter) having shorter plate appearances. I don’t want to see less offense, because pitchers’ duels are boring to me. A perfect game, for me, would have lots of hits and a final score of 5-4. A grounder to third or a flyball to left is more interesting than a strikeout. These things are all, of course, matters of taste.

    Bill James suggested that MLB could do this by gradually increasing the minimum required thickness of the bat handle, which would make it harder for batters to swing for the fences.

    DeFord’s a loon, but more balls in play is a laudable goal.

    • cackalackyank - Feb 27, 2014 at 11:01 AM

      So, you are saying that guys should get a 3rd, artificial testicle implanted, thus insuring more balls in players?

      • 18thstreet - Feb 27, 2014 at 11:19 AM

        Yes.

      • infieldhit - Feb 27, 2014 at 4:28 PM

        Do we really need to start saying “baseballs” instead of “balls” every single time just to prevent snickering from the back of the class?

  18. 1981titan - Feb 27, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    I never found a game pitched by Nolan Ryan boring. All those strikeouts.

    • 18thstreet - Feb 27, 2014 at 11:22 AM

      Yes, Nolan Ryan is the typical strikeout pitcher. Most games with a lot of strikeouts are pitched by players are compelling as Nolan Ryan.

      Great example.

  19. Bob - Feb 27, 2014 at 10:57 AM

    Frank Deford. You actually referenced Frank Deford, who’s been irrelevant since at least the 1990s.

  20. rbj1 - Feb 27, 2014 at 10:57 AM

    Still no love for Charlie Finley’s idea of an orange baseball?

  21. cackalackyank - Feb 27, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    Oh, just stop, stop, it all ready. MLB is NOT the NFL…and thank the gods or god of your choosing or not choosing it never will be. We do not have a clock in MLB, we don’t have scantily clad cheerleaders on the sidelines either. Although, can you just imagine the call…’That’s fouled back, oooh and it hits Misty the cheerleader smack dab in the cleavage…that’ll leave a mark’? At any rate the point I’m trying to make is that baseball actually does require a much different mental approach as opposed to football, baseball and hickey, from fans and players alike. You may actually have to pay attention, most of the time, and sometimes for more than 30 seconds at a time. There are going to be high scoring games, and low scoring games…just deal with it.

    • cackalackyank - Feb 27, 2014 at 11:03 AM

      Edit function….basketball and HOCKEY!

  22. Francisco (FC) - Feb 27, 2014 at 11:02 AM

    And he has given me a blueprint for my next essay about how we should legalize steroids in order to cut down on the strikeouts. Maybe that’s controversial, but it’s far less of a radical change than shrinking the plate. I mean, heck, we had such an environment a mere decade or two ago and baseball survived. Even thrived!

    Honestly. It’s the more conservative approach to the problem.
    This is why is tough for me to write lair posts. You do it better than I can.

  23. nsstlfan - Feb 27, 2014 at 11:40 AM

    If the umpires would just call strikes if the go over the plate that would shrink the plate. No need to shrink the plate just make the umpires call strikes right.

  24. rickyspanish24 - Feb 27, 2014 at 12:06 PM

    This will make no difference because umpires will continue to call balls strikes and strikes balls with their individualized strike zones. Why we continue to use this outdated human approach is quite baffling.

    • moogro - Feb 27, 2014 at 1:42 PM

      Agreed. It will go away eventually. We just live in the era of mindlessly tolerating it.

  25. elmo - Feb 27, 2014 at 1:33 PM

    I listened to it twice and failed to detect any sign that it’s tongue in cheek, let alone some kind of Swiftian modest proposal. Seems like just an un-ironically bad idea.

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