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

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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.

Hunter Strickland says he doesn’t have an anger problem

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Giants closer Hunter Strickland struggled in the ninth inning Monday against the Marlins, surrendering three runs en route to a 5-4 loss. Strickland took issue with Marlins outfielder Lewis Brinson, who tied the game with a single and celebrated as he rounded first base. When Strickland was yanked from the game, Brinson was on third base, so Strickland had some parting words on his way to the dugout. Then, in the clubhouse, Strickland punched a door in anger, breaking his pitching hand. He’ll miss six to eight weeks as a result.

Strickland posted to his Instagram on Tuesday, taking responsibility for his actions. He wrote, “To my family, my teammates, my coaches, this organization, and our fan base, I am truly sorry that one split second, stupid decision has caused so much harm and now set me back from being out there with my team to pursue our goal.”

Speaking to the media for the first time since breaking his hand, Strickland said (via Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports), “I don’t think I have an anger problem, but sometimes I let my emotions get the best of me.”

Well, if that emotion is anger, and you let it get the best of you, then you have an anger problem. This isn’t an isolated incident.

In the 2014 NLDS against the Nationals, Bryce Harper had Strickland’s number. In Game 1, Harper hit a solo home run ioff of Strickland, putting the Nationals on the board trailing 3-1. Strickland gave up another home run to Harper in Game 4 which tied the game at 2-2. Though the distance made it a no-doubt home run, the ball went down the right field line, so Harper was watching the ball in the air and didn’t immediately run the bases, which irked Strickland. The Giants still went on to win the game and advance to the NLCS, but Strickland carried the grudge with him into the 2017 season. The 2017 season! It just so happened that Strickland never faced Harper at all in the 2015-16 seasons, which makes sense because the two clubs only meet for two series per season and Strickland only pitches one inning per game if he gets into one.

The Nationals and Giants met in San Francisco at the end of May last year. In the first game of the series, Strickland entered with the Giants trailing 2-0 in the eighth inning. He got two quick outs, bringing up Harper for their first meeting since Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS. With his first pitch, Strickland nailed harper on the hip with a 98 MPH fastball. Harper didn’t like it, so he charged the mound and the two threw punches at each other as the benches and bullpens spilled onto the field.

In the 2014 World Series, Strickland had a beef with Royals catcher Salvador Perez. Strickland gave up a double to Perez, then a two-run home run to Omar Infante. As Perez crossed home plate, Strickland started yelling at Perez. He appeared to yell, “Get in the dugout, boy.” The term “boy” carries a racist connotation when used by white people towards men of color. It’s unclear why Strickland was upset with Perez, but Perez said Strickland started jawing at him when he was on second base after hitting his double.

So here’s what we know about Strickland:

  • He gets angry when players look at their home run balls in the air, even if that player is unsure if it will stay fair
  • He gets angry if you get a double off of him in an important game
  • He gets angry when players pump their fists and yell in celebration after getting a big hit in the regular season
  • He gets angry a lot
  • He sometimes gets violent when he’s angry

Short of hitters not showing any emotion at all and not getting hits off of him, it’s not clear what kind of behavior satisfies Strickland and won’t make him angry. So, essentially, anything a batter does could potentially set Strickland off. I’d call that an anger problem. If this weren’t in the context of sports, Strickland’s behavior would be problematic.

Strickland’s behavior doesn’t come off as particularly unique because he’s far from the only player to injure himself punching something in anger. He’s far from the only player to get ticked off when batters get a hit off him and celebrate. This anger is part of baseball culture, part of sports culture at large, and embedded in masculinity — what it means to be a man. We teach men, particularly athletes, to repress a wide range of emotions. As a result, many men resort first to anger — one of the few emotions we allow men to express openly — when dealing with any type of adversity.

If Strickland were a well-adjusted person with high emotional intelligence, he would realize that throwing a baseball close to 100 at someone with the intent to injure them is not a good way to resolve a conflict. Strickland could have gone to the Marlins’ clubhouse after the game and had a level-headed chat with Brinson, saying, “I felt embarrassed and emasculated when you got a hit off of me and celebrated the way you did. Perhaps in the future, you could tone it down.” But we don’t teach men and allow them to discuss and express their emotions in healthy ways, so Strickland lashes out at Harper and Perez and Brinson instead.