Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2018 — No. 16: There were more strikeouts than hits

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We’re a few short days away from 2019 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2018. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

2018 was the first season in major league history to feature more strikeouts than hits. Hitters were sent back to the dugout 41,207 times and recorded 41,019 safeties. As recently as the 1980s there would be more than 10,000 more hits than strikeouts in a season. In 2017 there were around 2,000 more hits than Ks. Now we’re in . . . this world.

It’s a boring world, frankly. Sure, we can appreciate how good the pitchers are now. How hard they throw. How nasty their stuff is. Just how well they execute pitches in the age of executed pitching. They’re doing their job and they’re doing it well and until batters can figure out what to do about it, pitchers have no reason to do things differently.

But my god is it a drag. A pitcher, a batter and a catcher are doing their thing while seven other guys on the field may as well be potted plants. There’s less running, less fielding and less excitement than every before. When the most kinetic action in any at bat is the umpire raising his arm, you’re not watching a riveting entertainment product, no matter how effective it is for one side competing. Attendance is dropping in recent years. There are are lots of reasons for that, but I’d guess that at least part of it is that games are more boring than they used to be.

The thing is, there’s not a ton we can do about it. At least not very easily. We are not going to be able to limit the number of pitchers who throw 100 m.p.h. with ungodly breaking and offspeed stuff, even in hitters’ counts. We’re not likely going to ban defensive shifts, which encourage hitters to use uppercut swings — all the easier to whiff on — in an effort to elevate the ball more often.

The best I can think of at the moment is to raise the lower limit of the strike zone from below the knee to above the knee, eliminating the incentive for pitchers to throw those low pitches which are hard for hitters to do anything with, leading to a lot of strikeouts or a lot of weak grounders. The problem with that, of course, is one of unintended consequences. Any change to the circumstances of pitching over the years has led to massive increases or decreases in offense. Now that pitchers don’t get inside and outside strikes called like they did in the 1980s and 90s, cutting some of that zone down may lead to so many pitches over the plate that offense will spike. We don’t really want that, though, right? We just want to cut down on strikeouts. That’s not exactly the same thing.

All of which is to say that we’re likely to see the strikeout parade continue. Which is good news for pitchers but bad news for the rest of us, I think.

Yankees star Judge hits 62nd homer to break Maris’ AL record

New York Yankees v Texas Rangers - Game Two
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ARLINGTON, Texas – Aaron Judge hit his 62nd home run of the season Tuesday night, breaking Roger Maris’ American League record and setting what some fans consider baseball’s “clean” standard.

The 30-year-old Yankees slugger drove a 1-1 slider from Texas right-hander Jesus Tinoco into the first couple of rows of seats in left field when leading off the second game of New York’s day-night doubleheader.

Maris’ 61 for the Yankees in 1961 had been exceeded six times previously, but all were tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year. Barry Bonds hit an MLB-record 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001, and the Chicago Cubs’ Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris as holder of the legitimate record.

A Ruthian figure with a smile as outsized as his body, the 6-foot-7 Judge has rocked the major leagues with a series of deep drives that hearken to the sepia tone movie reels of his legendary pinstriped predecessors.

“He should be revered for being the actual single-season home run champ,” Roger Maris Jr. said Wednesday night after his father’s mark was matched by Judge. “I think baseball needs to look at the records and I think baseball should do something.”

Judge had homered only once in the past 13 games, and that was when he hit No. 61 last Wednesday in Toronto. The doubleheader nightcap in Texas was his 55th game in row played since Aug. 5.

After a single in five at-bats in the first game Tuesday, Judge was 3 for 17 with five walks and a hit by pitch since moving past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league record for 34 years. Maris hit his 61st off Boston’s Tracy Stallard at old Yankee Stadium on Oct. 1, 1961.

Judge has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012. He leads the AL with 131 RBIs and began the day trailing Minnesota’s Luis Arraez, who was hitting .315.

The home run in his first at-bat put him back to .311, where he had started the day before dropping a point in the opener.

Judge’s accomplishment will cause endless debate.

“To me, the holder of the record for home runs in a season is Roger Maris,” author George Will said earlier this month. “There’s no hint of suspicion that we’re seeing better baseball than better chemistry in the case of Judge. He’s clean. He’s not doing something that forces other players to jeopardize their health.”