There's no question that Major League Baseball players are more talented than ever before. Pitchers throw harder than ever before. Batters hit harder than ever before. Balls are leaving the yard more often than ever before.
However, the game has become less watchable than ever. This isn't a sentiment shared just by casual fans. It's a sentiment shared by die-hard fans and former baseball players.
Recently, former American League MVPs Frank Thomas and Mo Vaughn appeared on Taz & The Moose's show on CBS Sports Radio. While they were promoting their new big & tall clothing line, they had a few things to say about the modern game.
"I'm a little disappointed because hitting is a technique and an art that we were taught, respected," said Vaughn. "We couldn't go out there and hit .250 and .240 with 18 home runs and 65 RBIs and be satisfied. We were taught to hit. Hit in scoring position. Stay inside the ball. Hit the ball the other way. Drive the ball into the gap. It's just a shame that with this new terminology - launch angle - that the game has gone on to add more strikeouts than home runs. It's just a different game."
Granted, while Vaughn has a career slash line of .293/.383/.523, he did strike out at least 150 times in three seasons. But high strikeout rates were expected for a particular type of slugger. Not for everyone in the lineup.
Meanwhile, Thomas said analytics have sucked the fun out of the sport.
"One hundred strikeouts, I was all upset," said Thomas. "We're going to put the ball in play with two strikes. If you put the ball in play, you got a chance because anything can happen once that ball is in play... Why are you trying to hit a home run with two strikes when you can drive the ball to the opposite field and drive in that run."
Vaughn added that players need to "Get back to hitting and learning and playing the game and bunting. I never had to bunt, but make the plays. Do what you got to do. I think the game has changed and it's not as fun anymore."
The past several years have seen retired baseball players decrying the analytics-driven modern game. The high strikeout rates and home run rates and the low batting averages on balls put in play have made the battle between pitcher and hitter the only action you could see for a 45-minute span. The all or nothing nature of today's game (with its emphasis on the "three true outcomes") might be easier to take if the game let personalities shine. But the lack of emphasis on personalities and the desire for players to "keep your head down" leads people to focus strictly on game play.
And the people don't like what they see.
Sabermetric devotees would tell you that launch angle's always existed (and they're right). They'd also tell you that today's game is more efficient due to the analytics revolution. But Mr. Getaway thinks that they should also accept that the product isn't as entertaining because of it. Yes, bunting is dumb most of the time, but if the whole point is to get a runner over no matter what, a productive out is better than nothing. Yes, if you're not stealing bases successfully at a clip of at least 80 percent, it doesn't make sense to try at all. However, maybe if we teach players how to read pitchers and how to steal bases that wouldn't be an issue.
Yes, the emphasis should be getting on base at all costs. But a high .OBP isn't as entertaining as a high batting average. When you combine both, it's beautiful to watch.
Baseball's a beautiful game. It's the game of the everyman. But over the years, the game has become suburbanized and country club-ized making the point of entry too expensive for many. So not only has the game of the everyman been taken away from them, but the product isn't as entertaining.
During the post-Jordan Bulls/pre-LeBron years, the NBA was undoubtedly tough to watch. Low scores, a focus on isolation plays and a lack of ball movement made the game a less entertaining product. But the NBA still had personalities. It still had Allen Iverson. It still had an individuality that made you tune in regardless.
Since baseball's made it tougher for individuals to be the center of focus, it's put the game play under the microscope. All the Ks and BBs make the HRs lose it's shine. Let's add a few more 2Bs and 3Bs to that shall we?
- Between John Wehner invoking Derek Dietrich's dead grandfather after pimping a home run and Steve Blass talking about Ronald Acuña Jr.'s jewelry unprovoked, the Pirates broadcast has turned into Peter Griffin's "You Know What Really Grinds My Gears?"
- I know it can't happen this year, but could MLB commissioner Rob Manfred just make it mandatory to extend the netting beginning 2020? it makes zero sense to not keep fans as safe as possible. it seems to work just fine in the KBO.
All Korean baseball stadiums have extended nettings. It's never been a subject of complaint. Keeps the fans safe while they still have tons of fun. I don't see why such measures shouldn't be instated in the $10 billion that is the MLB. #KBO pic.twitter.com/jlcGOJ20I8
— Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim) May 30, 2019
- This week marked the 45th anniversary of the ill-conceived "10 Cent Beer Night" promotion by the Cleveland Indians. Check Paul Jackson's 2008 retrospective of the event at ESPN's old "Page 2" site. It remains the definitive recap.
- Nothing's more dumb and annoying in sports media than the self-righteous anger of reporters when a player doesn't speak to them postgame. No one cares.
- The Chicago White Sox having a 40th anniversary celebration of "Disco Demolition Night" during Pride Month is tone deaf as hell.
- The Chicago Cubs got a bargain with Craig Kimbrel. The owners are winning the salary battle. Make no mistake about it, a strike's coming.
Writer. Reporter. New Yorker.