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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)


There's a moment of significant change in every life. Sometimes the tougher part is accepting that it's happening.

As I near a 40th birthday, it dawns on me that 10 years ago, I could close down a bar at 2 a.m. Now that's when my 7-month-old daughter wakes me up. A decade ago, I could eat a large pizza, then run 10 miles. Now, it takes a half-marathon just to burn off a slice.

One change in life that I never anticipated was relearning a game that I've loved since I was in diapers: baseball.

For the first time in the history of major league baseball, a month featured more strikeouts than hits as there were 6,656 strikeouts and 6,360 hits in April.

Many have wondered why?

Weather and cold temperatures? Maybe? But we've had frigid Aprils in previous years. Plus, MLB just broke the record for most postponed games in a month due to the rain and cold so actually, baseball just set the record for more strikeouts than hits and did it in a month where there's never been fewer games? Yikes.

But it's not just the weather that's changing — the game is.

Sabermetrics and analytics are two words that drive baseball old-timers up a wall, but it's the present and future of baseball.

Remember in Little League when coach told you "just get the bat on the ball and good things will happen."

As pointed out by's Bradford Doolittle in a piece this week, "contact rate" continues to become less of a priority in the game. "The 10-year rate for swinging and missing is 22.3 percent. But it has gone from 20.4 percent in 2009 to 25.4 percent so far this season."

Ten years ago in baseball, the philosophy was hit ball, move runner and get run in.

Now, instead, contact rate has taken a back seat to launch angle, exit velocity, hit a homer, and strikeouts are OK.

Strikeouts OK? What in the name of Tony Gwynn are we talking about here?

Batters are being taught to swing and hit a ball at a certain angle and with a certain bat speed. On your next trip to The Diamond, if you see what looks like an extra knob at the end of a bat belonging to a Richmond Flying Squirrel, it's actually a module that tracks the speed and angle at which the bat is swung.

Gone are the days of get up there and swing away. Some San Francisco Giants analyst is watching you.

Baseball's belief is to drive the ball, get it in the air and take it out over defensive shifts, or just take it out of the ballpark.

Last season, both the AL and NL set records for strikeouts and homers per nine innings.

The payoff for fans could be a big blast. The downside could be seeing nothing but big swings and misses. Inactivity is a problem for baseball.

During the past two years, commissioner Rob Manfred has tried to address "pace of play" and game length to try to appeal to a younger generation, which thrives on constant action, stimulation and instant gratification. Part of the beauty of baseball is that it doesn't always provide those things. For an older audience (including this guy), you appreciate when those moments happen.

However, the last thing baseball needs for any generation is to dial back the action. A game's length will never be considerably shortened unless television commercials breaks are taken out, and we all know that's not happening.

The action keeps our attention. A single, a line-drive double in the gap, even a deep fly caught at the warning track is action.

Yet, with the way the game is evolving, you can sit for at-bats minutes after minutes and not witness any action.

The dilemma for MLB is that while this affects the entertainment value, the analytical approach is a successful practice. Just ask the defending World Series champion Houston Astros, who last year finished only second to the New York Yankees in home runs while striking out 66 times fewer than any ballclub.

So launch angle, exit velocity and spray charts are just some of the new vocabulary growing across the game on a daily basis.

It's time to accept the years and baseball — they are changing.

Enjoy the home runs.

And like me and 40, the extra gray hairs, and 2 a.m. wake-up calls, we might not like them, but we're going to have to accept the strikeouts as well.

Wes McElroy hosts a daily sports talk show weekdays on 910 AM from 6-9 a.m.

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May 6, 2018


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