Don Mattingly starred in the action-packed 1980s. Now the Miami Marlins manager, known as Donnie Baseball, worries about a record lack of hits — and not just from his team’s bats.
“I don’t think it’s cyclical at this point,” he said. “There’s so much swing and miss, it’s kind of off the charts. I think it’s something that we have to address.”
It is the “Season of the Slump,” even for All-Stars like Marcell Ozuna (.202), Charlie Blackmon (.184) and Francisco Lindor (.189). Miguel Cabrera, the only Triple Crown winner in a half-century, is batting .140.
Major league batters were hitting just .232 overall through last month, down from .252 two years earlier and under the record low of .237 set in the infamous 1968 season that resulted in a lower pitcher’s mound.
The Mendoza line might not mean what it used to.
Strikeouts have averaged 9.06 per team per game, on pace to set a record for the 13th consecutive full season — up from 8.81 two years ago and nearly double the 4.77 in 1979. Strikeouts already are 1,092 ahead of hits, just three years after exceeding hits for the first time over a full season.
Hits are averaging a record-low 7.63 after fluctuating from 8 to 10 from 1937 through last year, excepting 1968’s dip to a then-alarming 7.91.
While it is a bear market for batters, pitchers are on bull runs.
Joe Musgrove of San Diego and Carlos Rodon of the Chicago White Sox became the second pair of pitchers in a half-century to throw no-hitters in April, the first since Atlanta’s Kent Mercker and Minnesota’s Scott Erickson in 1994.
Arizona’s Madison Bumgarner pitched another, but the shortened seven-inning gem in a doubleheader was not recognized by the MLB.
Mattingly, a six-time All-Star, never struck out more than 43 times in a season during a career from 1982-92.
Texas slugger Joey Gallo already has whiffed 40 times, as has Cincinnati’s Eugenio Suarez.
“Pitching has always been further ahead in the analytical world, and applying information to the competition has been much faster on the run-prevention side than the run-production side,” said Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch, a former big league catcher.
“I have great concern that our sport has turned into a lack of offense and the strikeout-homer-walk Three True Outcomes is not our best entertainment product... We’re trending in the wrong direction. It doesn’t mean we can just snap our fingers and make a rule change or do one simple thing and all of a sudden we’re going to turn into a more balanced sport.”
Detroit finished last month with a .199 batting average, on track to shatter the low of .211 set by the 1910 Chicago White Sox.
Just 16.6 percent of pitches have been put in play this season through midweek, according to MLB Statcast, matching last year and down from 18.6 percent in 2015.
Perhaps it is the Rawlings baseballs, which were slightly deadened this year in a change the MLB said an independent lab found would cause balls to fly 1 to 2 feet shorter when hit over 375 feet. Maybe it is the five teams that added humidors to their stadiums, raising the total to 10 of 30 with humidity-controlled storage spaces.
Home runs have dropped from a record 1.39 per team per game in 2019 to 1.28 in last year’s shortened season to 1.14 this year, the lowest since 2015.
Data shows pitchers are throwing harder in the analytic age, where many big leaguers have had their mechanics analyzed at Driveline Baseball, Cressey Sports Performance or the American Sports Medicine Institute in an effort to gain velocity, efficiency and durability.
The average four-seam fastball velocity was 93.5mph, according to Statcast, up from 93.4mph last year and 92.9mph in 2015.
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