Looking to cool off on a hot day this summer? Get down to your local major league ballpark. Hitters are creating a nice breeze in every one of them.
The strikeout rate has reached epidemic proportions. They were alarming enough in a record-setting 2013, when pitchers averaged 7.5 per game. The lowly Astros raised eyebrows by averaging just over nine strikeouts a game offensively.
Other teams have taken the baton and run with it into 2014. The Mets, White Sox, Dodgers, Marlins, Braves and Twins have all exceeded a strikeout per inning. The Dodgers' total has risen more than 30 percent over last year.
As recently as 2003, Jason Giambi led the American League with 140 strikeouts. Twenty-five players matched or exceeded that total last season and more are on that pace this year. In 1976, Red Sox slugger Jim Rice paced the AL with 123 strikeouts. More than 50 major league hitters shattered that mark a year ago.
A record 36,426 major league batters struck out in 2013. That total could approach 40,000 in 2014. Twenty-one of 30 teams have experienced a rise in strikeouts this season.
Several factors weigh into this disturbing development, the most obvious being plate discipline and the refusal of some hitters to settle for a walk or single instead of a chance at a home run. The result has been longer swings by pull-happy batters and less discipline at the plate. After all, on-base percentage takes a back seat to slugging percentage on major league payrolls.
Fantasy owners have been affected as well, particularly in points leagues. Those with a staff filled with finesse pitchers are being left in the dust by Fantasy foes boasting several hurlers averaging a strikeout per inning or more. Through the course of a season the difference in point totals could run into the hundreds.
The skyrocketing strikeout totals have become a growing concern in Fantasy baseball. But from a broader perspective, it is a particularly sad trend for purists who prefer to see batters take pride in becoming tougher outs.
It can be done despite the larger number of strikeout pitchers in the game these days. Heck, Ted Williams averaged 37 strikeouts per season and still smashed 521 home runs. Joe DiMaggio fanned 13 times in 521 at-bats in 1941 and still hit 30 bombs. Nobody is suggesting that such numbers can be approached by the modern hitter. But batters these days have become far too accepting of the strikeout.
Orioles Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver spoke often about his love for the three-run homer. But even he must be rolling over in his grave at the alarming strikeout rate in the sport these days.