Joe Torre says MLB is concerned about high strikeout numbers: 'We don’t have enough balls in play'

For the first time in baseball history, there were more strikeouts than base hits in 2018. Hitters struck out 41,207 times last season against 41,020 hits. Baseball has been trending this way for a while now, and pendulum finally swung in favor of strikeouts last year.

Not surprisingly, the league is concerned about the continued increase in strikeouts, MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre told reporters, including Reuters, earlier this week. Here's what Torre said:

"To me the excitement of baseball, to watch the game and manage the game, is to have enough balls in play and we don't have enough balls in play." 

...

"We need to put the ball in play more," said the 78-year-old Torre, who works as liaison between the MLB and its 30 clubs.

"Everyone is throwing 98-99 mph, everyone is trying to strike people out... it is all a concern to me."

...

"That is when the game is going to pick up pace, when we dare the hitters to hit the ball as opposed to trying to get them to miss the ball." 

Last year 22.3 percent of all plate appearances ended in a strikeout, the highest rate in baseball history. MLB has set a new record high strikeout rate in 10 of the last 11 seasons, and, chances are, a new record will be set in 2019. I think there's a pretty good chance 2019 will be the second year in history with more strikeouts than hits as well.

Hitters embracing launch angle has certainly led to an increase in strikeouts. Pitchers are also throwing harder than ever, and teams have a better understanding of things like spin rate and pitch sequencing today than they did even five years ago. So many analytical advances have benefited pitchers. Hitters haven't gotten much help these last few seasons.

Average attendance fell four percentage last season and, for the first time since 2003, fewer than 70 million fans showed up to the ballpark. It's impossible to pin the attendance decline solely on the increase in strikeouts, especially when so many teams are in deep rebuilds and making little effort to be competitive, but I reckon they contributed somewhat.

MLB: Spring Training-Washington Nationals at New York Mets
Baseball features more strikeouts than ever before and MLB is worried about it. USATSI

MLB and the independent Atlantic League recently announced a three-year partnership in which MLB will essentially use the Atlantic League as a laboratory. They're going to test all sorts of rule and equipment changes. Among them: Moving the mound back two feet. To me, that sure looks like an attempt to combat the increase in strikeouts. MLB is trying.

Moving the mound back to 62 feet, 6 inches has potentially enormous ramifications, including a possible increase in injury risk. There's a reason MLB wants this tested out in an independent league before subjecting their players and prospects to it. Lowering the mound, which MLB did back in 1969, is another possible solution, though that is not on the testing schedule.

There is no easy solution to the rise of the strikeout and frankly there may not be a solution at all, not unless MLB does something drastic like go to four strikes for a strikeout, which I can't see happening. Moving the mound back is an attempt at a solution but is not guaranteed to work. I imagine MLB is cooking up some other ideas to increase balls in play.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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