With the first 3 weeks of Major League Baseball complete, I look at the differences between this year and last year – And they are significant.
What’s that sound you hear? The crack of the bat? No, it is the sound of the ball thumping into the catchers mitt – ‘Strike 3’.
Last year, the MLB set all kinds of records. A quick snapshot is that they smashed every home run record, except the individual Home Run record. More homers were hit last season than any other season ever, and they got that record before the last month of the regular season.
The hitters dominated Baseball, but much like a T20 Cricket match, you felt a little hollow watching everyone hit home runs, including some pitchers. What makes Baseball great is what makes test Cricket great – the Chess game. I grew up watching Cricket, and the match that stands out for me is watching Tim May and Craig McDermott battle for an eternity to salvage a draw against the West Indies, only to see Craig McDermott get given out after being hit on his helmet on the last ball of a 5 days test match. It is memorable because of the struggle, not for how many 6s were hit.
This year, the teams showing early success all have one thing in common – a deep pitching rotation. And they are all exploiting one weakness – A weakness so prominent it is also a record from last year. While having the most home runs ever, last year also had the most strike outs ever. So essentially everyone was swinging for the fences, and either connecting or not – there was no in-between. It has been very clear that the smarter pitching staffs have spent a lot of time in the off-season working out how to exploit the big hitters, which has become nearly everyone, and it is working.
The teams that spent up big on power hitters are struggling, and the teams that chocked up their pitching staff are thriving.
The team with the best record so far are the Boston Red Sox – and I am a little bit happy about this, as they are my team. The most telling stat, is that they have given up on average 2.8 runs per game. Last year, the team with the best record gave up 3.6 per game. That might seem marginal, but if you project those numbers over the year, it is a difference of 130 runs. Of course, this would require the Red Sox to continue at their current pace, which may not happen. However, it cannot be overstated how much easier it is to win a game needing only 3 runs to win instead of 4.
The Red Sox are currently 8th in team home runs per game, averaging 1.3 per game, while the second best record NY Mets are 21st, averaging 1 per game. They are clearly winning with their pitchers. The worst strikeout rate in the league at the moment belongs to Baltimore, averaging 11 strikeouts per game. Last year it was Milwaukee, averaging 9.7. Milwaukee finished with a record of 86 wins and 76 losses, whereas Baltimore are currently sitting on a 5 win, 14 loss record. In other words, last year you could afford to strikeout, because the bigs were hitting homers – this year you can’t.
Looks like we might be beating the strikeout record set that was last year at this rate.
The other thing that could be affecting these stats is the cold. It has been freezing across large parts of the US so far this season. Many games have been postponed, and there have been games in snow. There is an argument to say that the batters will hit more when it heats up, but I argue that the pitchers will throw harder as well. It will be very interesting to see.