It’s not the sort of accomplishment that ESPN is likely to crow about, but Philadelphia Phillies center-fielder Ben Revere is on track to set an astonishing baseball record—a mark that says as much about the game today as Barry Bonds’s 73 home runs said about the swollen biceps that defined the early 21st century. Revere is currently batting just over .313, higher than any other player in the National League. That figure would match the lowest batting title in the NL’s 138-year history and the fourth lowest in baseball since 1900. Can’t anybody hit, these days?
First of all, throughout it Thompson equates offense and power, or home runs. But while home runs are the most efficient way to score runs, they aren’t the only way. In the history of baseball, there have been very high-scoring offenses with few power hitters. It’s true that we’re not likely to get another situation like, say, Busch Stadium in the 1980s, when Willie McGee could pound a ball onto a thinly-covered concrete infield and be at first base before the it made re-entry, but there are a good many things that hitters could do to improve their chances that virtually none of them are doing. And that would be something to worry about even if more accurate umpiring was their only problem — which it isn’t.
On defense, MLB teams today employ extreme defensive shifts for one simple reason: they know that hitters won’t adjust to them. It has been a long, long time since big-league hitters, or hitters on any other level for that matter, practiced real situational hitting. I suspect that very few current players even know that there was a time when striking out was so frowned upon that every hitter with the exception of Ted Williams was expected, when the count hit two strikes, to choke up on the bat and shorten his stroke.
No, those were not the Good Old Days, and the game wasn’t better then. I’m just wondering: Could the combination of a larger strike zone and pervasive defensive shifting mean that hitters need to become more resourceful, more adaptable, more situational? I think that that could increase the tactical complexity of the game. And somebody needs to try something, because hitters are losing ground pretty significantly. They’re the ones who need to react — unless, of course, they just want to keep on declining until MLB addresses the problem by changing the strike zone, as it has done so many times in the past. But I’d prefer to see hitters make that unnecessary.