By Ken Reed
Major League Baseball has an entertainment problem. And when you’re in the entertainment business that’s not good.
Baseball has become a slow game with a lot of strikeouts, walks and occasional home runs. Those are called the “three true outcomes” in today’s game. The plethora of strikeouts is a big issue because they result in no action and no baserunners. For a 14th straight season, pitchers are on pace to set a record for strikeouts per nine innings (9.4). In 1990, the strikeout rate was under 15 percent, and today it’s near 25 percent.
“If I — if we — could change one thing, get one thing under control, for me it would be the strikeout rate,” says former Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs general manager Theo Epstein. Epstein has been hired by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred as a consultant charged with looking for ways to make baseball more entertaining and fan friendly.
“When you talk to … thousands of people who love the game about what’s the best version of the game, there’s a growing consensus about what that means,” according to Epstein.
“I think for most people, it means that we want more action in the game, and a faster pace of play for the game, and a little bit less dead time. And it means we want more contact and more balls in play, and probably fewer strikeouts than we have now.
“We want to see more athleticism on display. We want more doubles and triples and more stolen bases — and probably less of the three true outcomes on offense. And those are consistent themes that you hear.”
Totally agree Theo, that’s what most baseball fans want. The challenge is how to get there. Ironically, Epstein is partly to blame for the developments in the game that have made it less entertaining and fan-friendly. Analytics have taken over the game when it comes to strategies employed by general managers and field managers. Ubiquitous shifts that gobble up what used to be hits, batters swinging with huge launch angles (uppercuts) and not choking up with two strikes in an effort to put the ball in play, pitchers working to increase their spin rate to make their offerings harder to hit, etc. From a strategic baseball standpoint, analytics-driven tactics have worked. But they are damaging baseball as an entertainment product.
Major League hitters are batting .232, which if it holds through the season would be the lowest batting average ever. In 2008, 42% of swings put balls in play. That’s down to 35.4% this year. In ’08 the swing/miss percentage was 20 percent. This year it’s 27.3%. MLB is also on pace for a record number of shutouts.
The lack of action and decreasing entertainment value has impacted MLB attendance, which is down over 7% since 2015 and 14% since the highpoint in 2007. The 2019 season was the first time in 15 years that total attendance dropped below 70 million (68,494,752).
Baseball, we have a problem.
Perhaps Theo can help save baseball as an entertaining, fan-friendly entity. He scored World Series titles for the Red Sox and Cubs after extremely long droughts, so there’s hope.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #14 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Making Sense of the Injury Pandemic in Major League Baseball – The guest is Gary McCoy, a strength, conditioning and high performance coach who has worked with several Major League Baseball organizations. Our focus is the injury pandemic in baseball, what’s causing it and how it can be fixed.
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Episode #13 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Conversation With Long-Time MLB Exec Dan Evans About What’s Right With Baseball and What Could Be Better – Evans is a former general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers and is currently a consultant for Go the Distance Baseball, which owns the Field of Dreams movie site.
Episode #12 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Fun Chat With Dan Gutman, Author of the Baseball Card Adventure Series for Kids
Episode #11 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Latest on Brain Trauma, Concussions and CTE with Dr. Chris Nowinski – Nowinski is CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
Episode #10 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: An Issues Discussion With Paul Dolan – Dolan is the Cleveland Indians Owner and CEO.
Episode #9 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Issues With Ralph Nader – Nader is a consumer advocate and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century” by Time magazine. He is the founder of League of Fans.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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