Friday, July 13, 2018

The Red Sox may be red-hot, but baseball is striking out in every way

By Dan Shaughnessy
July 9, 2018
Image result for red sox royals july 8 2018
Craig Kimbrell and Sandy Leon celebrate after the Red Sox beat the Royals last Sunday. (Brian Davidson/Getty Images)
The Red Sox Sunday completed their three-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals. Aggregate score: Boston 32, Kansas City 13.
The Sox are now 62-29 — 33 games over .500. The Royals have lost nine straight and 27 of 31. KC is 39 games under .500.
The Sox come home Monday and get to play the last-place Rangers for the next three nights. Then we’ll get a weekend look at the moribund Blue Jays who are 20 games out of first place.
On and on it goes. Meaningless game after meaningless game as the Red Sox put up cartoonish numbers while we wait for the real games to start in October. So much winning.
Whoop dee do.
This isn’t exactly breaking news, but as great as the Sox weekend was, as scalding hot as the Sox are now, my takeaway is that Major League Baseball is in trouble.
And as much as I love the game, I can no longer defend all the things that are hurting the sport.
There are too many bad teams (the once-proud Orioles are 41 games under .500). There are too many non-competitive games. There are too many strikeouts. There are not enough balls in play. Baseball stars are increasingly anonymous.
Is it any surprise that MLB attendance is taking a hit? Twenty one of 30 teams are down from last year and baseball is on pace for its lowest total attendance since 2003.
Folks are staying away and who can blame them? The product is not keeping up with the times and it is not very good.
Here in baseball-savvy Boston, the Olde Towne Team is playing at a near-record pace, but it seems that local sports fans only want to talk about the Celtics and NBA free agency. Tom Brady and Julian Edelman. Try to find good baseball conversation. Spend an hour alternating between the Sports Hub and WEEI and take note of how little baseball conversation you hear. Unless there’s yet another caller bashing David Price, the Sox don’t generate much sports talk these days.
Baseball has become the sanctuary of senior citizens. Hardcore baseball fans are the same people who have land lines in their home and still read daily newspapers. Anybody seen my Sporting News?
Pace of play has made the game largely unwatchable on television. The estimable Tom Verducci recently put his stopwatch to work and calculated that the average time between balls in play is 3 minutes 45 seconds. This is unacceptable. It is killing the sport. There is simply not enough action.
Strikeout inflation is a big part of the problem. I have grown to hate strikeouts. A strikeout used to be a measure of a pitcher’s dominance. Not anymore. Everybody strikes out. All the time. A 10-strikeout effort by a starting pitcher is no longer a big deal. For the first time in history, baseball features more strikeouts than hits. This will be the 11th consecutive season in which MLB sets a record for strikeouts.
Whoop dee bloody do.
One of the problems is that players don’t think there is a problem. The hitters have no regrets about their whopping strikeout totals. They don’t change their approach with two strikes. They just keep on hacking . . . and missing. It’s all about launch angle and exit velocity.
USA Today recently polled 63 big leaguers and the results demonstrated a stunning lack of awareness. Players, evidently, do not believe that today’s strikeout glut or the snail-like pace of play present any problem. More than half of the players polled said they are unconcerned about a game that now primarily features walks, strikeouts, and homers. Ninety three percent of those who responded believe that lack of action is OK. Asked if pace-of-play changes are working, one player remarked, “assumes there was a problem in the first place.’’
There are simply not enough competitive games, especially in the 2018 American League. The Orioles are on a pace to lose 118 games. The Royals, 116. The White Sox, 108.
Analytics are out of control. Even commissioner Rob Manfred agrees. Manfred recently told The Athletic, “There is a growing recognition that analytics have produced certain trends in the game that we may need to be more proactive about reversing. There are owners that feel that way. There are fans that feel that way.’’
Meanwhile, as the game is taken over by geeks, the players become more faceless. Mike Trout? Great player. Why isn’t he as popular and well known as Kevin Durant or Steph Curry?
The 2018 Red Sox are winning almost 70 percent of their games, but are studiously bland. Boston’s clubhouse is populated by polite young men who are careful with their words, rarely interesting and never provocative. It’s as if they are trained to drain the color from their commentary. J.D. Martinez is having a triple-crown worthy season, but would likely not be recognized if he strolled around the Seaport at lunchtime. (Is that Mitch Moreland, Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, or J.D. Martinez?) No controversy, No color.
There’s not a Wade Boggs or Oil Can Boyd in the bunch.
There is no all-world point guard insisting that the earth is flat.
We trust and verify that the earth is round . . .
. . . But in the summer of 2018, baseball is flat.
Even when you have a worthy first-place team with a raft of All-Star talent.

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