I have defended the game of baseball against haters all my life. Even just a few nights ago, I was at a bar where Phyllis was playing. “Baseball games are too long,” my friend said. This is very true of Phyllis, and I agree with her. Phyllis, as my colleague Catherine Zhou mentioned, has some of the longest running games in Major League Baseball. Katherine said Phillies’ average game is now 3 hours and 17 minutes. “And nothing happens,” my friend said.
Over the years, I have fought against this claim. If you know what you are looking atI’ve argued 5 million times in my life, An interesting game of baseball! A lot is happening in every play! But lately, it’s been hard and difficult to argue, because it doesn’t seem to be true.
It’s something you can feel when you watch a game, but it’s not just that. I put the score in a book. I happily watch hours upon hours of games that my favorite team will lose. I do not care. I like meat snaps, bat cracks. I like to see the position of the hitters, the speed of the pitcher. I like romance, drama, the terror of breaking a ball a little too fast. But this year, I was looking at my scorecard so there wasn’t much.
I still watch games, and it still relaxes me to watch baseball. But lately, it’s been a while Too much Comfortable. It seems that the only thing that is happening is the ground ball to the second baseman, or the ground ball near the shortstop who is now standing to the right of the second base, or the ground ball to the third baseman who is standing (annoyingly) due to the transfer of the second baseman. The ball leaves the bat, whatever its destination the gloves take its way to the dorky, easily picked up and thrown first. It’s like watching infield practice. Or maybe the ball goes to the outfield, there should be a gap, but the fielder is strategically already there.
Feelings, I know from experience, are often wrong; The feeling that nothing good is happening, it’s the same rot failure every day, one of those feelings that may have something to do with non-baseball factors. But it is not just a feeling. Earlier this year, I thought a lot more foul balls had been out. More than ever, maybe. I emailed the head of research at the Elias Sports Bureau, Frank Labombarda, who kindly corrected me. Compared to the last five years, the number of foul balls has not been measured this year. Maybe, he suggested, what I was reading as a flow of foul ball outs was actually a reduction in the batting average for playing the ball.
The batting average for the balls in the game (BABIP) is, in my opinion, a very stupid statistic. All it does is calculate the batting average of all the balls that aren’t a strikeout or an over-the-fan home run. The current BABIP, league-wide, is .287. Incredibly, this sad statistic is higher than it was two months ago, when it was .281. Both are a fall compared to the previous year; The BABIP for the 2021 and 2020 seasons was .292. No MLB season has ended with BABIP under .290 since 1992.
Anyone who watches baseball knows that strikeouts, which are not reproduced in BABIP, are more common than ever. MLB’s strikeout rate has risen from 16.4 percent in 2005 to 24 percent last year. In general, the batting average is declining, and there are many statistics showing that offenses are dying in the MLB, but it is not really difficult to understand: more outs through strikeouts, and fewer hits on the ball in the game, adding less offenses to the batting average throughout the league. .244. This year’s baseball losses are even reducing the number of homers, which means even longer flying balls are getting easier out.
But BABIP is significantly more consistent with all the changes in the MLB over the last few decades. Since 1993, BABIP has remained between .292 and .302. In just five years BABIP was under .295. Two of those five years were 2021 and 2020.
What BABIP actually measures, in my opinion, is hope. Sure, there’s a thrill to seeing a ball drop off the bat at 108 miles per hour and screaming over the center field wall for home runs, but there’s no question the ball is leaving. Hits are different. Hit accessories, and they need hope. The ball leaves the bat, and there is a moment where you can believe that your player can rise first or second or even third. Satisfaction is sweet when he does. But that hope is getting more or less rewarded in today’s game. Most of the time, when the ball rocks over the pitcher’s mound and bounces over the second base, I don’t expect it to hit me like before. Most of the time, it doesn’t. Maybe it’s a change of field, maybe it’s the dominance of pitching, but now often when I see a hard hit ball, I no longer feel that rare, exciting hope in my gut that made the game exciting.
Over the years, even as a fan, I’ve found games to be boring at times. There is so little thrill in a strikeout, so little satisfaction in a single home run. The lower the BABIP, the harder it is to invest in the game, the easier it is to assume nothing is happening. There’s something weirdly fun about learning that it’s not just me, and the numbers actually carry it. But it’s no longer fun to watch.