Why is the MLB offense down? Pitchers like Aaron Ashby and that ridiculous break
Most of the talk about baseball this year has been about the baseball itself or the lack of runs scored. Rob Mains at BP expertly how big the offense problem is in MLB these days, when you get it out from under the extra innings/Manfred Man shield. These threads lead to further threads about previous rule changes, and their effects, and rule changes that may be coming soon, such as a pitch clock or a ban on shifts.
But when you see this pitch from Aaron Ashby of Milwaukee, you see the real problem:
That’s why running scoring is at an all-time low, strikeouts remain around an all-time high (although they’re down a bit so far this season from last), and why the changes of rules that MLB has implemented only push to the edges of the problem. And baseball deflation has only punished the hitters who are already facing it anyway.
The thing is, Ashby certainly has some standout stuff, but it doesn’t stand out all that much from what other pitchers in the league can do. He has an incredibly screaming strikeout count in the minors, and so far this season his average fastball speed (96.0 mph) and 30.9% K-rate would rank in the top six in both classes if he qualified. He does evil things with a baseball, sure, but there are plenty of others who do the same evil things at a slightly lower rate of… diabolical?
Look at this thing smashing for the left-handed batter’s box like it’s running away from a bank job, and wonder how anyone could possibly get in touch? There are guys in all the teams, yes even yours who suck balls, who can throw something like that. If it’s not a 95 MPH cutter, it’s a two-seam 93 MPH or a curve that dives towards China at the last possible second. Once again, the average speed across the league is up this season, according to FanGraphs, at 93.2. But it’s no longer just speed that hitters are being asked to compensate for, but the movement those pitchers can get.
And then, when you consider all the pitchers have throughout their development before they even get to the majors to hone or improve their arsenal, it really seems hopeless. Not just the seven defensemen behind them who have numerous scouting reports, even in minors, of where a batter might hit the ball, but labs and studies breaking down the motion and spin and the air around the ball, different grips and release points which are then analyzed through every inch of movement giving them immediate feedback to tweak some more.
Hitters? Uh… ax handle on your bat?
When you see pitches like this from Ashby, or whatever display of game grime you choose to watch, it’s obvious the hitters have decided they need to go for the lows on every swing, because they wouldn’t get more than one pitch. knock, if that. The idea that “fastball matters” has faded, because even though pitchers are throwing fastballs at 2-0 or 3-1, they look like this. And they’re throwing less and less fastballs at those spots now. Chain a bunch of singles together out of this? It won’t work for me, bro.
That’s what made the new baseball and all-park regulated humidors so frustrating. Now, with everything hitters face, this stuff, when they miraculously pull it off, they’re not always rewarded. You can do everything right and then watch your cannon contact fire a Hindenberg on the warning trail. Why does this help?
The problem is the launchers and what they can do. They have simply become too great a force. And even if MLB can install a pitch clock next year, and that’s not a certainty, what effect will that really have? The numbers suggest that yes, games will get shorter, but not much more will happen within them. Banning shifts isn’t going to “change the behavior” of hitters, because all that will be opened up are the hits they’re not getting now thanks to their pull-and-lift approach. It will strengthen it.
And changing that behavior is nearly impossible in the face of that. And “it” isn’t going away, because all the technology and analysis available to pitchers will be with baseball forever. MLB tried to do something about it with the sticky stuff ban last season. Well, either they’re not doing enough to keep it going or it wasn’t that bad initially, given what we’ve seen of the attack so far.
The only way for baseball is to equalize speed and movement. Pitchers aren’t just going to stop throwing harder, and the next generation will throw harder than this one. Maybe pitch clocks will help, maybe list restrictions will help, but not that much. The experiment of moving the mound back wasn’t a big hit last year in the Atlantic league, but installing that kind of change mid-season has always been awkward. Injuries were for sure a problem when you ask the pitchers to adapt after many repetitions of the traditional distance. The right way to do this, and it should be retried, is to give everyone an entire offseason to prepare their release points and muscle memory.
Otherwise, well, the Ashbys of the world will continue to run things.