Major League Baseball has a clear focus on today’s game- home runs. Big, huge, eye-popping home runs. They make poster-boys out of players like Joey Gallo in hopes of creating an illusion that the game is more exciting, at a time in which league-wide batting average is at a record low. More interestingly, players have set a new record high for strikeouts for the eleventh straight season. This isn’t a coincidence, folks, and it’s creating a culture where it is acceptable for players to make unproductive outs more often. And it’s bad for baseball.
While there are certainly many players we can use as an example, Gallo seems to capture the “true outcome hitter” best. Looking at his 2018 campaign, he posted a lackluster .206 batting average, with a .312 on-base percentage. While this is considered sub-par for most major league teams, Texas seems to resonate more with his 40 homers than with his other offensive numbers.
While 40 bombs in a season is nothing to sneeze at, it cannot possibly make up for the massive amount of failure he had at the plate. The Rangers slugger struck-out a staggering 207 times in his second full year with the big club. For context, Joey had only 577 plate appearances. That means in 2018, Joey Gallo struck-out over thirty-five percent of the time he came to the plate. That is an absurd number, yet MLB and others choose to look at his tape-measure shots instead.
While this strategy worked for a while, MLB is starting to feel the repercussions of putting so much attention on these sluggers. For the first time since 2003, baseball failed to bring 70 million fans into ballparks across America. And while this cannot be directly linked to the lack of offensive productivity, it’s not unreasonable to think that it plays a role. While players like Gallo can hit beautiful home runs, the overall offensive capability of these players is not great. For every one HR, there are 5 K’s to go along with it. In fact, there were more strikeouts than hits last season (41,207 to 41,019).
And it’s not just the attendance numbers either. MLB saw eight teams that lost 95 or more games last year, and three that lost 100 or more. Again, this isn’t a coincidence. Of the teams who lost 95, half of them (TEX, SDP, BAL, CHW) were in the bottom eight in strikeout percentage and had at least one player among the league-leaders in home runs. This is, at the very least, a correlation between teams at the bottom of attendance/strikeout numbers and true outcome hitters.
Simultaneously, twelve of the fifteen worst teams (in terms of strikeout percentage) failed to qualify for playoffs last season. And at the same time, of those fifteen teams, eleven of them were in the top half of home runs per at bat.
While you can point to sabermetrics as somewhat of a positive case for these types of hitters, it is clear that the overwhelming effect of them in major-league lineups is negative. Because while Joey Gallo has a great wRC+ (110), it doesn’t change the fact that he had twice as many strikeouts as hits last season.
Major League Baseball has a conformity problem with these hitters, and it’s bad for the game. It drives fans away from the ballpark, it makes offense less exciting, and it results in teams losing more often. Joey is just one example of the direction MLB is headed, and it’s going to hurt them in the long-run if these players can’t learn how to hit.