It’s Sunday, so let’s lighten up and talk baseball… as in baseballs slamming into the faces of batters.
Getting hit by a pitch has always been part of the game, but this season has seen hitters get struck at a rate not seen since the 1890’s. When you add in the fact that pitchers are throwing harder than ever, you’ve got a big problem.
It wasn’t so long ago that a pitcher who could throw a fastball at 90 miles an hour was a big deal. Now, it’s commonplace, and most clubs carry at least one guy who can top out at 100. The problem for batters is obvious. They have less time to get out of the way, and when they are struck, they get hit harder.
Last week, the Mets’ Kevin Pillar was hit square in the face. He’ll need plastic surgery to repair his nose. And, less dramatic but still serious, concussions are rampant. Yesterday’s star of the Brewer-Reds game, Daniel Robertson, was playing in his first game in almost a month after being beaned in late April.
So, it’s not just the danger to players; some of the game’s best players are getting knocked out of the lineup for weeks. That hurts the game overall.
One solution that baseball will try in part of the minor leagues this year is to move the pitcher’s mound back a foot or two. Baseball did something similar about 50 years ago when it lowered the mound in response to the dominance of pitchers in that era. But, of course, that’s a pretty drastic step. Every pitcher would have to adjust his pitches and some would probably be unable to make the changes necessary after pitching their entire lives from 60 feet and six inches away.
A less invasive treatment might be to simply reduce the number of pitchers that clubs can carry on their rosters. Right now most teams have 13 pitchers — half of the 26 players they can take into a ballgame. That means that some pitchers, who can throw hard but have spotty control, make the team. And it also means that managers can use a lot of pitchers who will throw as hard as they can for the innings they’re on the mound, knowing they have enough arms in the bullpen to give each guy a day or two of rest between outings.
So, if MLB set a maximum number of pitchers at, say, nine or 10, managers and pitching coaches would likely decide to carry pitchers with better control. And, to manage a pitching staff through a 162 game season, they might ask guys to pitch with more finesse instead of just hurling high, hard fast balls.
I don’t want baseball to become football, where I have trouble enjoying a game in which I know players are risking life-long head injuries on every play. On the other hand, I’m a baseball traditionalist who doesn’t like to see the rules messed with. (Don’t get me started on the travesty that is the designated hitter.)
So, before we start digging up pitcher’s mounds, let’s try the simple strategy of limiting the number of pitchers in a bullpen.