The history of all hitherto existing ballgames is the history of base struggles.
Hurler and slugger, ace and masher, closer and bunter, mop-up man and clean-up hitter, in a word, pitcher and batter, stand in opposition to one another. They carry on a fight, hidden and in the open, a fight that each time ends with quick resolution in only three outs or common ruin writ large across the bases and scoreboard.
In the previous epoch of baseball, we found almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of ephemeral factors which were believed to have led to a significant increase in offensive production across the league. Off the field, we had focused weight training, performance enhancing drugs, and advanced medical procedures. On the field, we had shrinking strike zones, body armor, maple bats, and pitch counts.
The modern era of deflated WHIP and OPS that has sprouted from the ruins of the offensive explosion has not done away with baseball antagonism. It has established new villains and heroes, new conditions of domination, new forms of at-bats in place of the old ones.
The aggregate ERA of the league has dropped to a meager 3.86, down from the halcyon days of 4.32 in 2009 and 2008. Slugging percentage, the lifeblood of the hard-working designated hitter, has fallen in two years from .418 to .390.
This new revolution was brought about with a tool of insidious quietude, the creeping rise of K/BB rate. In the long-past days of the offensive explosion, the league K/BB rate hovered comfortably around 2.00. In 1999/2000, perhaps the zenith of the hitters’ epoch, K/BB dipped into the 1.7s. Unsurprisingly, ERA rose into the 4.7s. Today, in these dark times, the league K/BB is an uncharacteristically high 2.16. But where did this come from?
The circulation of baseballs over home plate is the starting point of strikeouts. The throwing of baseballs, and the more developed form called “pitching” create the historical groundwork from which this era of strikeouts arises. The modern history of strikeouts dates from their creation in the 19th century, in a world which slowly came to embrace pitching. Firstly, a third strike could be thrown over the plate and not swung at, resulting in an out. Hurlers were allowed to throw overhand. Batters could no longer specify whether they wanted the ball low or high. The development of the strikeout led to a dramatic change in baseball related transactions between pitcher and batter
To generalize, there are two sorts of transaction between the pitcher and the batter. The simplest form of circulating baseballs is known as “pitching to contact”, in which the objective is to induce the batter to strike the ball with the bat in the hope that such striking will be ineffective and render the ball directly to the pitcher’s teammates. This transaction can be simplified into the following pitch sequence, in which B represents pitches outside of the strike zone, K pitches within, and H the intended contact: B-K-B-K-H. The pitcher uses balls and strikes to set up the batter in order to force him to swing and make contact. When the batter strikes the baseball, both the batter and pitcher are placed in equal positions as described by the terms of BAbip. Therefore, pitching to contact places both participants on even footing. This is not only the most egalitarian form of circulating baseballs, but also the original, as intended before even the called-strike rule was implemented in the 1850s.
Alongside this form of pitching, we find another specifically different form: K-B-K-B-K. This is simplified from the actual form that real-world pitching takes, but it exemplifies the desired effect. The pitcher begins with a strike, then pitches a ball, and eventually converts his pitches into a strikeout.
Both forms are resolvable into the same antithetical phases: K-B, an attempt to force the batter into swinging at a bad pitch, and B-K, an attempt to placate the batter into taking a good pitch. In both of these phases the same elements–a ball and a strike–and the same baseball dramatis personae–pitcher and batter–confront each other. Each form unifies these phases, but one reconciles them in a balanced outcome: “H”, or contact with the baseball.
What distinguishes the two forms is the manner in which they are resolved. The simple act of pitching to contact begins with a pitch and ends with a ball in play. The majority of balls in play, as evidenced by a league-wide BAbip of .300, turn into outs. Meanwhile, short of a walk, the only method for a batter to reach base is to put the ball in play. Therefore contact is a mutually desired outcome.
The ciruit K-B-K-B-K, on the contrary, begins with a strike and ends with a strike. The strikeout is the leading motive of the pitcher, and the goal that attracts the repetition of strikes. The strikeout brings another batter to the plate, without involving the prior hitter or any fielder, and allows another strikeout to take place immediately subsequent. The circulation of strikeouts has no limits, other than the 27 standard outs which constrain the game of baseball.
The pitcher who throws strikeouts therefor becomes the strikeout pitcher. His person, or rather his arm, becomes the point from which strikes begin and strikeouts return. With every strike he throws, whether fooling the batter over the plate or inducing him to swing against the wind, his sole objective becomes the expansion of his K/BB rate. The restless, never-ending process of striking out batter after batter is his aim. The circulation of the baseball becomes an independant process, devoid of input from the batter.
But if strikeouts beget strikeouts, where does the value in pitching come from? A cursory glance at baseball-reference or fangraphs tells us that pitching has value, whether it is represented in WAR or VORP or WPA. Quite simply, this value is extracted from the batters themselves: from their effort to reach the ball or incorrectly discern its outward dive. Even in these flashes of futility, the batter provides a modicum of labor. This labor is converted into value for the pitcher and the batter is left with nothing, neither the fruit of his effort or even the lop-sided roll of the BAbip dice.
But what is to be done? If the reign of the hitter has been replaced by the tyranny of the pitcher via the conversion of bat-labor into strikeout value, is there any hope for the beleaguered batsman?
The hitters must use their strength and supremacy to wrest all strikeouts from the pitchers. They must follow in the path of Jose Bautista, the leader of the vanguard which intends to seize the means of (run) production from the oppressive regime of the pitching elite. He does not fear the power of the strikeout and the imbalance inherent within the circulation of baseballs. With 20 HR and a .500 OBP in these trying times, Bautista is a model for future revolutionaries.
In the footsteps of Bautista the hitters will, by means of revolution, make themselves the ruling class once more, sweep away the conditions of strikeouts, and eliminate the current state of batter/pitcher antagonism. The K/BB rate will drop to 2.00 (or perhaps lower) and the era of the unfettered home run and base hit will begin anew.
Working Hitters of All Teams, Unite!
Domination of the pitcher. Domination of the hitter. Must our game alternate eternally between these two forms of oppression? The strikeout and the homerun must both be discouraged if we are to return to baseball’s primitive state of grace and harmony. All men are fielders. Any play that bypasses the fielders leads to imbalance and oppression. Lower the mound. Unjuice the ball. Let us return to the era when victory resulted from good defense!