The electorate is divided, and their opinions are nonnegotiable. When the vote is finally held this November, one side is guaranteed to be unhappy.
Baseball’s strike zone, as it turns out, has a lot in common with Trump vs. Clinton.
“It’s a split decision around here,” Joe Mauer said, “depending on who you ask.”
MLB’s competition committee last month recommended eliminating the bottom 2-3 inches of the strike zone, sources told ESPN.com, raising the lower boundary from “the hollow beneath the kneecap,” as the official rules currently state, to “the top of the hitter’s knees.”
It might not sound like a big change, but players know the difference could be profound.
“It goes against everything I’ve ever learned — keep the ball down, so they can’t hit the ball out of the park,” Twins righthander Tyler Duffey said. “If I can’t pitch down there, I’m really in trouble. You won’t be talking to me, because I won’t be here anymore.”
Mauer, though, believes a tightening up of the strike zone would simply be a logical correction, a necessary reversal to a trend he says he has seen over the past five years or so. More low pitches are called strikes now than when his career began. But there are other changes to the game, too, that can’t be fixed with a rule change. The proliferation of pitchers throwing close to 100 miles per hour or more, the pitch limits and bullpen specialization that keeps relievers fresh, and the ability to induce even the fastest pitches to break as they approach the plate.
All those factors have contributed to an explosion of strikeouts — and a dramatic decline in the number of balls put in play.
“With guys throwing as hard as they are now, and all the movement they have on it, [hitting is] not an easy thing,” Mauer said. He’d favor a change? “Absolutely.”
With all due respect to Duffey, so should baseball fans. The gradual lowering of the strike zone began when MLB began installing pitch-tracking systems: first QuesTec and eventually Pitchf/x, in ballparks 15 years ago to help rate umpires. The idea was to reduce the individuality of each umpire’s strike zone, but one effect was that more low pitches were called strikes.
“Low pitches are the hardest to make solid contact,” Brian Dozier said. “If pitches below the knees are strikes, you’re just going to have more strikeouts and more ground balls. … Of course, if you raise [the zone], you’ll have more walks, and that’s not very exciting, either.”
That could be the effect at first, but pitchers would adjust, and be forced to throw more hittable pitches, hopefully resulting in more action. The strikeout boom needs to be rolled back a bit. For the first time in history, an average game features more than eight whiffs per team this season, or nearly 30 percent of all outs. In 1981, the average was 9.5 — for both teams — a surge of 78 percent in outs that don’t require the ball be put in play.
That’s a lot of non-action for a sport trying to market itself to young people drawn to football and basketball.
Still, Paul Molitor is skeptical. “I’ve seen attempts to change the strike zone in the past, and it gets heavy attention and a lot of emphasis usually that particular spring training,” said the Twins manager, trying to remain neutral. “But somehow it seems to wane, and umpires revert back to what they do.”
AL Central Intelligence
A drug suspension was the big news in the AL Central this week, a topic the Twins know all about after losing Ervin Santana for half of the 2015 season. Here’s how the division has been affected this year:
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Cleveland outfielder Marlon Byrd was having another surprisingly strong season at age 38, with five homers in 34 games, and now we know why. It’s the second time he’s tested positive for steroids, so the 162-game suspension might well end his career.
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Infielder Raul Mondesi, Kansas City’s top prospect who made his MLB debut during last fall’s World Series, could have been in KC sometime this season. But Mondesi, suspended in May after a banned substance showed up in his test, will only serve 50 games, not 80, after he proved he ingested the substance in a cold medicine by mistake.
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Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander made news with a single angry emoji, tweeted when news of Byrd’s second suspension broke. But the Tigers have been without highly rated outfield prospect JaCoby Jones until May after he was caught (like Eddie Rosario was two years ago) using a “drug of abuse” during the Arizona Fall League.
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Veteran righthander Kameron Loe failed a PED test during White Sox spring training, but he was a long shot to make the bullpen anyway. More embarrassing: Tyler Williams, son of White Sox exec Ken Williams, also flunked a PED test while with Chicago’s Class A team.
Eduardo Nunez on Thursday became the 35th Twins player to hit an inside-the-park home run, and the first ever to do it leading off a game.
Here are the Twins’ all-time
leaders in those rare home runs:
3 Tony Oliva, Greg Gagne
2 Steve Lombardozzi, Tom Brunansky, Jimmy Hall, Rich Rollins
The Twins have hit a total of 43 inside-the-park home runs since the franchise moved to Minnesota in 1961. That’s one homer away from second-most in that time span — but due to its ballpark, the leader in that time has exactly twice as many as the Twins.
IPHR leader since 1961:
86 Royals (66 in Kauffman Stadium)
Here are the five Twins players that have hit an inside-the-park homer since 2000:
• Eduardo Nunez, June 2, 2016
• Kurt Suzuki, May 20, 2014
• Joe Mauer, July 21, 2007
• Torii Hunter, July 26, 2001
• Chad Moeller, July 29, 2000
A correction: A list of the Twins’ top 10 rookie home-run hitters recently incorrectly equated “first season” with “rookie status.” Here, then, are the Twins top 10 home-run hitting rookies:
33 Jimmie Hall, 1963
32 Tony Oliva, 1964
25 Gary Gaetti, 1982
24 Marty Cordova, 1995
23 Kent Hrbek, 1982
22 Bobby Darwin, 1972
20 Tom Brunansky, 1982
19 Justin Morneau, 2004
18 Miguel Sano, 2015
16 Rich Rollins, 1962