The Rays are placing screens across the infield to encourage their hitters to improve their launch angle this spring. Hit the ball over the screens, they say. Fly balls are in. Ground balls and even line drives are out. That seems to be the direction baseball is heading these days, as the astronomical increase in strikeouts suggests. Free agent J.D. Martinez and the Dodgers’ Chris Taylor are the poster boys for this brand of baseball as a new generation of general managers tries to reinvent the wheel. I say congratz to Martinez and Taylor, but be very careful. Everyone is not the same.
Give me someone who can consistently bring home a runner from third base with less than two outs. Yes, I’ll take a deep fly ball, but in more cases than not I’ll get a pop up or a strikeout. Instead of getting everyone’s launch angle perfected, how about working on putting the bat on the ball consistently. A ground ball to the right side will do the trick. Just don’t strike out, but that’s what they’re teaching these days. Home run or strikeout, don’t sweat the little stuff.
Don’t like the shift? Why wouldn’t clubs work on situational hitting, taking the ball the other way in order to get on base. Not every time, but enough times that defenses would think twice about using a shift against you. Hey, some analytics are great, especially the ones that emphasize reaching base and scoring runs. Why would you reduce your odds by altering your launch angle to a point where you are an all or nothing hitter? Some players, especially those who clog up the bases, are built in a way that a change in launch angle could improve what they do best. Just don’t have everyone in your lineup swinging for the fences every time.
The commissioner is worried about the pace of play when at-bats where nothing at all happens are increasing. Hit a home run, strike out or walk. I can only hope that baseball comes to its senses soon. At bat, put the ball in play, run the bases hard and keep the pressure on the defense. In the field, have your pitchers throw strikes and have your fielders make all the plays. It’s not rocket science. It’s baseball.