Aug 14, 2020 - Sports

Why hits are disappearing in baseball

Data: FanGraphs; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

MLB's league-wide batting average sat at a paltry .238 entering Thursday, the lowest mark since 1968 (.237) — a season so dominated by pitchers that the mound was lowered the very next year to even the playing field.

By the numbers: MLB's strikeout rate (23.4%) is on track to set a record for the 12th consecutive season, and the current walk rate (9.2%) would be the ninth-highest mark since 1950.

  • On top of that, BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is just .283 at the moment, which would be the lowest since 1989.
  • In conclusion, not many balls are being put in play, and the ones that are being put in play have resulted in outs at near-historic levels.

Between the lines: What's making life so difficult for hitters this year? And why is BABIP, specifically, so low? A few theories:

  • Limited spring training: "We've kicked around some ideas like hitters not getting looks at pitchers other than their own teammates in summer camp and how that might impair their readiness," one assistant GM told The Ringer.
  • Fewer repeat looks: Lighter workloads have deprived hitters of repeat looks at starting pitchers. With relievers eating more innings, only 8.3% of plate appearances have come when facing a pitcher for at least the third time, down from 13% last season.
  • Empty stadium effect: Fielders are making more plays in part because they can hear the crack of the bat. The fan-less backdrop may also help them see the ball more clearly.
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