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Expand chart
Data: FanGraphs; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

While MLB is on pace to set a strikeout record for the 14th consecutive season, the rate of pitches actually thrown in the strike zone continues to plummet. Weird, right?

By the numbers: In 2002, 54.2% of all pitches were thrown for strikes (swings not included, just pitch location) … and batters struck out 16.8% of the time. In 2019, a record-low 42.1% of pitches have been thrown for strikes … and batters are striking out 22.8% of the time.

What's happening: With hitters increasingly swinging for the fences, pitchers are deliberately throwing outside the zone to avoid giving up home runs.

  • "Throws targeted for the inside and outside corners have been replaced by fastballs that rocket up above the zone or breaking balls that dive below it," notes NYT's Joe Lemire.
  • This has resulted in longer at-bats (batters are seeing a record-high 3.91 pitches per plate appearance this season); but again, almost one-fourth of them still end in a strikeout.

Meanwhile, pitchers have simply gotten better at enticing hitters to chase balls thanks to things like analytics and "pitch tunneling."

  • Analytics: The volume of advanced data available to pitchers gives them insight into exactly where each hitter is most likely to chase — and they're exploiting that.
  • Pitch tunneling: Pitchers have gotten extremely good at making two different pitches look identical for much of their flight toward the plate, allowing them to present balls as strikes for longer (example).

Go deeper

New report hits DOJ over lack of police shooting data

Demonstrations followed the shooting of Dijon Kizzee by Los Angeles Sheriff's deputies in 2020. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

A new government accountability report says the Department of Justice failed to consistently publish an annual summary of police excessive force data from 2016 to 2020, as required by federal law.

Why it matters: The data is crucial for the DOJ to monitor excessive force cases, and used to investigate law enforcement agencies with patterns of abuse. The DOJ can pivot off it to pursue court action to force reforms.

Congressional leaders clinch support for crucial defense bill, debt limit votes

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer passes waiting reporters on Tuesday. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Congress has found a shortcut to pass its annual defense funding bill and raise the debt limit.

Driving the news: The House will vote Tuesday night on two major bills — one creating a one-time, fast-track process for the Senate to raise the debt ceiling with just 51 votes, and another passing its annual defense bill.

Biden's pick to lead major banking regulator drops out

Saule Omarova, nominee for Comptroller of the Currency, at a confirmation hearing on Nov. 18. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

President Biden's pick to head one of the country's most powerful banking regulators is dropping out of consideration for the post, according to a statement from Biden that accepted the withdrawal.

Why it matters: Saule Omarova, nominated to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, faced a tough path to confirmation — with opposition from Republicans and moderate Democrats.