Enjoy Comical Cases Like This Before They Disappear Forever
It was a delightful column about a heated controversy, but in the end it might be what Shakespeare titled one of his plays. As Major League Baseball fans bicker over the idea of pitchers having to bat in 2021, the topic really is indeed Much Ado About Nothing.
Sportswriter Bob Nightengale splendidly discussed this ugly reality in the March 20, 2021 edition of USA Today.
“Most pitchers don't want to hit. None of the managers want them to hit. And even most National League traditionalists have embraced the idea of never seeing them hit again,” Nightengale stated. “Well, barring a dramatic about-face, National League pitchers will be hitting once again.”
Nightengale is dead right about baseball's biggest dilemma, only there is one slight alteration needed to make the article even more accurate. Instead of stating in the last sentence that pitchers will be “hitting,” he should have substituted the word “batting.”
Statistics Nightengale lists in the column indicates that there will be very little hitting involved with pitchers at the plate, where they will in all likelihood be automatic outs. The last season pitchers actually went to the plate, back in 2019 in the National League parks, they hit .128 with a .159 on base percentage.
“There's going to be a drop-off in performance in the batter's box,” stated Dave Roberts, manager of the World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. “I think the success rate for pitchers bunting will be a tick down. Also, the pitchers nowadays just keep getting better, so that makes it even more difficult.”
One veteran pitcher, who wishes to remain anonymous, has even threatened to make no effort while at the plate.
“There is a much better chance of me pulling a muscle or suffering some other injury than of my actually getting a hit,” he reasoned. “So don't expect to see me even take a swing. I'll just stand there and use it as a chance to ponder my next inning on the mound.”
Whether this pitcher actually follows through with that idea, or perhaps instead does follow through with a swing or two during his at bats, is really not a big deal. You see, pitchers rarely come to the plate anyway, even if they are starters.
In the previously mentioned season of 2019, there were 2271 games played in which pitchers actually came to the plate. During those contests pitchers had a total of 4201 at bats, averaging roughly 1.5 at bats per game.
That number is bound to decrease this year, since starting pitchers will have even shorter outings than they averaged in 2019. After the pandemic cut the 2020 season to just sixty games, managers are going to stringently limit the pitch counts and innings of their arms in order to keep them healthy for 162 games.
Before the pandemic starting pitchers had averaged just over five innings, which naturally resulted in the 1.5 at bat average that has already been pointed out. The average start in the upcoming season figures to be under five, so many pitchers will be lifted before their turn in the batting order ever comes up.
Those of us who are dreading to see a pitcher standing at the plate need not stress, for he will in all likelihood be standing there just one time each game. We may even learn to enjoy it as an inevitable piece of baseball past, for 2021 is surely the last time it will ever happen.