The early part of the MLB season has seen strikeout and home run rates continue to rise, and the game is trending towards one that is positively overstuffed with Ks and dingers. A decent theory of why this is happening isn’t too hard to tease out: Batters are consciously taking big swings, which are more likely to produce long balls and whiffs, more often than ever before. If you’re suspicious of the statistical evidence that bears this out, allow Mariners James Paxton to provide you with some of the anecdotal variety:
Paxton sat down 16 Athletics in seven innings of work last night, and he needed just 105 pitches to do it. That’s the fewest number of pitches ever thrown on the way to 16 Ks. No shots at Paxton, who has loads of talent and some really nice stuff, but this was very much an outing of its time.
You might expect the highlights from a 16-strikeout game to feature all sorts of wild breaking pitches dancing in and out of the zone, twisting hitters into uncomfortable swings and misses. Paxton mixed in some cutters and curve balls, but he spent most of the night slinging his high-90s fastball straight past the A’s flailing bats.
We’re told that pitchers need good offspeed stuff in order to dominate because any major league hitter can tee up a heater, no matter how fast it’s moving, but this was not true for Paxton. He threw 75 fastballs last night and the A’s swung and missed at 25 of them, according to Brooks Baseball. The A’s whiffed on more than half the fastballs they swung at, which is an absurd whiff rate for any pitch that doesn’t zig-zag from the mound to the plate. (For reference, Max Scherzer currently boasts the league’s whiffiest fastball, which swinging batters miss about 37 percent of the time.)
Again, look at those highlights! Look at what an easy time Paxton had producing all those punch outs. He just kept firing pitches across the plate, the A’s just kept waving at them, and one filthiest starts in recent memory unfolded as serenely as a baby’s nap.