July 17, 2017
The Boring Index
One of the concerns about contemporary baseball is that it’s becoming boring. The Three True Outcomes—walks, strikeouts, and home runs—have accounted for more than a third of all plate appearances so far this season, an all-time high.
That means less action on the field. We’re not just talking about, for example, fewer hit-and-runs; we’re talking less running altogether. Byron Buxton sprinting first-to-third, Jarrod Dyson chasing down a liner to the gap, Yasiel Puig throwing out a runner—that’s exciting. Players walking to and from the dugout, trotting around the bases, or taking first base on a walk—not so much. On a related note, 42 percent of runs so far this year have scored on homers, the highest percentage ever.
That being said, if you’re a fan, the Three True Outcomes aren’t necessarily boring. A Red Sox fan doesn’t think Chris Sale strikeouts are boring. A Reds fan knows the mayhem that can follow a walk to Billy Hamilton. Yankee fans watch Aaron Judge at-bats hoping for a home run. The Three True Outcomes are boring only if your team is the victim, not if it’s the perpetrator.
So let’s try to quantify boredom from the perspective of the batter, or of the fan watching the batter. A strikeout, if not fascist, is boring. Watching your team’s batters carry their bats back to the dugout isn’t exciting. And you know what’s an underrated play for being boring? Pop ups. Pop ups are pretty much like strikeouts: Automatic outs, no chance of advancing baserunners. (Well, like dropped third strikes, hardly ever.)