How to Make Major League Baseball Fun Again

The Strikeout and Home Run Era

Baseball is evolving towards two extremes. Every player is trying to jack home runs and every pitcher is pitching for the strikeout. In 2019 there was 6,776 home runs The previous record for the past 100+ years of baseball was 6,105, which includes the steroid era. In 2019 we also saw records for the most batters with 100 strikeouts at 153, and the most pitchers at 200 strikeouts at 22.

This is not good for baseball. While both plays are exciting in moderation, it takes away all the tension in the game. When a home run is hit or a strikeout happens, it kind of just happens. There is no lead up to it and there is no reason to be watching the game at that moment. It is fun and of course means the batter or pitcher achieved the ultimate goal for the AB, but it does not captivate the attention of the viewer.

Tension is what people love about sports, it is what creates intense sports memories. In baseball, the way you create tension is by having close games and runners on base. Hitting home runs and striking out both do not lend themselves to close games or base runners. It becomes less enjoyable to watch as there is no flow. Instead of a team game, it becomes rounds of one-on-one battles where the only goal is to strike out or knock it out of the park.

When runners are on base and the game is close, that is when you as a fan are at peak interest. Watching a baseball game already has lots of downtime and a lot of points in which there is not much tension. Eliminating the number of home runs and strikeouts to give the game more points in which that tension is there, is an absolute must for the game to survive. Whether it is on TV or when you are attending a game, you want it to be packed with moments where a base hit could decide the game.

There is an argument to be had that more offense would make the game more popular. However, when that offense is only produced through the home run ball, the game is not enjoyable. Getting six hits in the inning, having plays at the plate, pitchers pitching for the double play, and the infield playing in are the things that make the game fun to watch as a fan.

How to Change the Meta Game

baseballsA big cause of the home run or bust type baseball that we see is the analytics telling managers and coaches that this is the most efficient way to play the game. At this point with the numbers, there is no way to stop this. However, there is a myriad of steps that the MLB can take to incentivize more old-school baseball, getting one baserunner on at a time and moving the runner over.

The first and most obvious one is to stop juicing the baseball. It was clear not only by the numbers but by actually looking at the baseball itself that the MLB higher-ups were attempting to create more offense. The thing was that this offense did not come in the way of fun five-hit innings with a few runs scored. It came from HR after HR after HR which at some point takes too much away from all the nuance and complexity that there is in baseball which makes it great.

The baseball from years prior was absolutely fine. The number of home runs being hit and offense created seemed to be at a good level. If the MLB really wanted to increase offense and specifically, exciting offense that creates a flow to the game, they need to look elsewhere like eliminating the shift.

Probably one of the hardest sells to old school fans will be to eliminate the shift. The current shifts in baseball have become so effective and complex based on analytics of the batter, pitcher, situation, etc. that it has been almost impossible to be a Tony Gwynn-type player. No matter how much bat control you have, it seems like the defense is always in the position to make the play. This is killing the game for guys like Joe Panik, a smaller guy who thrives off of line drives, solid contact, singles, and doubles. There needs to be a place in baseball for players like that, or we would never have had Derek Jeter for example.

What would the elimination of the shift look like? I would propose two rules for the infield. One is that there must be two players on either side of second base in the infield. This means that you no longer can have the shortstop on the right side of the infield with only the third baseman playing the left. This allows for hits up the middle and hits into the hole on either side of the infield to be viable again.

The second part would be that the infielders must play on the infield when the pitch is thrown. Even without the shortstop on the right side, many teams would still play the second baseman in the outfield to eliminate hard-hit balls to that side of the field from producing base hits. Have the infield playing infield. Reward good hitters for hitting the ball hard in the park.

Being against this kind of rule is completely understandable, as it changes a lot of what the defense had control over. However, times have changed. Teams never had access to these kinds of complex data. It is too easy for teams to take away base hits and the batter needs to be incentivized to once again go for base hits instead of home runs.

Competitive Balance

Umpires have always been part of the game. Oftentimes the “human element” part of the game was a point of discussion to keep baseball in the news and the talk around water coolers at work. However, with new technology available and being able to in real-time see that the umpire has messed up only leads to frustration and no longer leads to conversation. There is no discussion to be had when everyone can objectively know that the umpire ruined a call, and ruined a game.

The electronic strike zone will most likely benefit hitters the most as they will be able to develop an extremely strong and definitive sense of the strike zone for every game they play. This will hopefully lead to more balls in play. The hope is that with the previous adjustments mentioned there are more base hits and more base runners.

The game needs heavier regulation on the types of bats used. While maple and ash both have their pros and cons, bats have an extreme amount of pop in today’s game. The players are simply stronger, the pitches are faster, and therefore, we are getting tons of home runs. Bats need to be adjusted, just slightly, to account for the amount of pop that is already being put into the game from the sheer strength of athletes.

The Rosters

aaronjudgeBan the designated hitter. This is going to be extremely controversial as many people argue to bring the DH to both leagues. However, the DH allows for many teams to add a huge body and a power threat, without facing the consequences of them being inept in the field. Baseball is about being able to hit and play some kind of defense. The DH literally eliminates half the game for some players to focus on hitting HRs, and that is simply not needed.

When a pitcher hits, yes, it is not pretty; however, it adds a ton of complexity to the NL that is simply not there in the AL. When a pitcher comes up later in the game the manager now has decisions to make about pitch hitting, bunting, letting him swing, etc. The DH makes the manager’s job easier and the game more on the surface. Baseball has survived since the 1800s being an extremely strategic and complex game. I see no reason that it now needs to be dumbed down with a designated hitter in both leagues.

Next, expand the rosters slightly. I think that the combination of eliminating the DH but adding a couple of roster spots is a great compromise. The DH is often brought up to argue that it allows for more position players to get contracts. Simply adding roster spots can do the exact same thing, especially for relief pitchers. Having more fresh faces and more ways for the manager to influence the game with new strategies allows the fan to get more invested into the current game that they are watching.

Limit arbitration, six years plus of control of a single player is insane. While teams do have to invest a lot into players with their farm system, having players be on the same team past their prime is ridiculous. Having crazy free agency periods, more trades, and more movement keeps the MLB in the news during the offseason. The NBA and NFL, two drastically different games and roster sizes, have achieved this. There is no reason why major league baseball cannot.

Adopting a salary cap can be one way in which expanding the rosters, and limiting arbitration still works for the franchises and ownership groups. A hard salary cap with rollover, similar to the NFL, is the best way to create parity in the league. Teams currently like the Los Angeles Dodgers, and New York Yankees can basically spend however much they want to create a great team. When you have ownership groups as rich as those the luxury tax will never be enough to dissuade them from ruining your league. These teams easily can hog all the talent, and force baseball fans to watch their product.


Baseball needs to do a lot to keep the audience interested in their game. This includes during the game by creating more situations in which tension and pressure are built. It also includes creating more offseason hype. Having more roster spots, more free agents, more trades, and keeping the complexity of the game will be key in the coming years.

Matthew Amato is a UC Berkeley Economics and Philosophy graduate. Matthew follows and writes about the NFL, Fantasy sports, MLB, European soccer, Professional Lacrosse, and e-sports. He has managed his own tournament baseball team and coached high school lacrosse. In his free time, Matthew used to compete competitively in Call of Duty and Counter-Strike.

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