MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Price argues against altering strike zone to benefit hitters

Price argues against altering strike zone to benefit hitters

What can be done to inject more offense into baseball? This has been a popular Spring Training topic in both Florida and Arizona, but it isn't particularly popular with pitchers, who like the direction of the game, which has been going distinctly toward their dominance.

One of the best conversations I heard on this topic was with Bryan Price, a thoughtful man who manages the Cincinnati Reds. Price was a Minor League pitcher, and then a pitching coach with the Mariners, the D-backs and the Reds before taking his current position. That personal history is clearly reflected in his comments, but that doesn't make his position any less valid.

The question that set off a response from Price that combined vehemence and intelligence was whether the strike zone could be adjusted to benefit the cause of offense.

"I thought we already adjusted the strike zone, from real big to real small," Price said with a smile. "I think the game kind of figures itself out."

For instance, Price noted, defensive shifts have worked to the detriment of hitters, as detailed statistical analysis has led to the repositioning of fielders. How can that development be offset?

"Maybe we get back to teaching the ability to hit the ball to all fields," Price said. "Maybe we spend more time on the hit-and-run and the stolen base. Maybe we focus on the value of a single run and isolate on guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark."

The game has been cyclical in regard to run-scoring and run-prevention.

"I always think that there's a punch and counterpunch in baseball," Price said. "My first year in Seattle, we were second in ERA in the league with an ERA that, last year, would have put you last in the National League, or very close to it. So I think it's punch and counterpunch, and the game's always evolving.

"I'd hate to see the strike zone be compromised any more than it has been. I think what will drive it will be fan interest. If fans stop watching baseball because there's not as many runs being scored, then the game itself and whoever decides on rules will try to do something to create more offense."

What about more aggression on the basepaths? There is a long and proud history of this kind of approach to baseball.

"The game used to be predicated on hitting the ball and you make the defense stop you," Price said. "So you get a base hit to center and you make the defense stop you. Now a lot of people will concede that the outfielder will come up with that ball cleanly and will make a perfect throw every time. And maybe what we need to be doing is focusing more on playing the game at a higher effort level and trying to create more offense through aggressiveness.

"I just think baseball can become very passive. There's not as much cause-and-effect now, because you just don't bench a guy making $20 million for not running hard to first. To counteract that, you've got to create other ways of finding offense, and maybe it's appreciating every base.

"Maybe it's knowledge of the strike zone. It's outrageous. Strikeouts have gone way up. People say: 'Well, it's the pitchers, the knowledge.' The hitters have the same knowledge of what pitchers throw in what counts as pitchers know what hitters like to hit in what counts. I don't think there's any huge advantage.

"That's my long answer of no; don't do any of that stuff [with the strike zone]. I just like the game the way it is. We're always evolving because of what we want more of. We want more pitching because we're tired of the 9-8 game. Maybe it's philosophy more than changing the rules. Let the philosophy of creating runs be the driving force not creating an environment that inevitably leads to more runs."

That thought about "playing the game at a higher effort level and trying to create more offense through aggressiveness" is music to the ears of people who care to comprehend the difference.

There is an even more compelling form of baseball available, and it doesn't consist of squeezing the strike zone and trying to hand the game back to the hitters. A game in full motion, like the one Price describes, looks like the more fulfilling alternative if more offense is desired, or preferred, or even vaguely necessary.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.