Counsell: Pitching 'velocity has changed game'

Brewers patient, but taking many called third strikes

Counsell: Pitching 'velocity has changed game'

MILWAUKEE -- Why are the Brewers taking so many called third strikes?

It's the pitching, manager Craig Counsell argued on Thursday.

"I think we're in an age of baseball where the velocity of pitchers has changed the game," Counsell said. "I'll never forget Robin Yount -- and this was 10 years ago -- saying, 'If guys threw this hard when I played, I might have been in trouble.' He said that as a coach.

"Velocity has changed the game. We want baseball to stay the same and never change, but the game doesn't stay the same. It changes. We're in a place right now that walks are up, strikeouts are up, velocity is up. It's harder to put the ball in play."

All of those things are true of the 2016 Brewers. Entering Thursday's series finale against the Cubs, they had swung at the fewest pitches (41.9 percent) in the Major Leagues. That held true on pitches both outside the strike zone (23 percent) and inside the strike zone (61.8 percent).

The results of that newfound patience were mixed. The Brewers were tied for eighth of 30 teams with a .331 on-base percentage, but they ranked 18th with a .245 batting average. They ranked third-worst with a 25.2 percent strikeout rate but second-best with a 11.1 percent walk rate.

Through Wednesday, when the Brewers struck out looking six times, all in the seventh inning or later in a 13-inning, 2-1 loss to the Cubs, Milwaukee batters had taken more called third strikes -- 138 -- than any team in baseball. The D-backs were second with 104, and the Blue Jays and Astros were the only other team with more than 100.

Domingo Santana led the Brewers with 18 strikeouts looking. Chris Carter had 16. Among other notables, Rule 5 Draft pick Colin Walsh had 11 in just 59 plate appearances, and rookie outfielder Ramon Flores had nine, including a critical strikeout looking to end the 10th inning Wednesday with the winning run on third base.

"I do think the game has this beautiful way of calibrating itself, but it is more difficult now [to put the ball in play]," Counsell said. "I'm saying this as a former player, watching the pitchers on the mound. …

"There's multitudes of ways to talk about this, but one of them is, do you get hits on pitches at the edge of the strike zone? Should you swing at it with two strikes, or take it? We had this conversation this morning, actually. Can you get a hit if you swing at it? The ideal result for a hitter [on a pitch at the edge of the zone] is a foul ball, actually. But there are five hitters in the game who can intentionally hit foul balls.

"Contact ability is a skill. It's definitely a skill. And because velocity is going up, it's becoming rarer, I think."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.