For the first time in the history of the MLB, the 2018 season saw the total number of batter hits be less than strikeouts. See chart below:

Hits have consistently been about 10,000+ higher than strikeouts for the last 40 years. Then, starting around 2009-2010, they have gradually decreased until this season, where strikeouts league-wide were more than hits.

What is the reason for this? Is it a symptom of umpiring somehow? I don't think it's steroids - it seems once a month a pitcher's name is called out for a lengthy suspension.

Hits Ks and HRs

3 Answers 3


There is probably no single reason for the increase in strikeouts, but a combination of things that have added up over the years.

The most important reason though is that pitchers are throwing harder now than they ever have.

See this article from Craig Edwards at Fangraphs: https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/dont-blame-hitters-for-all-the-strikeouts/

He shows that fastball velocity is highly correlated with strikeout rate.

It is also possible, however, that changing their approaches might lead hitters to produce less valuable outcomes or, worse, abandon the very strengths that allowed them to become major leaguers in the first place. That isn’t fair to hitters. What I’d like to posit here is a much simpler explanation for the rise in strikeouts — namely, that pitchers are too good. Fastball velocity has increased at a steady rate, some of that due to the rise of relief innings around the league and some of it probably to dramatic improvements in training and development. That’s not really the point of this post, though. The point of this post is to discuss one particular cause of the increase in strikeouts that likely has little to do with launch angle or players trying to hit home runs, but rather the talent level of the pitchers and a change in philosophy.

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While it isn't a new idea, there is a huge trend in current hitting philosophy to try to hit home runs on every swing. Launch angles, true outcomes, etc. As a consequence, striking out is much more acceptable than before and players aren't choking up on the bat and just trying to make contact anymore. So there's been a steady increase of strikeouts in recent years.

  • Out of curiosity, do you have home run data to support this? My idea was defensive shifts. Batters are trying to bat away from their tendencies due to defensive shifts and that's causing more strikeouts, but it's merely an unproven theory.
    – user16112
    Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 11:55
  • Actually, players have been blaming juiced baseballs for the actual rise in homers, but pretty much every columnist has written about how the slugging trend has "ruined" baseball.
    – pboss3010
    Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 12:05
  • @user16112 See e.g. FiveThirtyEight and Washington Post. Defensive shifts don't matter if you're hitting the ball over them :-)
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 13:01
  • @PhilipKendall Thanks for the articles. The case I had in mind regarding defensive shifts was Chris Davis. His strikeouts may have gone up by percentage, but any metric shows the number of hits he has had has gone down and many attribute it to him attempting to combat the shift. That doesn't explain the overall number of hits remaining relatively steady this decade, however.
    – user16112
    Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 13:19
  • I've updated the data sheet to include the percentage of hits that are HR per each year. While it does look to be spiked over the last 2-3 years, it seems constant before that. Not sure HR is the answer, at least solely. Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 15:11

I've had a discussion just now with a colleague whom I've been at odds over one subject.

For years I fought for the honest ballplayer, and have damned any who use steroids.

I think this data shows the effect of rigorous steroid testing. If what we have heard about Barry Bonds is true, that under the influence of PEDs he could see the ball better and make solid contact on a more consistent basis, then maybe the reduction of steroids league-wide is causing this lack of ability of players to make contact over the last 10 years (during which the same time, drug testing has been implemented and is scaring players to play honestly).

As a footnote, I will say, I may have changed my mind. If a player wants to perform at some godly level, let him abuse his body as he pleases. I may not have liked Bonds' persona, but it was damned exciting seeing the fireworks.

  • No year since 2010 has the overall batting average been above .260. Between 2000-2009, no year has the overall batting average been below .260. This might be one reason why.
    – user16112
    Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 19:07
  • You are saying the same thing as the premise, only expressing it as a percentage rather than a whole number. The hits have been down for the last 8-10 years, yes. But why? Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 19:29
  • you didn't answer the question Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 2:23
  • If you can't infer an answer, that's on you Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 2:39

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