BOSTON — Tampa Bay Rays slugger Corey Dickerson came to bat last weekend at Fenway Park with a runner on first base. Rick Porcello threw him five fastballs.

Dickerson swung at four of them, fouling off a 1-2 pitch, before flailing at a 93 mph outside heater and walking back to the dugout.

It’s a familiar stroll. Dickerson has struck out 144 times this season, 15th-highest among American League batters.

It doesn’t bother him. Dickerson, like many other hitters in the game today, would rather swing for the fences. He ranks 24th in the AL with 26 home runs – more than anyone on the Red Sox.

“You don’t want to just try to get a little single and then that produces nothing for the team,” Dickerson said. “If you can create power, to get runs on the board, it’s definitely rewarding to the team.”

Home runs – and strikeouts – are on a record pace this season in major league baseball.


Pitchers are allowing 1.27 home runs a game – up from 1.16 last year. The previous high was 1.17 in 2000, during the Steroid Era.

They also are averaging 8.33 strikeouts every nine innings. The strikeout rate has been on a steady increase for years – 8.10 per nine innings last season compared to 10 years ago (6.67) and 25 years ago (5.6).

Remember the “Year of the Pitcher” in 1968, prompting the mound height to be lowered from 15 inches to 10? The strikeout rate then was 5.89 per nine innings.

Now it’s 8.33. That means nearly one-third of the outs in a nine-inning game are strikeouts.

It’s dulling the sport. Strikeouts usually take more pitches, contributing to longer games. This season the average nine-inning game is 3 hours, 5 minutes – an all-time high.

It may be exciting to string up the K’s when Chris Sale is pitching, but overall, which would a fan rather see: batters walking back to the dugout or fielders making plays? I’ll take the web gems.


But the strikeouts keep coming.

“Pitchers have more consistent, dominant stuff,” said Portland Sea Dogs slugger Mike Olt (16 homers in 2017), who has played with both the Cubs and White Sox.

“Pitchers have more (velocity). They have a tendency to get ahead in the count.”

The average major league fastball is 92.8 mph, up from 89 in 2002 (the first year that velocity was tracked by

“I just think all the pitchers are getting stronger,” Dickerson said. “They’re throwing harder and hitting is one of the toughest things to do.”

Yes, pitchers are improved. But what about the old adage of “protecting the plate” with two strikes? You know, choke up. Make contact.


That is so yesterday. Hitters no longer seem content with simply making contact. The power swing they take with no strikes is now the same one they use with two.

“That’s the way the game has changed,” said Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez. “I remember when I played (1977-95), striking out was a big deal. We used to worry about putting the ball in play.

“Now, with two strikes, we’re still looking for that mistake and try to do damage. That’s what it is – do or die. You take your chances and either hit the ball hard or strike out.”

The Red Sox don’t want their players to strike out. They begin working with younger players on their pitch selection.

“We talk about a general approach with two strikes,” said Red Sox minor league hitting coordinator Greg Norton. “It’s not that I want guys completely overhauling their swing, where it’s uncomfortable. It’s more of a mindset – just a bear-down mentality.

“I don’t like to say ‘protect’ because that’s a negative. I still want them to be aggressive with the barrel. But I want our guys to be a tough out.”


Sea Dogs hitting coach Lee May Jr., who also has coached in Class A for the Red Sox, said the swing-for-the-fence mentality hurts the hitter.

“By all means, you want guys to go out and drive the baseball,” May said. “Home runs are the byproduct of a good swing and a line drive approach.

Home runs usually translate to scoring more runs … as long as a team is getting other runners on base.

In 2016, the Red Sox had David Ortiz and ranked seventh in the AL in homers, while leading the league in runs. This season Boston has only 153 homers, worst in the league.

But it still ranks sixth in runs, in part because the Red Sox are fifth in on-base percentage.

Three of the top four home-run hitting teams in the American League are also 1-2-3 in runs – Houston, New York and Texas.


The Astros are the rare team that combines power with a solid on-base percentage (league-best .345), while avoiding strikeouts (977, fewest in the league).

The Yankees have the fourth-highest strikeout total but are third in on-base percentage and fourth in homers.

“You can strike out X-number of times and it’s not that big of a deal as long as you produce on the other end,” said former Red Sox pitcher Lenny DiNardo, now a NESN analyst.

Power on the mound is also coveted.

“Now guys are getting drafted based on the radar gun,” DiNardo said. “They draft them and then teach them how to pitch.”

The power pitchers strike out more batters but apparently also throw more mistakes, which are being swatted over the fences.


“It seems like everybody strikes out 100 times,” Rodriguez said, “but it’s OK as long as they have production.”

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

Twitter: @ClearTheBases

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