For those most aghast at the current state of baseball, those who bemoan every homer and roll their eyes at every strikeout (presuming they're not busy yelling at a cloud), the 2018 Futures Game – easily overlooked by virtue of the fact that it remains indefensibly scheduled for the Sunday afternoon preceding the All-Star break – was a disquieting omen.
"People go to watch baseball for entertainment purposes," Alonso told Baseball America's J.J. Cooper. "There were strikeouts, home runs, double plays. I don’t know what more you would want in a baseball game from a fan standpoint. Today was super special."
Indeed, it was, particularly because it murdered any hope that the style of baseball your grandfather enjoyed – and pines for, currently – will be en vogue again anytime soon.
Consider first how the game has transformed at the major-league level in recent years, specifically with respect to how often balls are put in play and what they look like on contact:
|Year||Average FB velo (MPH)||K%||HR%||Average launch angle (degrees)||BB%|
With velocities steadily increasing over the years (the slight dip in 2018 notwithstanding), strikeouts have become more abundant and largely de-stigmatized. For hitters, this has been liberating, allowing them to focus on getting the ball in the air, as Josh Donaldson and J.D. Martinez and Daniel Murphy will attest – even with two strikes – because they're no longer governed by fear of striking out. This fly-ball revolution has produced a surge in home runs, which has, in turn, compelled pitchers to throw fewer pitches in the strike zone, leading to more walks. The result: fewer balls in play than ever. At the season's unofficial midway point, the league-wide Three True Outcome rate for 2018 sits at roughly 33.9 percent, an all-time record.
And if a showcase comprised of the game's top minor leaguers is any indication, the next generation of big-league superstars won't be any more inclined to slap 0-2 singles to protect their batting averages nor pitch to contact in the name of economy.
Sunday night, seven different players combined to slug eight homers, with Yusniel Diaz, a 21-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers prospect, becoming just the second player in the game's 20-year history to go deep twice. Nearly 21 percent of the game's plate appearances ended with a strikeout. More outs were recorded in the air than on the ground. Hunter Greene, the electric Cincinnati Reds youngster, hummed in a fastball that registered 103 miles per hour on the stadium radar gun; since MLB stadiums were outfitted with Statcast technology in 2015, only three pitchers - Aroldis Chapman, Jordan Hicks, and Mauricio Cabrera - have matched that velocity at the big-league level. Meanwhile, Jorge Guzman also reached triple digits, and another six pitchers touched 96 on the gun.
And it was all of it wildly entertaining. I mean, look at this.
Seriously, look at this:
In the biggest showcase of their young lives, the kids put on a show, because they know what plays in The Show: winning. And despite the endless prattling from a generation of fans that insists nothing is more important than getting down a sacrifice bunt, these teens – who grew up reading FanGraphs and have probably had a coach shove a run expectancy matrix into their hands at some point – know what wins games. Hitters need to hit homers, and shortening up with two strikes to poke an opposite-field single instead of swinging hard to potentially lift a ball out of the ballpark isn't a strategically sound play. Pitchers, moreover, need to miss bats because chaos is a batted ball, and once contact is made, they have zero control.
And, ultimately, this brand of baseball is more conducive to spectacular moments than the style that Jack Morris enthusiasts continue to endorse.
Untethered to antiquated notions of how baseball should be played, this insanely gifted crop of prospects – reminder: neither Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Royce Lewis played Sunday – let loose in the Futures Game, as they always do, and provided the (unreasonably small) viewing audience with terrific entertainment. Soon enough, they'll all be doing it on a major-league stage.
Unless you've obstinately refused to evolve along with the game, what more could you want?
Jonah Birenbaum is theScore's senior MLB writer. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.