Baseball as a spectator sport has a problem due to sabermetrics’ emphasis on the Three True Outcomes: home run, walk, and strikeout, as opposed to old fashioned elements of the game like the one base hit, the stolen base, the sacrifice bunt, the hit and run and so forth. Amateur statistical experts demonstrated in the late 20th Century that most of those old strategies going back to the Dead Ball Era were obsolete. It made more sense to try to maximize home runs hit over the fence, because that also increased the number of walks given up by pitchers now scared of throwing one down the middle. The expense of increased strikeouts by batters was worth it because who cares.
Therefore, a lot of teams these days like the rich Dodgers and Yankees are built around the idea of putting 7 or 8 guys in the lineup who can hit 20 or more homers per season and wait around for them to do their thing. If they hit 3 or more homers in a game, their team usually wins, but if they don’t hit any, they aren’t all that likely to manufacture a win.
The Dodgers, for example, have amazed their fans by winning two straight playoff games without hitting a homer. The LA Times is now playing the current Dodgers up as suddenly being the second coming of the undertalented 1988 Dodgers who somehow stole the World Series from the homer hitting Oakland Bash Brothers (Canseco, McGwire, and other early juicers).
But the 2018 Dodgers usually don’t have that many rallies where they are getting closer and closer to pushing a run across home plate. Instead, it’s wait around for somebody to hit one out. American football is a great spectator sport because of the rising hope and tension of the drive down the field. Basketball isn’t as good because there is too much scoring of equal value goals.
Baseball has less of this kind of football-like rising tension these days.
As I explained in 2014, subtle changes in the playing area could advantage line drive hitters relative to the now dominant flyball hitters, leading to more action, more triples. For example, in most ballparks homeplate could be moved back 5 feet, leading to more long balls than bounce off the fence or are snagged by leaping outfielders.
More subtly, the playing surface could be optimized for balls to roll faster. We don’t want to go back to the rock hard artificial turf of the 1970s and 1980s that wrecked Andre Dawson’s knees. But it did make for a more fun style of baseball than at present. But groundskeepers could keep from overwatering the grass in pursuit of a deep emerald color. Golf course groundskeepers now know how to keep fairways both a beautiful green yet quick enough for tee shots to roll quite a bit further than in 1980.
One of the most exciting plays in baseball is when a live drive bounces between the outfielders and rolls all the way to the fence. Modern groundskeepers ought to be able to increase the odds of that happening.
More radically, baseball should experiment with sloping the field slightly downhill from homeplate to make rolling and bouncing hit balls go ever so slightly faster, which would give a modest advantage to line driver hitters who are being crowded out of the game by home run hitters. The Lords’ cricket ground in London has a slope of 9 feet to it, which sounds like too much, but what if a MLB field sloped down 3 feet from homeplate to the outfield fence?
One amusing effect would be on running the bases. Hitters would get down to first base slightly faster due to running downhill, increasing the number of close plays at first on seemingly routine ground balls. On the other hand, running from second to home on a single to the outfield would be slightly harder due to being slightly uphill. Today, runners on second typically score easily on singles to the outfield, but if they were slowed down by having to run uphill, there would more often be a play at the plate, which is one of the most exciting parts of the game. That’s probably my favorite play: runner on second, line drive hit falling in front of an outfielder charging in who comes up throwing to the catcher who makes a tag at home. For athletic beauty, a throw-out at home plate is way up there.
Okay, here’s a video of a whole bunch of attempted inside the park homers getting thrown out at home plate, which are more comic than the classic play at the plate off a single because they usually start with an outfielder misplaying the ball and end with the batter chugging out of breath toward home: