Strikeouts up, home runs, scoring down

Tuesday, May 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ One month after baseball started to enforce its new strike zone, strikeouts are up, while walks, home runs, batting average and ERA are all down.

This is what baseball Commissioner Bud Selig envisioned when he demanded that umpires move the strike zone up and narrow it.

Still, the new strike zone has not done much to speed up games, as baseball had hoped. Through Sunday, the average time of a nine-inning game was 2 hours, 54 minutes, a decrease of only three minutes from last season.

For 20 years, the strike zone had gotten lower and wider because umpires were ignoring the definition that had been in the rule book for more than a century. This season, Selig ordered umpires to go by the book.

On average, there were 2.34 home runs per game in April, down 8.6 percent from the record of 2.54 in the first month of last season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, baseball's statistician. However, the 2001 average is still 5.4 percent above the 1999 average of 2.22.

Walks in April decreased 13.3 percent, from 7.82 per game to 6.78. And strikeouts increased 5.4 percent, from 12.91 to 13.61.

David Justice, a designated hitter with the New York Yankees, struck out four times in a game against the Boston Red Sox before hitting a game-winning home run. After 11 years in the majors, he was trying to adjust to the new strike zone.

``That's not easy,'' he said. ``As soon as you see a ball's high, you swing. If you don't approach it right, you pop up.''

Year-to-year statistical comparisons have become more difficult because of the opening in recent years of new ballparks with different _ and usually smaller and more hitter-friendly _ dimensions.

Whatever the factors, offense is down this year, with batting average dropping 3.7 percent (.270 to .260), runs falling 10.6 percent (10.75 per game to 9.61) and hits decreasing 4.4 percent (18.56 to 1.774).

Among power categories, doubles dropped 9.1 percent (3.81 per game to 3.46) and triples fell 7.3 percent (0.41 to 0.38).

Pitchers have been the beneficiaries, with the major league ERA falling 9.5 percent, from 4.93 to 4.46.