Friday, May 14, 2010

Time to Raise the Mounds Again?

In the past couple of weeks we've seen a perfect game, and two one-hitters. Doesn't it seem like there have been more good pitching performances than usual? Nobody outside if Konerko is really hitting a lot of homers. Is pitching back? It's early yet and a part of a year doesn't tell a tale that won't really be finished until October, but the numbers do suggest that pitching is stronger this year than in a long time. Or, the hitters are not hitting as well. What do the numbers show?

The Fan is glad you asked:

In 2010:

  • Runs per game (4.5) are down to their lowest levels since 1992.
  • Hits per game (8.72) are down to their lowest levels since 1992.
  • Home runs per nine innings is under 1.00 for the first time since 1993.
  • Batting averages (.256) are at their lowest point since 1992.
  • Strike outs are at an all time high (7.08).
  • On Base Percentage is at its lowest since 2002.
  • Slugging percentage is at its lowest point since 1993.
  • OPS is at its lowest since (you guessed it) 1992.

Now it's sure as shooting that a lot of people will say that these numbers reflect a new game after the game was cleaned up from PEDs. But that is saying that pitchers didn't take PEDs like hitters did. Mr. Pettitte, Mr. Clemens and others will beg to differ. A lack of PEDs would be the easiest answer, but there are two points about that. First, how do we know that nobody is using? We don't. Second, if 80% of the league was using and logic dictates that the users would be equal between pitchers and batters, shouldn't they level themselves out? Believe what you want, but this Fan doesn't think that's the answer.

Possible factors could include:

  • The trend of teams going with cheaper young players versus older but marginal experienced players.
  • Better leveraging of data on hitting tendencies employed by teams who now regularly hire sabermatricians.
  • The blind eye to high strikeout levels by batters putting less balls in play.
  • Less aggressiveness at the plate as teams focus on On Base Percentage and lengthening at bats.
  • The loss of the high strike which means that a hanging breaking ball is taken for a ball instead of hit for a homer.
  • The revolution of the cut fastball. It seems everyone is throwing one now.
  • Better grooming of young pitchers and Joba-like rules for them.
  • Increased focus on defense.
  • A combination of all of the above?

The Fan isn't a great math guy and proving any of the theories above would take an extraordinary amount of work. But the main fact is that offenses aren't what they used to be or pitchers are better than they used to be. Or maybe Bud Selig has secretly inserted deader baseballs to prove he's cleaned up the game. Who knows. Only one fifth of the season has been completed and a lot can change between now and the end of the season. Perhaps as the weather heats up, so will the offenses. The Fan will keep checking from time to time to see how it all plays out. And if any great sabermatic articles appear that shed any light on the topic, the Fan will pass them on your way.

1 comment:

Josh Borenstein said...

All you need to do is look at David Ortiz. The days when 50 HRs from guys who shouldn't have been hitting more than 35 are over. And I, for one, am glad.