August 22, 2017

Is the Decline in Major League Baseball Offense Over?

July 11, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Offensive production in major league baseball has been steadily declining since it peaked in 2000.  It appears that it may have reached a low point in 2014.  At the midpoint of the 2015 season, offense is showing a slight increase over last year.

The numbers below illustrate key hitting and pitching statistics for the peak year of 2000 and the last three years.  The 2015 figures are for the first half of the season:

Hitting Stats 2000 2013 2014 2015
Runs Per Game 5.14 4.17 4.07 4.11
Batting Average .270 .253 .251 .253
On-Base Pct. .345 .318 .311 .311
Slugging Pct. .437 .396 .386 .396
On-base Plus Slugging .782 .714 .700 710

 

Pitching Stats 2000 2013 2014 2015
ERA 4.76 3.86 3.74 3.82
WHIP 1.468 1.300 1.275 1.279

 

From these figures, it can be seen that the decline in offense continued in all categories in 2014.  However, in 2015, the trend has either stopped or been reversed.  Another indicator of offensive performance is the number of players who are on target to combine hitting for both average and power to achieve a .300 batting average, 30 home runs and 100 RBIs.  In 2014, only two players achieved all three (Victor Martinez and Jose Abreu) but at midseason, neither are on target to repeat in 2015.  However, four others are on target (.300-15-50) and nine others are close (.290-13-45).  Figures are for games through July 5.

On Target .300-15-50 Comments
Bryce Harper .347-25-60 Breakthrough Season
Nelson Cruz .304-21-50 Started very strong.
Paul Goldschmidt .348-20-67 Strong MVP candidate.
Miguel Cabrera .350-15-54 Derailed by injury.
Close 300-15-50 Comments
Mike Trout .299-21-45 Has never made all three.
Josh Donaldson .296-19-56 Does everything well
Manny Machado .299-17-46 Coming on strong
Adrian Gonzalez .291-15-50 Mister consistency
Anthony Rizzo .292-15-45 Emerging star
Adam Lind .298-14-51 Flies under the radar.
Buster Posey .304-14-57 Building HOF career.
Prince Fielder .347-13-50 Strong comeback after 2014 surgery.
Stephen Vogt .293-13-53 Oakland’s best hitter.

A number of theories have been advanced for the decline in offense since 2000.  Probably the most significant is the greater control over the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).  Other factors are a perceived increase in the size of the strike zone at the low end, the arrival of an exceptional group of starting pitchers (Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright, Madison Bumgarner, David Price, Zack Greinke, etc.), the improvement of bullpens with most teams able to send out a series of flame throwing relievers in the late innings and the all or nothing “grip it and rip it” approach taken by many hitters which makes them more vulnerable to good pitching.

Another change since 2000 that has possibly been under-reported is the significant change in walk and strikeout rates:

Year 2000 2013 2014 2015
Strikeouts per game per team 6.45 7.55 7.70 7.57
Walks per game per team 3.75 3.01 2.88 2.83
Walk/Strikeout Ratio 1.72 2.51 2.67 2.67

The higher strikeout rate and lower walk rate have both resulted in decreased scoring.

What has changed in 2015?  The decline may have run its course but a more significant factor may be the arrival in recent years of a number of exceptional young hitters who are beginning to reach the prime of their careers (Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, George Springer, Andrew McCutchen, Paul Goldschmidt, Buster Posey, Joc Pederson, etc.).

There was talk during the off season that some changes, such as lowering the pitching mound, might be appropriate to return more offense to the game.  The evidence so far in 2015 suggests that such changes would be premature.

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