March 24, 2017

Major League Offense Increases in 2015, Ending a Long Decline

December 15, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

At mid-season, I wrote a report indicating that there were signs that the long decline in offense in the major leagues that began in 2000 was coming to an end.  An update at season’s end indicates that the increase in offense is greater than it was at mid-season.

The numbers below illustrate key hitting and pitching statistics for the peak year of 2000 plus 2005 and 2010 followed by each year since 2010.

Table 1: Selected Offensive Categories by Year
2000 2005 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Team Runs Per Game 5.14 4.86 4.38 4.28 4.32 4.17 4.07 4.25
BAVG .270 .269 .257 .255 .255 .253 .251 .254
OBP .345 .337 .325 .321 .319 .319 .314 .317
Slugging .437 .432 .403 .399 .405 .396 .386 .405
OPS .782 .768 .722 .720 .724 .714. .700 .721

 

Table 2: Selected Pitching Categories by Year
2000 2005 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
ERA 4.77 4.29 4.08 3.94 4.01 3.87 3.74 3.96
WHIP 1.468 1.369 1.347 1.316 1.309 1.300 1.275 1.294

 

From these figures, it can be seen that the decline in offense continued in all categories in 2014.  However, in 2015, the trend has been reversed.  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 increase in defensive shifting, 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:

Table 3: Additional Pitching Categories by Year
2000 2005 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Avg. Team Strikeouts Per Game 6.45 6.30 7.06 7.10 7.50 7.55 7.70 7.57
Avg. Team Walks Per Game 3.75 3.13 3.25 3.09 3.03 3.01 2.88 2.83
K/BB 1.72 2.01 2.17 2.30 2.48 2.51 2.67 2.67

 

The higher strikeout rate and lower walk rate have both resulted in decreased scoring.  The strikeout rate showed a slight decline in 2015 which would tend to increase offensive production.

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, Carlos Correa, etc.).

There was talk during the off season last year that some changes, such as lowering the pitching mound, might be appropriate to return more offense to the game.  The evidence in 2015 suggests that any such changes would be premature.  With only one data point at this point, it cannot be determined if offense will level out or an upward trend may be beginning.

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