Tagged: Scoring Decline

On Scoring’s Decline (Updated)

Scoring is down in Major League Baseball. In 2009, runs per game per team stood at 4.64, while in 2010 it stands at 4.47, a decline of 3.66%.

Some commentators are calling 2010 “the year of the dominant pitcher.”  Okay, I guess.  The guys who are actually dominant pitchers are more dominant.  Bill at “The Daily Something” blog makes the points that (1) there’s not enough data to reach a conclusion and (2) it’s just the most dominant guys who are being more dominant.  

As long as everyone realizes it’s not 1968.  

In the first place, scoring is only down relative to last year by 3.66%.  In the second place, scoring was much lower in the late sixties than in the current era of baseball.  In ’68 scoring was 3.42 runs/game which represented a decline of 9.28% from 1967, when scoring stood at 3.77 runs/game.  So, scoring in ’68 was more than a run lower per team per game than it is so far in 2010 and the decline from the previous season was around two and one half times the size of the decline from last year to this season.  

In fact, the decline of 3.66% between 2009 and 2010 is a pretty moderate fluctuation in year-to-year scoring levels.  

I took a look at scoring in every season since 1958.  Why ’58?  I mean, that’s pretty arbitrary, right?  There are two reasons for that choice: (1) West Coast Major League baseball began that season and (2) I wanted to start at a time when we are pretty sure that baseball was integrated (except for Boston, which, astonishingly and dismayingly, didn’t integrate until ’59).  

Bold face represents what I thought were aberrant figures based on the scoring levels in the years around the highlighted season.

Year       R/G         % change prev yr

1958       4.28       

1959       4.38                       2.34

1960       4.31                        -1.60

1961       4.53                        5.10

1962       4.46                        -1.55

1963       3.95                        -11.43

1964       4.04                        2.28

1965       3.99                        -1.24

1966       3.99                        0.00

1967       3.77                        -5.51

1968       3.42                        -9.28

1969       4.07                        19.01

1970       4.34                        6.63

1971       3.89                        -10.37

1972       3.69                        -5.14

19
73       4.21                        14.09

1974       4.12                        -2.14

1975       4.21                        2.18

1976       3.99                        -5.23

1977       4.47                        12.03

1978       4.10                        -8.28

1979       4.46                        8.78

1980       4.29                        -3.81

1981       4.00                        -6.76

1982       4.30                        7.50

1983       4.31                        0.23

1984       4.26                        -1.16

1985       4.33                        1.64

1986       4.41                        1.85

1987       4.72                        7.03

1988       4.14                        -12.29

1989       4.13                        -0.24

1990       4.26                        3.15

1991       4.31                        1.17

1992       4.12                        -4.41

1993       4.60                        11.65

1994       4.92                        6.96

1995       4.85                        -1.42

1996       5.04                        3.92

1997       4.77   
                    
-5.36

1998       4.79                        0.42

1999       5.08                        6.05

2000       5.14                        1.18

2001       4.78                        -7.00

2002       4.62                        -3.35

2003       4.73                        2.38

2004       4.81                        1.69

2005       4.59                        -4.57

2006       4.86                        5.88

2007       4.80                        -1.23

2008       4.65                        -3.12

2009       4.64                        -0.22

2010       4.47                        -3.66

At any rate, here’s what we find:  Over the 53 seasons’ worth of scoring data, the average change in scoring from a previous season is 6.56%. In only one season, 1966, did we see no change in scoring from the previous season. 

Changes in scoring of 2% or larger (either +2% or -2%) occurred 36 times in those 53 seasons; 18 times there were increases of 2% or more; 18 times there were declines of 2% or more.  
Changes in scoring of 3.66% or more occurred in 27 of the 53 seasons in this study, meaning that slightly more than half of the seasons analyzed experienced changes in scoring at least as large as the change in scoring between 2009 and 2010.  13 seasons saw increases in scoring of 3.66% or more; 14 seasons saw declines of at least 3.66%.  

Like I said, scoring hasn’t declined all that much, and even if the most dominant pitchers are dominating, they certainly aren’t dominating like they were in 1968.

UPDATE–Bog Nightengale of USA Today gets into the act, declaring that the rash of perfect games and near no-hitters shows that “pitchers are ruling hitters in 2010.”  I suppose it looks like it does, but that’s only noise, for the signal still shows that the decline in scoring is slight, and, more importantly, we’re only looking at part of the season.  But I suppose it’s the nature of humans to pay more attention to the exceptions rather than the rule.  Still, you’d figure he would have done some homework on the overall scoring level….

UPDATE 2–Joel Sherman of The New York Daily News argues that drug testing and new pitching stars are “tilting [the] scales in pitchers’ favor.”  He says: 

Strike frequency has not increased this year. Yet one baseball person after another talked about a shift in philosophy. This was summed up by an AL executive who said, “Pitchers are seeing smaller bodies, less bat speed and less carry [when the ball is in the air], so that is making them slowly get braver about challenging hitters without fear that everyone is going to hit a homer.”

One veteran hitter observed, “The confidence factor has changed. Pitchers are confident again, hitters are a little less confident, and so much of the game is mental.”

As well as:

Seven of the majors’ 10 best ERAs were by pitchers 26 or younger. Thirteen pitchers 26 or younger entered the weekend with ERAs of 3.00 or lower. There were seven last year. Only Tim Lincecum did it in 2008. Only Jake Peavy in 2007. And no one 26 or under did it in 2006. See a trend?


You will find a revival with a Livan Hernandez or Andy Pettitte, continuing brilliance from Halladay or Chris Carpenter. But the biggest population of stellar pitchers now is 26 and under. Both Cy Young winners last year — Lincecum and Zack Greinke — were 25, and there had not been two 25-or-younger winners since 1985 (Dwight Gooden and Bret Saberhagen).

And Sherman touts the importance of the cut fastball:

“Mariano Rivera, bless his heart, has opened a lot of eyes,” Mark Teixeira said. “The cutter is the best pitch in baseball.”

More and more pitchers are throwing it. For example, Rivera taught it to Halladay at an All-Star Game, and Halladay went from superb to a Hall of Famer. The pitch has been vital to Hughes, and also to the growth of another emerging young starter, Jonathon Niese. It essentially provides a pitch that does not heavily tax arms and is invaluable in staying off the sweet spot when behind in the count.

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1968 All Over Again?

That’s what Bob Nightengale of USA Today is wondering.  He sort of has a point, as scoring is down in the Majors, but to call it 1968 is getting pretty wild: scoring in ’68 was 3.42 runs/game.

Right now scoring is 4.47 runs/game, which is 31% higher than ’68.  A runs/game level that would be 31% higher than it is in 2010 would be a league where each team scored 5.86 runs per game; that should take our breaths away and make us realize just how much higher scoring is now than in 1968.  
2010’s scoring level of 4.47 runs/game is a decline since 2006 of .39 runs/game (a decline of 8%), but there have been much more startling fluctuations in the last 10 years, for if you look at the data set from this decade (2001-2009) you’ll see that 2005 presents a much larger aberration than whatever is going on now, a sudden lull in scoring sandwiched between two fat numbers.
2009 MLB scoring was 4.61 runs/game.
2008 MLB scoring was 4.65 runs/game.
2007 MLB scoring was 4.80 runs/game.
2006 MLB scoring was 4.86 runs/game.
2005 MLB scoring was 4.59 runs/game
2004 MLB scoring was 4.81 runs/game
2003 MLB scoring was 4.73 runs/game
2002 MLB scoring was 4.62 runs/game.
2001 MLB scoring was 4.78 runs/game.
Scoring declined 6.7% from 2004 to 2005, and then increased by 8.1% from 2005 to 2006.  I–well, baseball watchers generally–would need to look more closely at year-to-year fluctuations in scoring to see if there’s anything truly unusual about the amount of fluctuation between last year and this year, which is .14 runs/game, a decline of 3%.  That’s right: 3%.  Just outside the margin of error.   
On the other hand, ’68 was quite an aberration, for scoring in ’67 was 3.77 runs/game, meaning that 1968 saw a decline of .35 runs per game per team, a rate of decline of 9.2% in one season.
To return to the now: 2010’s level of scoring is lower than any of the other years shown.  Possible explanations include, but are not limited to:  (1) It could be evidence that the Steroids Era is definitely behind us; (2) perhaps April and May have been cooler than “normal” thus depressing offense; (3) maybe Nightengale is dead on accurate and pitching is just better all-around.
By the way, after Nightengale’s piece was in the paper, Ubaldo Jimenez threw eight shutout innings, lowering his already microscopic ERA to 0.88.
UPDATE: David Brown of “Big League Stew” ponders what it would take for Ubaldo to finish 2010 with an ERA lower than the one Bob Gibson posted in 1968 (1.12).
For some possible explanations of the decline in scoring in 2010, the comments section of this post at FanGrapsh is pretty solid.  
I sincerely hope that the scoring decline is due to the umpires calling the strike zone the way it is supposed to be called by rule.  I think the way the zone has been called for many years is a factor that has been overlooked by too many people, and that failing to call the strike zone as it is defined contributes to: (a) lower innings pitched totals by starting pitchers, since batters just wait the pitchers out rather than having to try to put the ball in play  (b) longer games since the batters are waiting and waiting and more pitches must be thrown, and (c) increased offense as batters can simply wait for the exact pitch they want to hit rather than putting the ball in play on the pitchers’ terms.  In fact, Mitch Williams, in his new book, Straight Talk from Wild Thing, mentions the smaller strike zone–particularly one where pitchers don’t get calls on the inside corner–as a key factor for the offensive explosion in post-1996 (or so) Major League Baseball.  (Combine a smaller strike zone with smaller ballparks, ‘roided up hitters, and maple bats and you got an offensive explosion.)
By the way, I must extend a tip of my hat to Dick Enberg and Mark Neely, broadcasters for the San Diego Padres, for discussing the strike zone and the failure of umpires to call it as defined by the rulebook for its impact on game length during their Tuesday night broadcast of the Cardinals-Padres game sometime in the seventh inning.  I wish more commentators would bring this up.  
(I also want to note that Dick Enberg is turning out to be a darn fine baseball play-by-play guy; in fact, I think baseball may be his best sport.  He’s no Vin Scully, mind you, but, then again, who is?  Enberg is, however, a damn far sight better than Joe “I’m Just Cruising on My Daddy’s Name and Reputation” Buck, but, then again, who isn’t?  That is, sside from that guy who did play-by-play for TBS in last years’ playoffs.)