Midseason Numbers Crunching
Those who prefer baseball without steroids and bloated phony physiques might say the current situation means the game is back to normal, but 2011 is shaping up as a season where pitchers often have the upper hand. This midseason (July 12) look at team statistics shows how much the former Home Run Derby approach has changed in the past few years.
Starting with the long ball, 37 players are currently at a 25 HR or higher pace as compared to 53 who reached the quarter century mark in 2009. That's a 30.2 percent decline in a year and a half, and five teams are stumbling along ar a sub-100 HR pace. The offensive slide becomes even more apparent when other stats are examined.
Just one team hit under .250 in 2009, but 10 teams are currently below that level, with the Mariners at a .224 clip that would look right at home in 1911 rather than 2011. That doesn't include the best in the majors (57-34, .626) Phillies, who are listed at .250 which is actually rounded up from .24983 (776 for 3106).
Midseason taildraggers in the batting average numbers features a number of division leaders and contenders for the postseason. The list includes the Pirates (.247), Rays (.245), Giants (.243) and Braves (.237, or 26th out of 30 teams). The Nationals are at .500 (46-46) despite a .235 team average. Currently in last place in the NL West, the 40-52 Padres' .231 total can be partly attributed to Petco Park.
On-base percentages also require some mental adjustments from the recent past. Seven teams are under .310, and that list includes Billy Beane's formerly OBP-conscious A's at .299. Oakland has one of the better pitching staffs in baseball, but a weak-hitting lineup has dragged the franchise down to a 39-53 record and last place in the AL West. The Mariners bring up the rear with a putrid .290 OBP.
The value of OBP, drawing walks and extending at-bats in an era of pitch counts comes shining through when batting averages are on a downward trend. The Yankees are 11th in the majors with a .258 team average, but 343 walks in 88 games (almost 3.9 bases on balls per game) has led to a combined OBP of .340, which ties the Cardinals for second best in the majors.
Despite a 37-55 record, the Cubs are sixth in the majors with a .263 team average, but just 223 walks in 92 games (2.43 per game, or a projected 394 over a full season) has led to an 18th-ranked team OBP of .317. The main offenders in impatience are all hitting over .300. The young double play combo of second baseman Darwin Barney (.306, but just 10 walks in 294 ABs) and shortstop Starlin Castro (.307 with 117 hits and just 16 walks in 381 ABs) are hacking away, as is utilityman Jeff Baker (.306 and four walks in 134 ABs).
The dreadful (30-62 for a major league worst .326 winning percentage) Astros are hitting a respectable .260 (9th in the big leagues), but Houston's meager total of 225 walks drags the OBP down to .312, which is 23rd overall. Third baseman Chris Johnson is the main culprit, with just eight unintentional walks, a pair of intentional passes and 74 strikeouts in 292 ABs. That lack of selectiveness might be forgiven if Johnson was hitting .308 with power as he did in 2010, but a .243, 6 HR, 34 RBI stat line is far from last season's production.
With the exception of Chone Figgins (262 ABs, .183, 1 HR, 14 RBI and a freakishly low .231 OBP), it has been the all or nothing, high strikeout hitters who have suffered the most in the offensive decline of 2011. Adam Dunn (.160 with 117 Ks in 269 ABs for the White Sox) is enduring a historically nightmarish year, but Dan Uggla (340 ABs, .185, 15 HR, 34 RBI), Jack Cust (3 HR, 23 RBI, .211 with 76 Ks and 44 BB in 204 ABs) and Russell Branyan (2 HR, 6 RBI, .196 and 35 Ks in 107 ABs) are also finding the going much rougher this season.
Pitching statistics reflect a return to more balance between offense and run prevention. Compare the 18 starting pitchers with sub-3.00 ERAs to the 11 who ended 2009 at that impressive level. Another 10 starters currently have ERAs from 3.01 to 3.10. Nine staffs entered the All-Star break with sub-3.50 ERA, and the Nationals just missed the cut at 3.53. Just one team - the Dodgers - came through with a staff ERA below 3.50 (3.41) in 2009.
Moundsmen are also more inclined to challenge hitters with a greater variety of deliveries or are adopting a pitch to contact mentality. Nine staffs currently boast a walk ratio below 3.00 per nine innings pitched. Only the Twins and the Cardinals did the same in 2009.
Some would say that prime hitting season is coming up with the high temperatures of July and August, which would mean the first half's numbers are subject to being more favorable to hitters by the end of the season. While that is certainly a logical thought, baseball in 2011 has changed considerably from the slow pitch softball mentality of the earlier part of the 21st century.