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MLB's Scoring Drop Far from the Dark Ages of Offense

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MLB's Scoring Drop Far from the Dark Ages of Offense
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
R.A. Dickey threw his 2nd consecutive 1-hitter last night.

Over the past week, we have seen many experts proclaim this as the new Age of Aquarius for pitchers in Major League Baseball. 

ESPN’s Jayson Stark stated as much in a recent column, claiming that a combination of factors are leading to a brand-new age in which pitching is once again taking over the game. 

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci seemed to be in agreement, as his latest column revealed that the current rate of no-hitters was fairly close to the pitching-dominated era of the late-1960s. 

It is true that, over the past three years, we have seen a decline in scoring from where it has been in the previous decade.  However, it is far from where it was in the late-1960s and early-70s, when scoring dropped to as low as 3.4 runs per contest and led to the implementation of the DH in the American League. 

MLB’s scoring output is actually returning to a far more recent time that often gets overlooked when analyzing the history of baseball. 

 

A Balanced Time

One of the problems with recent analysis is that, for whatever reason, experts seem to be eager to skip over MLB’s 26-team era of 1977-1992.  This era is regarded as one of balance between hitting and pitching, and was a time that did not produce much in the way of eye-popping statistics. 

In the National League, every single season fell between 3.88 and 4.52 runs per game.  In the American League, the range was between 4.07 and 4.90.  These ranges are considered very vanilla in the eyes of baseball history, with the highest bound not cracking the top 25 seasonal run averages in the AL nor the top 60 in the NL. 

This is important to keep in mind, as the run averages of each of the past three seasons fall precisely within the middle of these ranges in both the American and National Leagues.

 

AL

NL

Average

2010

4.45

4.33

4.39

2011

4.46

4.13

4.28

2012

4.44

4.18

4.3

It is true that these numbers are lower than any yearly averages since the 1993 expansion.  However, look at how well they correspond to the last three years of the 26-team era, which was the last time baseball was at these levels of scoring: 

 

AL

NL

Average

1990

4.3

4.2

4.25

1991

4.49

4.1

4.31

1992

4.32

3.88

4.11

It’s not quite a perfect match, but the scoring numbers in both leagues would fall right in line with what was happening in the early-1990s, and much higher than they were at prior to the implementation of the designated hitter.

It’s not just scoring rates, either.  Much has been made about how players are also getting fewer hits than in recent years, but in truth, hit rates have also simply returned to where they were prior to the 1993 expansion.

 

AL

NL

Average

2010

8.88

8.65

8.59

2011

8.82

8.6

8.7

2012

8.67

8.53

8.59

And now from 1990-92:

 

AL

NL

Average

1990

8.78

8.7

8.75

1991

7.9

8.43

8.69

1992

8.82

8.51

8.68

Again, not much of a difference.

 

Individual Outcomes

Okay, so scoring and hitting numbers are not quite returning to the pitching-dominated era of yore.  But how about dominating individual outings? 

No-hitters, after all, are on the rise, with Verducci pointing out that the 14 no-hitters baseball has seen since the start of the 2010 season works out to a rate of 1 per 414 games.  This is the highest rate that baseball has seen since 1967-69, when there was 1 per 345 contests. 

But here’s the thing:  baseball’s last great flurry of no-hitters actually occurred between the 1990-92 seasons, with 15 being thrown during that three-year period.  This works out to a rate of 1 per 421 games—nearly identical to MLB’s current rate and a much closer match than anything seen in the pre-DH era.

 

Conclusion

Conventional wisdom tells us that, whenever MLB decides to add teams, scoring goes up.  Baseball is now 15 years removed from its latest expansion, which is similar to where we were in 1992 when we were 16 years removed.  Is it any surprise that the game is starting to look that way again?

Regardless, we are still a long way from returning to pre-DH levels of offense in Major League Baseball.  If anything, we are stabilizing into the nice balance between hitting and pitching that we saw prior the most recent expansion.

In other words, don’t expect MLB to go crazy and add another DH to the lineup.

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