MLB offensive decline is due to pitching, not more home runs

The decline of offense, and scoring, in the MLB since the end of the steroid era has been something that has been a topic of discussion for a while now. With the end of the steroid era, came the end of baseball’s dominating era of offense. No longer were players juicing up and able to smash extra base hits with regularity; now batters are facing pitchers who aren’t terrified of pitching over the plate. As a result, offensive production has been trending downwards across the league.

But that doesn’t mean that fans are going to except the offensive decline without postulating a reason for said decline (like this).

The part of that article that got my attention was this:

“In modern baseball the hero’s are the guys who hit the walk-off homerun, not the guy that started a rally in the sixth inning with a one out single. This is the single biggest change baseball has experienced since the steroid era, the fact that the game is becoming less of a finesse sport and more of a ‘flex your muscles’ contest, not unlike the Home Run Derby. This mindset of ‘homerun or bust’ has even trickled down to the lowest levels of little league and tee ball, creating a sort of epidemic for baseball to deal with. Strikeouts are up, home runs are up, fan bases are up, but batting average and historical value are gone, forgotten like most base hits these days.”

His statement about home runs becoming more important than getting on base struck me as odd. In fact, I did some digging and discovered that the number of home runs hit per season have been trending downward over the last decade (not increasing, as the author stated).

Within the last decade, there have been three seasons where major league batters clubbed over 5,000 home runs (2005, 2006,and 2009). Out of the remaining six completed seasons, only two came close to that 5,000 number (2007 and 2012).

Also, if you take a more detailed look at the league’s offense over that same time frame…it is pretty clear that the decline of offense in MLB is across almost every statistical category:

YEAR BA OBP SLG OPS BB% SO%
2005 .264 .330 .419 .749 8.2% 16.4%
2006 .269 .337 .432 .769 8.4% 16.8%
2007 .268 .336 .423 .759 8.5% 17.1%
2008 .264 .333 .416 .749 8.7% 17.5%
2009 .262 .333 .418 .751 8.9% 18.0%
2010 .257 .325 .403 .728 8.5% 18.5%
2011 .255 .321 .399 .720 8.1% 18.6%
2012 .255 .319 .405 .724 8.0% 19.8%
2013 .253 .318 .396 .714 7.9% 19.9%
2014* .251 .316 .390 .706 7.9% 20.3%

*Current season in progress, stats through June 29th

The complete decline of offensive statistics, and the increase in strikeouts, tells me that pitchers are becoming more effective at doing their job. Major league pitchers are becoming more effective because of the increasing specialization of the bullpen arms; right-handed pitchers are brought into face right-handed bats, while left-handed pitchers come in and face left-handed batters.

That makes it tough for the batters (position players, and in normally in the game for nine innings) to exhaust the pitchers coming out of the bullpen. As a result, batters are striking out more and getting less pitches to hit.

That being said, is the decline of offense in MLB something to worry about?

“It goes in cycles,” Butcher continued. “I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason for it.”-LAA Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher in 2011.

 

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