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I find this fascinating. American League teams have scored just 4.53 runs per game in 2010, which is the lowest level that we’ve seen since 1992. This graph shows the ebb and flow of AL offense over two decades:

From 1996-2000, AL teams scored on average about 5.2 runs per game. That number settled down into a fairly consistent 4.7-4.9 per game range for most of the decade, but with a slow trend line down. This season, run scoring has suffered a pretty big 0.3 runs / game drop off.

Your guess is as good as mine as to the cause of the drop off. I think it is some kind of combination of the slow exit of performance enhancing drugs, better use of situational relief pitchers, better practices in raising young pitchers, and some kind of cyclical talent swing. I’d be curious to hear what everyone else thinks.

A tighter run scoring environment means a few things. The value of one run increases versus several runs. That means that things like sacrifice bunts and stolen bases become slightly more worthwhile than they were a few years ago. Your run expediency matrix will change a bit. Starting pitchers will stay in the game slightly longer, meaning that bullpens are less important. You might be able to make a pretty good case that in a 4.50 run world, a 12-man bullpen in the American League is too big.

But most of all, we shouldn’t be as surprised when we see Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes put up big ERAs. In this environment, a lot more pitchers are going to be impressive, and the impressive ones will be downright dominant.

13 Responses to “American League Run Scoring At Its Lowest Level Since 1992”

  1. Yeah, I made mention of this on Twitter earlier this morning:

    “The league-average tRA is actually lower in the A.L (4.53) than the N.L. (4.57) this year.

    The A.L. saw a big drop from last season (4.94), while the N.L. has seen a three-year decline from 5.00 in 2007 to 4.57 in 2010.”  (Quote)

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  2. Aren’t all the numbers in your chart except 2010 based on full season numbers? It’s only early June and scoring tends to increase as the season goes on, does it not? Seems like it’s too early to draw conclusion about lower scoring yet.  (Quote)

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    EJ Fagan Reply:

    This is definitely a concern, and I meant to add a note about it in the post. Basically, I would have said that I remember some studies in the past that the only month with a league-wide hitting advantage is September. So there could be a little bit of bias introduced, but overall run scoring is still way down.  (Quote)

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    zs190 Reply:

    Interesting, so the belief that scoring will go up when weather gets warmer has been proven to be a myth? Intuitively I thought it made sense, so that’s something I always considered to be true.  (Quote)

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    EJ Fagan Reply:

    Its probably a myth on balance. I’m sure that some players or groups of players prefer the summer to the early season. I know that its pretty well studied that humidity decreases run scoring though.

    For September, its all about call-ups. Expanded rosters for a bunch of teams that aren’t going to make the playoffs = advantage hitters.  (Quote)

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  3. faster outfielders and bigger parks too  (Quote)

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  4. I think part of the reason is the strike zone getting bigger for quite a few umps.

    This isn’t a positive thing-when offense dips, so does attendance. The 50′s and 60′s decreasing attendance was blamed on a lot of things (with drive-in movies being the most comical), but people like to see things happening, not people walking back to the dugout.  (Quote)

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  5. strike zone getting bigger, faster outfielders, bigger parks–maybe, but that’s not conclusive. the drop in runs and home runs is proof of how prevalent steroids were in the 1990s and early 2000s.  (Quote)

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  6. Less steroid use may be an obvious answer, and it may be exactly that.  (Quote)

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  7. To add one more: a bigger emphasis on team fielding over offense.  (Quote)

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    Peter Reply:

    That could absolutely be the case. I’d like to see a comparison in average UZR rating by team from the 1995-2003ish compared to 2005-present. Unfortunately, UZR wasn’t around til 02 or 03 right? Maybe there is another way to test this defense to run scored correlation.  (Quote)

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  8. Considering how many pitchers used steroids, I really don’t see it as that big of a factor.  (Quote)

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    Tabata Daycare Reply:

    I have almost zero stats to back any of the following but I never liked “the pitchers are doing it too” argument. When a pitcher juiced, at best he added a couple mph to his fastball? Other than that, his approach didn’t change. He still needed to locate and he still needed to keep the hitter guessing.
    A hitter on juice could completely change his approach at the dish. With improved bat speed, it became more difficult for a pitcher to beat a hitter inside. With this new advantage, these monsters began creeping closer and closer to the plate.
    Consequences of hitters closer to the plate:
    The Inside Pitch: A pitcher couldn’t come inside off the plate because they would end up hitting the batter in his GIANT elbow protector. This reduced the hitters need to decide to swing or not. If it was going to hit him, you don’t swing. If it wasn’t going to hit him, swing because it’s a strike. Self preservation is a much more concrete way to determine strikes than trying to grasp Joe West’s strike zone.
    The Outside Pitch: With the hitter closer to the plate, not only could they cover the otter half of the plate, they could pull pitches on the outer half. This would lead to increased power numbers. And with the inner half of the plate essentially taken away from the pitchers, hitters could sit on pitches located on the outer half.
    Not only would power #s go up, so would OBP. The only weak spot in these hitter’s plate coverage was a 2 inch square box located up and in (see Giambi, $$ball). And if pitchers (even the juiced ones) missed that tiny little spot, he’d hit the batter. (Bond career highs in hit by pitches in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006 & Giambi’s HBP jumped in 2001)
    I did a lot more hitting than pitching…does anyone who threw think differently? I could be wrong.  (Quote)

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