The Strikeout Era

The 2015 MLB season is officially off to a solid start, and if continuing recent trends, we can expect several changes this season.  Before getting started, I think that it is important to address that MLB teams are businesses, and they thrive on highlighting star players and earning money.  Think of your favorite team: who are the star players? I bet you named a pitcher or two.  Pitchers are undoubtedly integral in the game of baseball- they set the game into motion, and the are physical front and center in the field.  They get the most action- other defensive players don’t even see the ball unless the batter hits.  Looking at trends in baseball, it is clear that defensive playing has been on the rise:

The number of runs per game is at the lowest they have ever been since 1981.  At a whopping 4.07 runs, this trend also reflects the increase of strikeouts per game, as they are the highest that they have ever been.  In the same vein, the MLB has the lowest batting average (0.251) since 1972.  This can be interpreted as a shift from the offensive to defensive, and the emphasis on developing talented pitchers rather than good batters.  Another possible reason, although somewhat cynical, is that the MLB has increased its anti-doping program by adding more and better tests, in addition to more severe punishments.  As of 2014, a first-time violation will result in an unpaid 80 game suspension, a second-time violation will result in an unpaid 162 game suspension.  A third-time violation will result in a permanent ban from the MLB.  These numbers have increased over time, and may contribute to the decline in successful batting.

Another important trend to recognize is the fact that the strike zone is becoming lower and shifting lower.  The Hardball Times said it best in their piece “The Strike Zone Expansion is Out of Control”.  The author, Jon Roegele, breaks the strike zone into a grid and tracks the changes in dimensions over time.  With the expanding strike zone, pitchers are able to get away with more and more pitches, whether the batter swings or not.  This physical expansion is absolutely responsible for a sizable portion of the lack of runs.

-Charlie Elwart