David N. Townsend
Baseball Journal

June 4, 2001
A New Breeze

The numbers tell the story.  Any way you slice them, there has been a dramatic change in baseball this season.  It is hard to believe, even amazing, that a single edict from the Commissioner for umpires to "enforce" the technical definition of the strike zone could alter the fortunes of so many hitters and pitchers, and of overall performance throughout the leagues, as seriously as has occurred to date this year.   But that's the case, as the numbers reveal.  Here are a variety of ways of demonstrating the downturn in offense (or upturn in pitching), at the 1/3 mark of the 2001 season:

  A.L. N.L.
HR, 2001 (act/proj) 819 / 2,434 1,033 / 3015
Runs, 2001 (act/proj) 3,735 / 11,102 4,183 / 12,172
Runs per game, 2001 9.79 9.42
HR per game, 2001 2.14 2.33
HR, 2000 2,688 3,005
Runs, 2000 11,995 12,976
Runs per game, 2000 10.58 10.00
HR per game, 2000 2.37 2.32

Overall, the Runs Scored averages are the lowest averages since at least 1997, which itself was the low point between the huge offensive upsurge of 1994 through last season.   Loyal readers will recall that I've been tracking these categories for many years (see the Baseball Journals of January 1998, June 1998, and last October, among others).  What's very interesting is that the Home Run averages continue to be quite high, especially in the National League (and Barry Bonds doesn't account for all of this).   So it appears that the new strike zone, while increasing strikeouts and reducing walks, and lowering overall batting and slugging averages, is not preventing hitters from putting the ball out of the park.  There are just fewer runners on base when the do hit the homers.

Will this continue the rest of the season?  Check back in October, and we'll find out.

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