There is no disputing that offense is down. Teams are scoring fewer runs and hitting fewer balls over fences. Strikeouts numbers have grown precipitously. Some of the reasons behind those changes are clear. Others are more speculative. The bottom line is that the offensive environment isn’t what it was as recently as a handful of years ago.
The downturn begs two questions: 1. Is this an irreversible trend (barring rule changes), or is it simply a cyclical dip? 2. How does it impact roster-building decisions?
With the GM meetings taking place in Phoenix this week – yes, the weather was pristine – I decided to ask those very questions to a cross section of the decision makers. Not surprisingly, opinions varied.
Let’s start with the first of the two questions: Trend or Cycle?
Rick Hahn, Chicago White Sox: “There are elements like the strike zone and the velocity we’re seeing out of pitchers. Those have had a dampening effect. Defensive shifts have conceivably brought down the offensive effectiveness of some players. So, there are some tangible reasons to point to, but I do think part of it is just the cyclical nature of the game.”
Chris Antonetti, Cleveland Indians: “I’m not sure how far into it we are, but I think there are a number of different factors that have impacted the offensive environment in baseball. I don’t think it’s just a blip on the radar. I don’t necessarily see that dynamic changing if we don’t consider measures to maybe make some adjustments.”
Terry Ryan, Minnesota Twins: “No I don’t (think it is an irreversible trend). In fact, I absolutely don’t. Pitching is better, and sometimes you go through streaks where there just aren’t that many hitters coming up, or people producing on the offensive side of the game. I think that will correct itself.”
Doug Melvin, Milwaukee Brewers: “You have to be careful to make sure the cycles of offense and pitching are really that – a cyclical thing. There are probably some things affecting it a little bit, like bullpens and match-ups. The schedule is still a grind. There were also some good-quality hitters hurt over the course of this year – guys like Joey Votto – which affects offense. It could bounce back.”
Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers: “That’s a great question and I’m not sure I know the answer. In my estimation, the game is probably going to look at that topic. Right now, unless some things change, I think run production will continue to be down. I don’t think it will go down much more, but the trend will stay down from an offensive perspective.”
Michael Hill, Miami Marlins: “We evaluate trends, but I would say it’s more pitcher-driven than anything. It’s pitcher driven with power arms in rotations and power arms in bullpens. Who knows what that will mean long term?”
The second question — does the trend/cycle impact decisions-making? — also resulted in mixed views. GMs are typically coy when it comes to anything related to player-acquisition, but a few of them offered interesting perspectives.
Farhan Zaidi, Los Angeles Dodgers: “Just when you think you’ve identified a trend, it seems like things go the other way. It’s really just about building the most-balanced team. It’s not like we’re going to think to ourselves, ‘This team had success with guys who steal a lot of bases, so let’s go that way.’ We learn every season there’s more than one way to skin a cat. I don’t think we’re going to be overly dogmatic in our approach.”
Mike Rizzo, Washington Nationals: “I think you build a team depending on a lot of factors – talent level at the big-league level, talent level on the minor-league side, who’s coming up, the type of ballpark you play in, what the division looks like. All of those ingredients go into how you build a roster. We’re going to approach this season no different than any other.”
Neal Huntington, Pittsburgh Pirates: “Players in their mid 30s are players in their mid 30s. Very rarely do they suddenly get better, as happened with some in the 1990s and 2000s. Depth is important. You look at what Kansas City and Baltimore have done, having deep and talented rosters. They can rest players and not have a huge drop off. Youth and depth are absolutely crucial to roster building as we go forward.”
John Mozeliak, St. Louis Cardinals: “Your most knee-jerk reaction is to adjust to what you need now. You look at your offensive projections and how that’s going to translate into wins. But when you start thinking more long term, guys with a 1.000 OPS are rare. Our 2004 team had three – Edmonds, Pujols and Rolen – and those days seem so foreign. One thing you might start to see is a little bit more small ball and speed back in the game, teams trying to figure out a way to manufacture runs.”
Rick Hahn, Chicago White Sox: “You’re always having conversations about staying ahead of where offense, defense, and pitching are going. You want to be on the cutting edge, whether it’s acquiring undervalued players or players you can project to play a greater role based on their ability or the environment you’re going to drop them into. The conversations haven’t changed much, but the targets have altered in recent years. I think athleticism and the ability to contribute both offensively and defensively has become more important.”
Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers: “You have to be cognizant of everything that’s taking place at a particular time. You analyze, and you have to decide how you’re going to use that information when building a club. Power is diminished, but how much more are you going to pay for somebody based on that lack of power? Where does that fit in with your philosophy of making contact? There’s just so much that goes into it.”
Look for more from this week’s GM meetings in my upcoming Sunday Notes column.