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It’s Warmer; Now Where’s The Offense?

Last year, offense declined so precipitously that we had to put up with a few million Year Of The Pitcher references. While run scoring had been trending down, the drop off was so significant – a .329 league wOBA in 2009 became a .321 league wOBA in 2010, the lowest mark since 1992 – that it was only reasonable to expect some kind of bounce-back. So, in April, we watched to see how much offense would return to baseball.  It Turns out, the answer was none.

The league average wOBA for the first month of the season was .316. The league average wOBA hasn’t been this low since 1989, which was back when Omar Vizquel was just a rookie breaking into the Majors. Most of the players drafted this week were not alive the last time the game was this heavily slanted in favor of the pitchers. But it was April, and an unseasonably cold April at that. Once the weather warmed up, we’d see some more offense.

In May, the league wOBA held steady at .316. But, the early part of May was still pretty cold in a lot of places, and we really needed to wait for summer to show up – then the ball would start to fly again.

It’s only been a week, but the league wOBA so far in June? .312. Last night it was 90 degrees in Baltimore and four runs were scored. Okay, but the Orioles and A’s can’t hit – fair enough. It was 84 degrees in Miami, and the Marlins ran out a rookie making his Major League Debut; there was one run scored in the entire game, and that rookie allowed just one hit. There was also just one run scored in the Indians-Twins game, two runs in the Padres-Rockies game, and three runs scored in the Giants-Nationals and Mets-Brewers games.

Not only have we not seen more offense with the weather warming up, we’re actually seeing fewer runs scored now than we did in that freezing April, and far fewer runs scored than last year’s vaunted Year Of The Pitcher. We’re not quite back to the Deadball Era, but it’s getting close, and the game isn’t showing any signs of reverting toward the more hitter-friendly days of yester-decade.

So, now, the question is how low is too low? I like low scoring games with good pitchers facing off and every run scoring opportunity feeling like it’s critical, but even I’ll admit that most of my friends think a 1-0 game is a bust because nothing happened for two hours. For all of its worldwide appeal, soccer still hasn’t caught on in the states as a top tier spectator sport in large part due to its low scoring nature. After all, the saying is “Chicks dig the longball”, not “Chicks dig the swinging strike”.

Attendance is down league-wide (though the gap is smaller than it was at the beginning of the year), and I’d have to imagine that if attendance stays down all year, conversations will be held about how to get more people to the ballpark. And, while I’m still speculating here, I’d bet that part of those conversations might include trying to figure out how to get more offense back into the game.

The sport is cyclical, there’s no doubt about that. We don’t know if this trend of decreased run scoring is going to continue or if we’re nearing a bottom. It’s possible that the first few months of 2011 are an aberration, and offense is about to come back to baseball later this summer. By October, this whole article could look stupid.

But it’s no longer cold, it’s no longer early, and it’s no longer just a Year Of The Pitcher. We’re now looking at a pretty obvious and clear trend, and one that is only accelerating. Offense has left Major League Baseball, and I don’t know if anyone knows when it’s going to come back.