This Was the Lowest-Scoring ALCS in History

You might have heard offense has been down this postseason. I think one or two articles have been written about it. After the Blue Jays were shut out for the second time in the American League Championship Series, I wanted to see how much it’s been down. What I found: this ALCS was one of the lowest-scoring in history.

First, a little refresher. The ALCS has existed since 1969. From ’69 until 1984, it was a best-of-five series. Since, it’s been a best of seven. You probably already knew that, but just in case, now you definitely know. And knowing

Anyway, there were 20 runs scored in this series — 12 by Cleveland, eight by the Blue Jays. This makes it the lowest of any ALCS since it moved to a best-of-seven format. The only series that comes close is the 1990 ALCS, when the A’s scored 20 runs to the Red Sox’ measly four. It’s also easily the lowest of any series in terms of runs per game.

But we can reach further back, and see that it was historically low even when compared to the best-of-five days:

Fewest Total Runs Scored, ALCS History
Year # Games Winner Runs R/G Loser Runs R/G Total Runs Total Runs/Game
1974 4 OAK 11 2.8 BAL 7 1.8 18 4.5
1984 3 DET 14 4.7 KC 4 1.3 18 6.0
1980 3 KC 14 4.7 NYY 6 2.0 20 6.7
2016 5 CLE 12 2.4 TOR 8 1.6 20 4.0
1969 3 BAL 16 5.3 MIN 5 1.7 21 7.0
1971 3 BAL 15 5.0 OAK 7 2.3 22 7.3
1983 4 BAL 19 4.8 CHW 3 0.8 22 5.5
1972 5 OAK 13 2.6 DET 10 2.0 23 4.6
1981 3 NYY 20 6.7 OAK 4 1.3 24 8.0
1990 4 OAK 20 5.0 BOS 4 1.0 24 6.0
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Only two ALCSs produced fewer total runs scored — and, in both cases, the teams played fewer games. You may notice that 4.0 runs per game (that’s for the whole game, not just one team) is the lowest on this list. It is, in fact, the lowest in history:

Fewest Runs Scored Per Game, ALCS History
Year # Games Winner Runs R/G Loser Runs R/G Total Runs Total Runs/Game
2016 5 CLE 12 2.4 TOR 8 1.6 20 4.0
1974 4 OAK 11 2.8 BAL 7 1.8 18 4.5
1972 5 OAK 13 2.6 DET 10 2.0 23 4.6
1983 4 BAL 19 4.8 CHW 3 0.8 22 5.5
1995 6 CLE 23 3.8 SEA 12 2.0 35 5.8
1984 3 DET 14 4.7 KC 4 1.3 18 6.0
1990 4 OAK 20 5.0 BOS 4 1.0 24 6.0
1973 5 OAK 15 3.0 BAL 15 3.0 30 6.0
1997 6 CLE 18 3.0 BAL 19 3.2 37 6.2
2013 6 BOS 19 3.2 DET 18 3.0 37 6.2
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

But as Jeff noted yesterday (along with others), the run environment is a little different these days. So I wanted to be a little objective about it. What I did was divide the runs scored per game for each team in ALCS history against the average runs scored per game in the AL for their given season. This creates a sort of runs below or above average metric. Let’s add that in to our table.

Runs Scored +/- Average, ALCS History
Year # Gm Winner Runs R/G Loser Runs R/G Total Runs Total R/G AL Reg. Sea Avg. R/G Winner Runs +/- Avg Loser Runs +/- Avg.
1969 3 BAL 16 5.3 MIN 5 1.7 21 7.0 4.09 1.30 0.41
1970 3 BAL 27 9.0 MIN 10 3.3 37 12.3 4.17 2.16 0.80
1971 3 BAL 15 5.0 OAK 7 2.3 22 7.3 3.87 1.29 0.60
1972 5 OAK 13 2.6 DET 10 2.0 23 4.6 3.47 0.75 0.58
1973 5 OAK 15 3.0 BAL 15 3.0 30 6.0 4.28 0.70 0.70
1974 4 OAK 11 2.8 BAL 7 1.8 18 4.5 4.10 0.67 0.43
1975 3 BOS 18 6.0 OAK 7 2.3 25 8.3 4.30 1.40 0.54
1976 5 NYY 23 4.6 KC 24 4.8 47 9.4 4.01 1.15 1.20
1977 5 NYY 21 4.2 KC 22 4.4 43 8.6 4.53 0.93 0.97
1978 4 NYY 19 4.8 KC 17 4.3 36 9.0 4.20 1.13 1.01
1979 4 BAL 26 6.5 CAL 15 3.8 41 10.3 4.67 1.39 0.80
1980 3 KC 14 4.7 NYY 6 2.0 20 6.7 4.51 1.03 0.44
1981 3 NYY 20 6.7 OAK 4 1.3 24 8.0 4.07 1.64 0.33
1982 5 MIL 23 4.6 CAL 23 4.6 46 9.2 4.48 1.03 1.03
1983 4 BAL 19 4.8 CHW 3 0.8 22 5.5 4.48 1.06 0.17
1984 3 DET 14 4.7 KC 4 1.3 18 6.0 4.42 1.06 0.30
1985 7 KC 26 3.7 TOR 25 3.6 51 7.3 4.56 0.81 0.78
1986 7 BOS 41 5.9 CAL 30 4.3 71 10.1 4.61 1.27 0.93
1987 5 MIN 34 6.8 DET 23 4.6 57 11.4 4.90 1.39 0.94
1988 4 OAK 20 5.0 BOS 11 2.8 31 7.8 4.36 1.15 0.63
1989 5 OAK 26 5.2 TOR 21 4.2 47 9.4 4.29 1.21 0.98
1990 4 OAK 20 5.0 BOS 4 1.0 24 6.0 4.30 1.16 0.23
1991 5 MIN 27 5.4 TOR 19 3.8 46 9.2 4.49 1.20 0.85
1992 6 TOR 31 5.2 OAK 24 4.0 55 9.2 4.32 1.20 0.93
1993 6 TOR 26 4.3 CHW 23 3.8 49 8.2 4.71 0.92 0.81
1995 6 CLE 23 3.8 SEA 12 2.0 35 5.8 5.06 0.76 0.40
1996 5 NYY 27 5.4 BAL 19 3.8 46 9.2 5.39 1.00 0.71
1997 6 CLE 18 3.0 BAL 19 3.2 37 6.2 4.93 0.61 0.64
1998 6 NYY 27 4.5 CLE 20 3.3 47 7.8 5.01 0.90 0.67
1999 5 NYY 23 4.6 BOS 21 4.2 44 8.8 5.18 0.89 0.81
2000 6 NYY 31 5.2 SEA 18 3.0 49 8.2 5.30 0.97 0.57
2001 5 NYY 25 5.0 SEA 22 4.4 47 9.4 4.86 1.03 0.91
2002 5 ANA 29 5.8 MIN 12 2.4 41 8.2 4.81 1.21 0.50
2003 7 NYY 30 4.3 BOS 29 4.1 59 8.4 4.86 0.88 0.85
2004 7 BOS 41 5.9 NYY 45 6.4 86 12.3 5.01 1.17 1.28
2005 5 CHW 23 4.6 LAA 11 2.2 34 6.8 4.76 0.97 0.46
2006 4 DET 22 5.5 OAK 9 2.3 31 7.8 4.97 1.11 0.45
2007 7 BOS 51 7.3 CLE 32 4.6 83 11.9 4.90 1.49 0.93
2008 7 TB 43 6.1 BOS 28 4.0 71 10.1 4.78 1.29 0.84
2009 6 NYY 33 5.5 LAA 19 3.2 52 8.7 4.82 1.14 0.66
2010 6 TEX 38 6.3 NYY 19 3.2 57 9.5 4.45 1.42 0.71
2011 6 TEX 39 6.5 DET 25 4.2 64 10.7 4.46 1.46 0.93
2012 4 DET 19 4.8 NYY 6 1.5 25 6.3 4.45 1.07 0.34
2013 6 BOS 19 3.2 DET 18 3.0 37 6.2 4.33 0.73 0.69
2014 4 KC 18 4.5 BAL 12 3.0 30 7.5 4.18 1.08 0.72
2015 6 KC 38 6.3 TOR 26 4.3 64 10.7 4.39 1.44 0.99
2016 5 CLE 12 2.4 TOR 8 1.6 20 4.0 4.52 0.53 0.35
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Cleveland lands at 0.53, and Toronto 0.35. What that means is, that in the ALCS, Cleveland scored runs at a clip that was 47 percent lower than the AL average this season, Toronto 65 percent lower. Which seems really bad. But that’s kind of a big table up there. Let’s pull out the teams with the lowest figures in our +/- metric to see how they compare.

Lowest Team Runs Scored +/- Average, ALCS History
Year Team Won/Lost Runs +/- Avg.
1983 CHW Lost 0.17
1990 BOS Lost 0.23
1984 KC Lost 0.30
1981 OAK Lost 0.33
2012 NYY Lost 0.34
2016 TOR Lost 0.35
1995 SEA Lost 0.40
1969 MIN Lost 0.41
1974 BAL Lost 0.43
1980 NYY Lost 0.44
2006 OAK Lost 0.45
2005 LAA Lost 0.46
2002 MIN Lost 0.50
2016 CLE Won 0.53
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

So, here we see that Toronto gets a bit of a reprieve: they were only the sixth-worst of ALCS teams, though the only two teams that fared definitively worse than them were the 1983 White Sox and 1990 Red Sox. Interestingly, we find that Cleveland scored the fewest runs relative to their league and still won. Oddly enough, the next-lowest mark to a team that won the ALCS was the 1997 Cleveland club, at 0.61.

What about the whole game? Cleveland and Toronto combined for a paltry four runs per game. How does that stack up with the rest of the AL in terms of runs scored per actual game. This year, the average AL game produced 8.9 total runs, which is actually in the middle of the pack for ALCS years (6.9 in 1972 was the lowest, and 10.8 in 1996 is the highest). So, applying our same methodology, we can look at how the runs per game in the ALCS stacks with the AL from that particular regular season.

Overall Runs Scored +/- Average, ALCS History
Year Winner Loser # Gm Total Runs Total Runs/Game AL Reg Season Overall R/G ALCS Overall Runs +/- Avg
2016 CLE TOR 5 20 4.0 8.9 0.45
1974 OAK BAL 4 18 4.5 8.2 0.55
1995 CLE SEA 6 35 5.8 10.1 0.58
1983 BAL CHW 4 22 5.5 9.0 0.61
1997 CLE BAL 6 37 6.2 9.9 0.62
1972 OAK DET 5 23 4.6 6.9 0.66
1984 DET KC 3 18 6.0 8.8 0.68
1990 OAK BOS 4 24 6.0 8.6 0.70
1973 OAK BAL 5 30 6.0 8.6 0.70
2012 DET NYY 4 25 6.3 8.8 0.71
2013 BOS DET 6 37 6.2 8.6 0.72
2005 CHW LAA 5 34 6.8 9.4 0.73
1980 KC NYY 3 20 6.7 9.0 0.74
2000 NYY SEA 6 49 8.2 10.6 0.77
1998 NYY CLE 6 47 7.8 10.0 0.78
2006 DET OAK 4 31 7.8 9.7 0.80
1985 KC TOR 7 51 7.3 9.1 0.80
1999 NYY BOS 5 44 8.8 10.5 0.84
1996 NYY BAL 5 46 9.2 10.8 0.85
2002 ANA MIN 5 41 8.2 9.6 0.85
1969 BAL MIN 3 21 7.0 8.2 0.86
2003 NYY BOS 7 59 8.4 9.7 0.86
1993 TOR CHW 6 49 8.2 9.4 0.87
1988 OAK BOS 4 31 7.8 8.7 0.89
2014 KC BAL 4 30 7.5 8.3 0.91
2009 NYY LAA 6 52 8.7 9.5 0.91
1971 BAL OAK 3 22 7.3 7.7 0.95
1977 NYY KC 5 43 8.6 9.1 0.95
2001 NYY SEA 5 47 9.4 9.7 0.97
1975 BOS OAK 3 25 8.3 8.6 0.97
1981 NYY OAK 3 24 8.0 8.1 0.98
1991 MIN TOR 5 46 9.2 9.0 1.03
1982 MIL CAL 5 46 9.2 9.0 1.03
1992 TOR OAK 6 55 9.2 8.6 1.06
1978 NYY KC 4 36 9.0 8.4 1.07
2010 TEX NYY 6 57 9.5 8.8 1.07
2008 TB BOS 7 71 10.1 9.4 1.08
1989 OAK TOR 5 47 9.4 8.6 1.09
1979 BAL CAL 4 41 10.3 9.3 1.10
1986 BOS CAL 7 71 10.1 9.2 1.10
1987 MIN DET 5 57 11.4 9.8 1.16
1976 NYY KC 5 47 9.4 8.0 1.17
2011 TEX DET 6 64 10.7 8.9 1.21
2007 BOS CLE 7 83 11.9 9.6 1.23
2004 BOS NYY 7 86 12.3 10.0 1.23
2015 KC TOR 6 64 10.7 8.6 1.24
1970 BAL MIN 3 37 12.3 8.3 1.48
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs

For the games on the whole, this was — when adjusted against the average runs scored per game in the regular season — the lowest scoring ALCS in history. Not only that, it was significantly lower than the past 20 seasons. You have to go back to Cleveland vs. Seattle in 1995 to get anywhere near the same low-scoring ALCS.

Runs were most certainly at a premium, even with two of the better offenses in the AL squaring off. It felt historic to me after Game 2 — when I noted that the Blue Jays had scored fewer runs in those first two games than any other previous ALCS competitor — and it certainly ended that way. The two teams didn’t combine for the absolute lowest total of runs scored, but they came close, and when you factor in the regular-season run environment, they scored historically few runs both on an individual team level and at the overall game level. Given the beautiful way Cleveland manager Terry Francona has managed his bullpen, runs may be similarly hard to come by in the Fall Classic.

We hoped you liked reading This Was the Lowest-Scoring ALCS in History by Paul Swydan!

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

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2004 ALCS Game 3 — the Yankees almost singlehandedly outscored this whole series. That was the 19-8 game.