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The State of Offense in Baseball: Depressing

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A quick tale about one of my favorite — and most average — players in baseball: Royals OF David DeJesus.  He’s just ordinary enough to stand out on a team full of flakes and clowns, like the Kansas City Royals.  He’s also quite good at baseball, while simultaneously being less valuable than pretty much every star in the game, and more valuable than any other Royal over the last six seasons.

The classic David DeJesus line features about a .360 on base percentage, and a .440 slugging percentage.  Quintessentially, his median career OPS season of .804 represents the expectation for an AL outfielder to be a long time everyday player.

You probably are familiar with the OPS+ statistic, an index that grades any OPS contextually against the expectation for the era and the home ballpark to put into perspective any wacky variance in OPS due to one of these two factors.  OPS+ tells us, that while DeJesus has been incredibly consistent in his production year to year, the actual value of his production has been anything but.  Check out this “post” steroid (and “juiced” baseball) era example, using DeJesus as a benchmark:

  • In 2006, David DeJesus had an .810 OPS, and a 108 OPS+
  • In 2008, DeJesus had an .818 OPS, and a 118 OPS+
  • In (216 PAs) 2010, DeJesus has an .814 OPS, and a 123 OPS+

Is DeJesus appreciating with age?  Not really.  He’s the same player he always was.  All the OPS index is showing is that as DeJesus has remained the same perfectly balanced 290/360/440 hitter he has always been, the attrition rate of hitters around him has resulted in his production now approaching the top end of AL batters as opposed to the middle of the pack, where he has always been.  At least, the attrition rate would be one of the more logical explanations, but certainly not the only one.  Perhaps the balance of power is being swung back in the direction of the pitchers.  Maybe the emphasis that teams are putting on fielding in the last two offseasons is cutting down on the balls that get to the gaps.  Maybe baseball is moving back to a not-so-tightly-wound baseball to try to divorce itself from constant steroid allegations, which is dropping home run rates (this is almost certainly true, even if it’s not a primary reason for depressed offense).

There are other examples of depressed offense in 2010:

  • In 2003, Magglio Ordonez had a .926 OPS and a 139 OPS+.  In 2010, it’s a .902 OPS and a 142 OPS+.
  • In 2008, Zack Greinke sported a 3.47 ERA and a 126 ERA+.  This year, he has a 3.39 ERA and a 124 ERA+.
  • Jim Thome’s .865 OPS in 2008 was good for a 123 OPS+, but his .860 this season has given him a 133 OPS+.
  • In 2003, Travis Hafner had an .812 OPS and a 115 OPS+.  In his rebound 2010 season, his .809 is good for a 127 OPS+.
  • Andy Pettite’s 2.39 ERA for Houston in 2005 gave him a career-high 177 ERA+, but in New York this year, his 2.62 ERA gives him a relatively unimpressive 155 ERA+.

What’s interesting about all those examples is that they are all AL players.  Does that mean NL players are being roughly unaffected?  Not exactly, although the effects of offensive depression aren’t as glaring on the senior circuit.  Brian McCann is maintaining a 120 OPS+ from 2009 into 2010, even though his OPS has dropped by 20 points.  Chase Utley’s OPS mode — .915 — has gone from 132 in 05 to 135 in 08 to 141 this season.  Albert Pujols had a 1.013 OPS as a rookie, and nine years later, has a .994 OPS today.  That’s taken him for a seven point increase in OPS+.  Brad Penny’s ERA is just a fraction higher now than it was six years ago, and his ERA+ has declined by 5 points compared to that 2004 season.

The AL average of 4.52 runs per game is down an unbelievable 3/10ths of a run from last year, and is at it’s lowest point since…1992.  NL runs, 4.42 per game, are on par with last year’s total, also the fewest since 1992, or, before the Colorado Rockies began playing in the NL.  It sure appears as if we’re entering another pitching/defense era where 3 or 4 runs are again a more common end game total than 6 or 7.  The evidence is clear, and that’s alright by me, and every pitcher in baseball.

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