Carleton: Scoring is down again; cyclical or a systemic problem?

From Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus on November 11, 2014:

Now that the warm glow of watching Madison Bumgarner pitch the final five innings of Game Seven has faded (and the warm glow has faded from Madison Bumgarner’s arm), we can look back over the year that was 2014 and talk about a rather uncomfortable truth. Scoring was down again in baseball. This year, the average team scored 4.07 runs, down a tenth of a run from 2013, and hitting the lowest level since 1981 (a weird strike-shortened year). I suppose that whether a 3-2 game is more beautiful than a 10-9 game is a matter of personal taste, but it does lead to a rather challenging question. Will the 10-9 games ever come back?

Scoring peaked in 2000, with teams scoring a gaudy 5.14 runs per game, meaning that since the turn of the century, scoring is down more than 20 percent. There are plenty of theories as to why this happened, most of them focusing on performance enhancing drugs. Once the PEDs were (mostly) kicked out of baseball, the air went out of the balloon. There are others who blame the expanding strike zone (although this is apparently starting to heal itself). And then there are those who blame Pitch F/X itself. There’s also the strain that blames infield shifting and the recent emphasis on defense in general.

I can’t dismiss any of these claims out of hand, and they probably all contribute in their own way. But I’d also like to test a much less scandalous explanation. Things go in cycles. There is always a tension between teams allocating resources to hitting and to pitching, and a pull for the best athletes to specialize in one or the other. We are simply living in a time where that seesaw has fallen on the pitching side. What goes up must come down. There’s nothing to worry about.

Is there?

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Originally published: November 11, 2014. Last Updated: November 11, 2014.