Lindbergh: Checking up on the trends transforming baseball

From SABR member Ben Lindbergh at Grantland on April 23, 2015:

Most baseball seasons bleed into one another with little statistical recalibration required. For years at a time, “average” means almost the same thing, and we know at a glance whether a guy’s numbers are good. Every so often, though, the baseline shifts so significantly in a single season that the familiar signposts are swept away. Those are the years when the games get overshadowed by the offensive environment, and the extremes stand out in the statistical record like the boundary lines left by a rising or receding tide: 1930, 1968, 1987.

The last such expectation-altering season was 2010, when run scoring sank by 5 percent, the average OPS fell 23 points, and the leaguewide strikeout rate broke seven per nine innings for the first time. In a callback to ’68, contemporary writers referred to 2010 as the “Year of the Pitcher” — another reminder that it’s easier to assess a season’s historical standing in retrospect than it is in the moment. The deeper drought in the four-plus seasons since the second so-called “Year of the Pitcher” has made that appellation look premature.

Over the offseason, Major League Baseball welcomed a new commissioner, and with him, renewed debate about every reading that had fallen outside the “normal” range, including run scoring, strikeouts and the strike zone, and the length of games. We spent the winter wondering whether those trends would reverse themselves or proceed along the same path until officials intervened or the sport self-destructed. With only 9 percent of the season complete, that’s still an open question, but every plate appearance is part of the answer. Let’s check up on how the sport’s recent runaway stats have fared so far.

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Originally published: April 23, 2015. Last Updated: April 23, 2015.