Lindbergh: How much of baseball’s anemic offense really stems from the swollen strike zone?

From SABR member Ben Lindbergh at on January 29, 2015:

New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred probably could have picked a better verb when he spoke earlier this week about “injecting additional offense in the game,” but the phrasing, evocative of Jose Canseco stories about bathroom stalls, was a useful reminder that we’re not far removed from the PED era, when baseball was awash in runs. What a difference a decade and a half makes: With scoring at its lowest full-season level since 1976 and contact hard to come by, the current referendum on run environment calls for more runs and, ideally, fewer strikeouts. In addition to trying to regulate lollygagging, baseball’s best minds are mulling how to help the sport’s ping-ponging stat lines settle into Goldilocks territory.

Manfred’s mostly harmless mention of eliminating the shift touched off a chorus of “It’s the strike zone, stupid,” but while the shift’s impact remains murky, the mysteriously expanding strike zone’s toll is also foggy. Before we come to any conclusions about the way to fix a fairly healthy sport, we need to know where the problems really rest. Specifically, it would be helpful to know how much blame the zone bears for the game’s offensive slump relative to the rest of the usual suspects: PED testing, faster pitches, aggressive reliever usage, advance scouting, and hitters who don’t hesitate to swing away. How much has the new zone hurt hitters? And what would scoring have looked like last season with a less liberal zone?

Let’s start with what we know. The zone is expanding, and it’s doing so in an easily discernible direction: downward. The following GIFs display alternating images from Hardball Times writer Jon Roegele’s most recent strike zone surveillance work. The first GIF shows the 2009 and 2014 strike zones called against left-handed hitters, from the plate umpire’s perspective; the second shows the zones called against righties. Mouse over each GIF to cycle between the two seasons.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: January 29, 2015. Last Updated: January 29, 2015.