Fans of faster games, particularly faster low-scoring games, can rejoice so far in 2015. By the end of the 2014 season, fans seemed to have complaints about three distinct areas of the game: 1) the new replay system, 2) the slow pace of games, and 3) declining offense across the sport.
The replay system, while not perfect, is still a work in progress. The pace of games so far seems to be improving (though it will be interesting to note if both pitchers and batters are as interested in moving games along more quickly come playoff time). In terms of offense, it appears that the decade-long decline of offense across the sport may have finally leveled off.
Runs Per Game, 2005-2015
In terms of the most basic measure of offense, for just the second time in the last ten years 2015 (so far) shows an increase in runs per game, with each team scoring just over two tenths of a run per game more than 2014. There are still fewer runs per game than in 2012 and every year prior, but at least fans can seem a little more offense than they could the last couple of years.
Walks and Hits Per Inning Pitched, 2005-2015
Digging a little deeper into the (slight) increase in offense, we can start to see how some of those extra runs are being generated. Unsurprisingly, walks and hits allowed per inning is up slightly in 2015:
Offensive enthusiasts should not exactly rejoice over this, as 2015’s WHIP of 1.283 is still the second lowest in the last 10 years, but at least it’s an increase from 2014.
Hits Per Nine Innings, 2005-2015
Interestingly, not all types of offense have risen since last year. Hits per nine innings have continued to decline, and while the continued decline is not as significant as in years past, it’s still a decline nonetheless:
Home Runs Per Nine Innings, 2005-2015
Hits overall have gone down slightly, but so far in 2015 home runs have gone up slightly. Nike shouldn’t exactly be making plans to bring back the “Chicks Dig the Long Ball” commercial (though I’d love to see Matt Harvey and Clayton Kershaw cross-training together), but home runs aren’t quite as rare in 2015 (0.91 per game) as they were in 2014 (0.86 per game):
It is also worth noting that home runs show the most year-to-year fluctuation of all the graphs on this page, so a slight increase in 2015 should not be taken to guarantee a further increase for the rest of the season or in 2016 and beyond.
Walks per Nine Innings, 2005-2015
The somewhat surprising decline in hits per game has been countered by an increase in walks per game so far in 2015. As with the increase in runs and home runs the increase is slight but still a welcome alternative to the continued decline we’ve seen in the last few years. It is interesting that game times have decreased while walks have increased, given that walks are considered one of the biggest outcomes that slow down games, though it shows that patient hitters were not solely to blame for the increase in game times the last few years.
Strikeouts per Nine Innings, 2005-2015
Finally, while walks have gone up oh so slightly, perhaps most encouraging for those who want to see more offense, or at the very minimum, more balls put in play, strikeouts per game have (finally) gone down so far in 2015 (so far the first decline in over ten years):
It’s worth keeping the rate of strikeouts in perspective. From 2005 to 2015 strikeouts have still gone up nearly 20%, and many rightly feel that strikeouts are still far too prevalent in the game. But seeing a decrease is at least a step in the right direction (at least for hitters and nearly all fans of watching the game, anyway).
Before fans of high-scoring games get too excited, let’s remind ourselves that the season is less than one sixth of the way through, and that we haven’t even seen a full month’s worth of games yet as the season started a week later on the calendar than last year. But it’s never too early to start looking at trends in the new season, and even with all of the normal “small sample” caveats, fans of offense can at least raise a glass to the game not becoming even more unwatchable – for now.