I recently read an author who wondered why offense seemed to be down, while so many indicators say it’s not. I felt that the author was hitting on something that I noticed, so I did some research.
I took a look at the last several years of stats from the beginning of the season, and found some noticeable changes in the leader boards that might be telling. We’re at the point in the season we’re the league leaders have well over 100 at-bats, and the early returns seem to be saying that the missing offense is to be found at the top of the heap. The number of hitters posting 1.000 plus OPS numbers is below what we’ve been seeing the last seven seasons. In fact, there’s only one hitter in the AL posting a 1.000 OPS right now, and only 11 in the NL.
Here’s how many hitters were posting plus 1.000 OPS over the first month of the season during the last seven seasons:
ESPN doesn’t list earlier than 2000, but even so, that, my friends, is a trend. And it seems like this year in particular, the missing power hitters are all from the AL. Here’s the American League list:
I don’t know what that means, but here’s a guess; the three best power hitters of our generation aren’t playing anymore, Bonds, Sosa and McGwire. Add in Rafael Palmeiro, Todd Helton’s late-career decline, Giambi, Bagwell, Nomar, Edgar Martinez, Larry Walker, I mean, I could go on and on. There’s a ton of home runs, doubles, a lot of top-notch, Hall of Fame-level power hitting gone from the game that we’ve kind of grown used to seeing.
We just don’t have those eye-popping leader boards that we’ve gotten used to seeing. Is it the drug testing? Well, maybe, maybe not.
There’s one point I’d argue right up front; yes, Bonds, McGwire and Sosa were uber-stars of the highest order, of that there is no doubt. But, they were surrounded by a much stronger cast of hitters than today’s stars are. For crying out loud, when Bonds hit 49 home runs in 2000, he didn’t even lead the league, and 16(!) other players hit 40 or more, and 47(!) players hit 30 or more. Focusing on home run production, we see that:
In 2000, 1 player hit 50, 16 hit 40 or more, and 47 blasted 30 or more.
In 2001, 4 players hit 50 or more, 12 hit 40 or more, and 41 blasted at least 30.
In 2002, 2 players hit 50 or more, 8 hit 40 or more, and 28 hit at least 30.
In 2003, 0 players hits 50 or more, 10 hit 40 or more, 30 hit at least 30.
In 2004, 0 players hit 50 or more, 9 hit 40 or more, 37 hit at least 30.
In 2005, 1 player hit 50 or more, 9 hit 40 or more, and 27 hit at least 30.
In 2006, 2 players hit 50 or more, 11 hit 40 or more, and 34 hit at least 30.
In 2007, 2 players hit 50 or more, 5 hit 40 or more, and 26 hit 30 or more.
Where are we headed this season? We’re about a sixth of the way through the season, and only two guys have already reached double figures in home runs, Utley and Lance Berkman. In the last 3 seasons, the overall big number (30 plus home run) seasons has been 27, 34 and 26; after peaking at 47 in 2000. That’s seems like a big decline.
Are there a lot of great new power hitters? Sure, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, Prince Fielder, Kevin Youklis, Justin Morneau, you still have A-Rod and Manny, Miguel Cabrera, there’s plenty. However, there is a significant number of what you might call sure-fire, power hitting studs out of the game, retired, unemployed, whatever. But the missing offense, the missing home runs, the missing power, is primarily from the second tier guys. The guys who would hit 30, are now hitting 20, the guys who used to hit 40, are now working their asses off to hit 30. The fluky seasons that used to be 40-plus, like Luis Gonzalez, or Jim Edmonds, or Jose Cruz Jr., or Richard Hidalgo, or Tony Bautista; those seasons are a thing of the past.
So, if it was PED’s, then it certainly wasn’t just Bonds and Sosa and Mcgwire who were blasting all those extra home runs, (which, of course, I’ve already argued about a hundred times). Either the extra five miles per hour the pitchers were gaining by using PED’s was ensuring that the long fly balls went out, or the guys who stopped using when the testing program started were the guys who were working to get the big contracts; the guys who knew the difference between 20 home runs and thirty was about $5 million per season; and were willing to do whatever they could to get there.
Either way, offense may or may not be down, but ESPN highlight seasons certainly are.