I’ll try to keep the word count on this low. Most of the critical information is in the headline. Here’s what that fact looks like, visually: (Click to animate.)
This shows, for the years 2005, 2008, 2011 and 2014, the distribution of all team games in which 10 or fewer runs were scored. As you can see, several slices have gotten steadily bigger, meaning that a greater and greater share of these games are clustered into a few run totals—specifically, four runs and fewer. Two-thirds of all team games now involve scoring four or fewer times. One thing the above graphic doesn’t even capture is that, as one might expect, the frequency of teams scoring 11 or more runs in games has dropped over the same span.
This will help that become slightly clearer:
(Again, if you’re not seeing the animation, click the image.)
I had just wondered what a drop in offense looked like, in terms of game-to-game variation in scoring. Would the curve move to the left? Would it get steeper, or flatter? Would more offense mean more or less variety? As one would intuit, it turns out that fewer runs means less variety, because there’s a fixed floor (of zero runs) toward which the distribution is forced to cluster. The current offensive environment engenders so many low-scoring games that, although the mode remains unchanged (three runs is the most common total for a team in a game, just as it was 10 years ago), there are more and more games in the two-to-four-run cluster.
In 2005, 700 different instances of a team scoring any number of runs was barely on the radar. In 2015, if the current trend holds and a fistful more high-offense games are pared down to four-run efforts, teams might score two, three and four runs 700 times each. That’s both making one game look ever more like the next, and making one team look ever more like the next, as the clustering invites more one-run games and greater parity.
Last observation: Four-run games are interesting. The league average for runs per game remains over 4.00 (albeit narrowly), and the frequency of teams scoring exactly four times has risen as offense has fallen, but a team scoring four times in every game over the last three years would have won 93 games per season. Because of the clustering, a below-average number of runs still wins a healthy majority of games.
These are all low-impact revelations. They border on self-evident. In case you ever wonder why hardcore baseball fans want to see more offense, though, refer back here. The reason is that we want to see more variety from one game to the next, and greater competitive integrity within each contest. A more open, offense-friendly game would better serve those objectives.Next post: The 1899 Cleveland Spiders
Previous post: The Gamer’s Guide to the MLB: Part 2, AL Central