Something is amiss across the baseballing populace. Take a glance at the pitching leaderboard and note all of the high strikeout totals. More than a dozen starting pitchers are averaging at least one strikeout per inning and about half of them are averaging more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings. It would seem as if the league is striking out more batters than usual, and sure enough, a check of this handy dandy chart confirms that suspicion.
The league is averaging more than seven strikeouts per nine innings for the first time in the history of the game – note that the SO/9 ratio from last year is based on rounding rules rather than a true ratio over 7. This season hasn’t just given us the highest strikeout rate in league history either, though: the 4.17 league-wide ERA is the lowest since 1992. Home runs are also down, below one per game for the first time since 1993, and walks are actually slightly up – to 3.55 – despite intentional walks per game remaining static from 2009.
Before declaring this the great offensive depression or the golden era of pitching, it’s important to put these numbers into context. Specifically: Did the league struggle like this last season too? Here are the comparisons between the 2010 ratio statistics versus the 2009 statistics through the May 16th, 2009 slate of games (gathered thanks to Baseball Musings’ day-by-day database and an assist to Marc Normandin):
2010: 4.17 ERA, 8.70 H/9, 0.94 HR/9, 3.55 BB/9, 7.08 SO/9, 0.31 HBP/9
2009: 4.56 ERA, 9.14 H/9, 1.05 HR/9, 3.71 BB/9, 6.89 SO/9, 0.37 HBP/9
Offense is down in every conceivable way from last year at the same time. Pick the reason. From Houston and Seattle’s struggling run production, to an influx of talented young pitchers, to a league-wide shift towards defense and a league-wide acceptance of strikeout-heavy hitters, to the fact that this young season has already had a no hitter and perfect game occur, to hey, it’s just some variance and luck. None of those answers seem outrageous or outlandish and a combination thereof is probably the most likely answer.
It’ll be interesting to see whether the data holds up as the season progresses.