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April 27, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

The Power Panic

by Joe Sheehan

It seems much of the mainstream media is up in arms over the continued surge in offense. It's just three weeks into the season, and we're hearing about how the ball needs to be changed, the mound needs to be raised, the bats need to be checked, the hitters need to be tested...pretty much everything but the hot dogs and the rosin bag are potential targets.

Despite the desperate efforts of the media to create a problem, there's a real question as to whether there is one, first of all. So more runs are being scored today than in 1992. Or 1988. Or 1968. Big whoop. Why is that in and of itself a bad thing? The game has always gone through stretches of high-offense and low-offense.

And is a three-week sample enough to say that 2000 is any worse than 1999 or 1998? Yes, offense is up over last April, but in the National League it's a marginal bounce, and it's almost entirely the fault of the St. Louis Cardinals, who are approaching a 1000 OPS. The league as a whole is hitting.265/.344/.441, vs. last April's .264/.341/.420. That's the impact of an outlier, folks, not a trend. American League offense is up a bit more (about 30 points of OPS), but again, we're dealing with a relatively small sample size.

Just because Jayson Stark's intern cranks out six new home-run stats every night doesn't mean there's some sort of crisis. Three weeks into any season a number of ridiculous things are occuring, and it's completely unreasonable to draw conclusions or make decisions or tinker with the game based on three weeks of play. The time for that is in the winter, when things can be studied and looked and there are significant amounts of data to be evaluated.

Of course, that implies that MLB is capable of taking a proactive stance on anything, as opposed to their usual reactionary methods. "The media is coming! The media is coming! Quick, issue a press release! Appoint a blue-ribbon panel! Blame Don Fehr!"

If the powers that be insist on doing something, here's one really simple solution: enforce the established rules. The three biggest factors that have brought on this hitting era are 1) the shrunken strike zone, 2) stronger hitters and 3) a turnover of parks. The first is the biggest, and the one that, to me, gets the least attention. It's also the one most easily changed. Just call pitches in the strike zone strikes. Right now, the zone is about 12 to 15 inches in height, which is absurd. Fix the strike zone, and you fix a host of problems.

There's not much that can be done about the second factor, although I feel that teams could counterbalance this by taking better care of their pitchers' arms. Let the Cubs replace 200 innings of Dan Serafini and the like with 200 innings of Kerry Wood and see what that does for the ERA.

Finally, enforce the rules on the books that mandate 330 feet down the lines in new parks. ESPN.com's Rob Neyer has already covered this, so I'll just say that Enron Field and Pac Bell Park aren't close to book-legal, and MLB's refusal to address this is typical and shameful.

Mostly, the screaming masses need to stop screaming. A high-offense era isn't something to be ashamed of, and despite the protestations of many in and out of the game, no one style of baseball is inherently better or worse than another. Instead of bashing the bashers, take a look at the history of the game and gain some perspective. Then drive out to the park or flip on the tube and enjoy some baseball.

No matter what the final score is.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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