Is small ball back?
Scouts, catchers and basestealers agree: "The real game of baseball is coming back," Nationals speedster Nyjer Morgan said. "It's a beautiful thing."Look for more teams to imitate the Angels and Rays with aggressive baserunning. Last year, the Red Sox, Rangers and, in the second half, Athletics picked up their paces. The Mariners, White Sox, Padres and Rockies figure to be among the clubs that join the run fun in 2010.
I won't get into the question of what "real" baseball is – when it comes to watching baseball, I'm not exactly picky. Give me hitters, pitchers and four bases and I'm happy. But is small ball really making a comeback?
Let's look at stolen base attempts per runners on base, from 1993 to 2009:
There's a slight uptick there, but it's utterly dwarfed by the steady decline from '93 onward. So what about that other barometer of small ball, the sacrifices? Let's look at sacs (hits and flies) per contact:
Again, a slight uptick, but not much in the context of recent years, and still pretty low.
Of course, this argument assumes that there's a reason for small ball to return – that home runs are declining. And they really aren't – again, this is the rate per contact:
Home runs really aren't on the decline – if you exclude 1993, home run rates have remained essentially flat from 1994-2009. 2009 was a decidedly average year for home runs. If steroid testing is having an affect, it's not on the number of home runs that are being hit.
And we're not seeing a return to small ball.