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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.