As the Indians front office looks to build on the success of 2013, especially when it comes to ticket sales, I found myself wondering if the pendulum has swung too far in favor of the pitchers to easily attract the casual fans’ interest. At least in Cleveland.
This thought struck me the other day during Game Three of the ALCS, the second 1-0 affair between the Tigers and Red Sox. We had it on at work and one of my co-workers wandered over, looked at the score in the bottom of the eighth inning and asked “when did baseball become soccer?”
Obviously that’s not a fair statement, as evidenced by the 6-4 and 7-3 finals of Wednesday’s LCS games, but no one can deny pitching has dominated this postseason … and frankly the last few seasons as well. The 4.17 runs per game teams averaged in 2013 was the lowest level since 1992.
I love a great pitcher’s duel as much as the next guy, one of the few games I was able to see in person this year was Justin Masterson’s phenomenal 1-0 complete game shutout over the Yankees in Game One of a doubleheader. It was great for me … but I’m a die-hard. For a young 8- or 9-year-old seeing his first game, I have to wonder if his or her imagination was captured quite the same way.
The Indians finished 6th in all of baseball in runs scored with 745. But we all know that team was far from an offensive powerhouse. Just for fun, in the strike shortened 1995 season - when so many people became Indians fans, or at least fully embraced the team – that would have been good for 10th. Nine teams (including the Indians leading the way with 840) scored more runs in 144 games that year than the Indians did in 2013. Again, the Tribe scored the sixth most runs in all of baseball last year.
Look, whatever your feelings on PEDs, I think it’s fair to say at least some percentage of the offensive decline in the last 10 years can safely be attributed to efforts to clean up the game.
But as baseball works to grow casual interest and TV ratings (and in fairness postseason ratings are up this year compared to 2012), there’s something to be said for the game going too far in any one direction and losing that balance.
It’s not any one factor that has led to the offensive decline. Beyond PEDs, some new ballparks are simply more pitcher friendly. Video technology, advanced scouting and stats tip the advantage even further to the pitcher. Couple that with the number of teams embracing defensive shifts and alignments based on hit charts, and it’s amazing hitters have as good a chance as they do. Not to mention the awful, all-or-nothing approach of so many hitters today. (I’m talking to you wild card game version of Nick Swisher).
At a time when other sports, specifically football and basketball, are altering their rules and styles to favor offense, I wonder if this is the best overall direction for growing the game. I haven’t had a chance to study it, but plenty of baseball writers I respect have noted the particularly generous strike zones, especially in the postseason.
I’m genuinely curious about what other fans think.
Perhaps it was growing into my baseball fandom during the “steroids era” with those great, offensive juggernaut Indians and “chicks dig the long ball” commercials, but I’d like to see offense start to — reasonably — tick up again. And given the Indians were at their height of popularity during that period, I wonder if MLB was in an era of offense rather than pitching dominant one, would that have affected anything when it came to attendance. If I had to guess, I suspect casual fans enjoy a 7-6 game to a 3-2 affair, but I don’t know. Maybe I really am underselling casual fans enjoyment of teams scratching and clawing for every run.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying in any way that baseball needs to go back to the crazy period when a football-like 13-10 felt like a pretty average score. At that time the pendulum had swung so far toward the hitters the game was a parody of itself, a video game brought to life. At the same time, I can’t get 100 percent behind another deadball, soccer-like era of baseball.
I would be really curious, either in the comments or on twitter (@mhutton722), to hear what some of you think on the topic.