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.

12 Comments

  • Doug says:

    So why would this affect Cleveland disproportionally? Are Dodgers fans (the Dodgers had more than double the average attendance of the Tribe) more amenable to the pitchers’ duel for some reason? How about the Pirates, who averaged 28,210 fans at each home game (good for 19th in Baseball) compared to the Indians’ 19,661 (good for 28th) despite having super low runs scored and runs allowed numbers due to excellent pitching and relatively anemic hitting?

    I’m willing to believe that lower offensive numbers are hurting interest in baseball overall (and I think it’s quite likely that the mound will get lowered again in the next few years) but I have a hard time seeing how this explains the Tribe’s frankly pathetic attendance numbers.

    • Matt Hutton says:

      @Doug Mostly I was looking at the offensive downturn in terms of overall growth of the game. The only reason I wondered if Cleveland might be disproportionately affected (and you might be right, I’m just posing the question) was that the game is so much different than it was when the team drew record crowds. I am wondering aloud if some Indians fans are in fact less amenable to low scoring games because when they really got into the team during those peak years from 95-01 they got used to slugfests and walk-off home runs and Jim Thome launching 500-foot blasts every night. Whereas the Reds, Yankees, Pirates and Dodgers (for example) had good teams during multiple different eras, though obviously the Pirates not so much the last 20 years.

      During that 90s the team was great and the games were exciting and fun to watch. You and I might still love the sport just as much, but we have to admit that this isn’t the same brand of baseball by any stretch. I’m not trying to make excuses for low attendance, just trying to look at it from a slightly different angle.

  • Gvl Steve says:

    It’s not just the drop in scoring, but the number of strikeouts. When half of your hitters average under .240 and can’t even put the ball in play, the game is boring to watch for some fans. Maybe it would help to lower the pitcher’s mound by two inches to offset the shift toward pitcher dominance. I enjoy a dominant pitching performance because it is (supposed to be) a rare treat, not an everyday occurrence. Watching your team struggle to score two runs off a junkball 5th starter for 3 hours is not exciting.

  • CherokeeJacket says:

    The advantage of the offensive era was that you never felt like you were out of the game. I still remember that game against Randy Johnson and the Mariners in the late 90′s when the Tribe got down 13-2 in the 5th, and still managed to find a way to eek out a 14-13 win. Too many times this year you would see our starting pitcher struggle (I’m looking at you pre-All Star break Ubaldo), give up two or three runs, and you just knew the Tribe was toast. We would lose two or three low scoring games in a row, and then inexplicably explode for a 9-1 win. I think fans like something more consistent … something they can depend on.

  • Peter says:

    or is it just a function of the Indians inability to execute when it mattered such winning an important series against Detroit? Laying down a desperately needed bunt? effectively moving runners over at a crucial time? Getting a single instead of swinging for the fences and striking out? How about a weak ground ball to the left side of the field against the shift instead of a ground ball to short stop in right field?

    I know the tribe won their share of games this year and it was a huge improvement over last year. It was good. But for every up time they had this year, it was followed by an irritating down time, usually a big one. And how about improving on the errors. 5th worst in the AL. This team was supposed to be much better fielding team.

    I think that kept fans away. No one really bought in until the Wild card game and that was a big disappointment again. The crowd was pumped and ready and left with little to cheer about. We could never execute that needed hit to get us back in the game.

    I think the Tribe is in a good position for 2014, but they will need a good start to get the fans going early. That means win series and win some series against the big guys.

  • Sean Porter says:

    I’ve heard or read many theories on why the Indians draw poorly and I’ll admit, this is one of the more interesting ones.

    My theory is quite simple actually: Cleveland is a bad baseball town.

    • Swift says:

      I think your theory is closer to the truth. Or more precisely, Cleveland is a FOOTBALL town, baseball is an afterthought.

    • Peter says:

      I disagree. I think Cleveland is a smaller market with a lot of choices. As for football vs baseball, it’s 8 games vs 80. 648,000 seats vs 3,467,600 seats.

  • David B. Wilkerson says:

    Cleveland is certainly a town in which the baseball team has to be good for more than one year at a time to attract casual fans. People don’t respond to one year of solid play until the very end of such a season, because they’re often waiting for a collapse (especially if the team has started well in the two previous years, only to fall apart).

    I know people always frame this discussion in terms of how this compares to the “free pass” the Browns get despite their terrible play since ’99, but let’s remember that the Indians went nearly two generations (1960-1993) without contending even once for an AL or division crown (during a period when the Browns often contended). This long drought still has a huge effect on the fan base. The habits formed during those years — watching the Tribe on TV, but rarely going to the Stadium — were passed down to more than one generation, and for many of those casual fans the ’90s were an aberration in terms of competitiveness.

    While the 2002-04 rebuild was going on, those people just saw the losing as a return to the norm (so much so that they didn’t embrace the 2005 team until the very end, only to see the season unravel in the final week). Their interest was piqued early in ’06, but we know what happened that year, so again, when ’07 came around, people who didn’t follow the team closely were skeptical.

    So, when the news media and others exhorted people to go to see the 2013 Indians, too many people couldn’t see past the previous five seasons of losing. They didn’t notice that the drafts have been slowly improving, or that guys like Kipnis, Santana and Brantley are growing as players every year, or even the dramatic changes brought about by Francona — until the final push. As was said earlier in this thread, they’ll have to get off to a strong start, and sustain it, to keep the casual fans interested.

    Personally, I’m a die-hard, so I have, and will, go to games when I can.

  • Gvl Steve says:

    “455″ wasn’t that long ago. Show a consistent commitment to winning, re-sign your own players to stay here instead of trading them away. The team is on the right track if they can avoid having to blow it up again.

  • Greg says:

    I think the inconsistant play kept fans from truly buying in on this year’s team. I live 2.5 hours away and getting to games takes a lot of effort to get to. I managed to get to 4 games this, one being in Cincinnati. In 36 innings that I witnessed in person I saw a total of 6 runs scored by our team. Driving that far and investing that much money ( I usually have 4 tickets each time) and seeing games where our team doesn’t score isn’t exactly making me to come back more often. I was at opening day to witness that Pathetic showing. ( A sell out). Then I went to Cincy to watch them almost get shutout by Mike leake. I was at the July 5th game against the Tigers (another sellout, after returning home from a big road trip) to witness the lack of energy and got shutout. Lastly, I went to the wildcard game (another sellout) and watch another shutout. Thats 21 innings straight without seeing a run score. Thats 900 miles driven since that the last run I saw score and thats not even factoring in the money I spent. As you see I pick games where the venue is packed. I love this team but I also liked to go when the place is electric. Several times this team had a chance to get us exicted and everytime the laid an egg. So, I Kind of agree with Stephanie, I would rather lose 9-8 then witness a shutout where we were even competitive.

  • Connor Silverman in 2013 last year the Indians went 21-6 in September and 24 win improvement. Now Indians need:
    1.Outfielder 2.Starting pitcher 3. Closer 4. Relievers.