Offensive Decline (05/19/14)

By John Ewing
MLB offensive numbers are down. How do our favorite statistics compare to a century ago?



Major League Baseball is in the midst of its eighth consecutive season with declining offense.

Major league teams have a collective batting average of .251 while averaging 4.18 runs per game. These numbers are similar to those posted a century ago in the dead-ball era.

How rare is this decline in offense as measured by batting average? There has only been two other stretches of at least five consecutive seasons with declining offense, a five year stretch from 1899 to 1904 and a seven year run from 1953 to 1960. Ever increasing offense is rare as well. Only once has the league batting average increased five years in a row, from 1917 to 1921.

Comparing the league to teams a century ago, we find that batting average, runs per game and on-base percentage are similar. However, the game has changed significantly in other ways during the modern era.

Current teams now hit nearly four times as many home runs per game but they strike out twice as often. Teams in 1914 stole twice as many bases and had four times as many sacrifice hits (bunts) per game.

Ballparks, rules and analytics have helped shape the current landscape in baseball. Pitchers and defense rule but offense will have its day once more.

Below are the statistics for the league in 2014 and 1914.

Statistics 2014 1914
Batting Average 0.251 0.254
Runs 4.18 3.86
On-Base Percentage 0.317 0.321
Home Runs 0.91 0.19
Strike Outs 7.81 3.93
Stolen Bases 0.59 1.22
Sacrifice Bunts 0.26 1.11