RESEARCH: The 2015 Cheater's Bookmark

It's no secret that baseball is currently seeing a swing of the pendulum in the ages-old batter vs. pitcher matchup, with pitchers (and their defenses) gaining an increasing upper hand in recent years. In the course of producing the 2015 Baseball Forecaster (subtle reminder: order your copy now!), and in conversations throughout last weekend's First Pitch Arizona symposium, it's clear that there is a difference between simply being aware of these trends, and fully grasping the significance of these changes and how they affect our game play.

A handy little tool for tracking these ongoing changes is the "Cheater's Bookmark", a quarter-page reference tool that we slip into the back of each edition of the Baseball Forecaster. It's intended to be a quick reference guide for league average performance across many of the key metrics that we use in the book. Comparing the bookmark data over the past several years results in a great snapshot of the changing run-production environment in MLB:


         BA      OBP      SLG      OPS    bb%   ct%      Eye      SBO%     BPV
       AL|NL    AL|NL    AL|NL    AL|NL   A|N  AL|NL    AL|NL     AL|NL   AL|NL
      =======  =======  =======  =======  ===  =====  =========   =====   =====
'10   260|255  327|324  406|399  733|723  9|9  80|78  0.48|0.44   10|9    46|46
'11   258|253  319|315  408|391  727|706  8|8  80|79  0.45|0.42   11|10   48|43
'12   256|261  317|323  412|414  729|737  8|8  79|79  0.42|0.43   10|11   43|43
'13   256|258  318|318  406|401  724|719  8|8  78|79  0.41|0.42    9|9    41|44 
'14   254|256  312|315  391|395  704|711  8|8  78|78  0.39|0.39    9|9    40|39

And the pitcher data:

         ERA       WHIP       BABIP      Ctl       Dom       Cmd     hr/f     BPV
        AL|NL      AL|NL      AL|NL     AL|NL     AL|NL     AL|NL     A|N    AL|NL
      =========  =========   =======   =======   =======   =======   =====  ======
'10   4.14|4.02  1.35|1.35   299|305   3.2|3.3   6.8|7.4   2.1|2.2    9|9    54|62
'11   4.08|3.81  1.33|1.31   299|300   3.1|3.1   7.0|7.3   2.2|2.3   10|10   64|70
'12   4.09|3.95  1.31|1.31   296|303   3.0|3.1   7.4|7.7   2.5|2.5   12|11   74|79
'13   3.99|3.74  1.32|1.28   296|292   3.1|3.0   7.7|7.5   2.5|2.5   11|10   76|78  
'14   3.82|3.66  1.28|1.27   296|295   2.9|2.9   7.7|7.8   2.6|2.6    9|10   82|86

It almost doesn't even matter where you look in this chart, the story is essentially the same everywhere:

  • ERAs are down a quarter of a run in just the past two years, and nearly four-tenths of a run over the full five years scanned here.
  • League-wide slugging levels fell below .400 in the AL for the first time in 2014. Both league's aggregate OPS are now on the precipice of falling below the .700 level.
  • The average batting Eye ratio slipped below 0.40 for the first time, in both leagues.
  • The average Cmd ratio has now cleared the 2.5 threshold, in both leagues.
  • There is a stark difference between batter BPV and pitcher BPV. Five years ago, there was a minimal gap in the average BPV of a hitter vs. that of a pitcher. Now, the BPV of an average pitcher is more than double that of an average batter.

League-wide numbers sometimes don't sink in without context, so let's add that context by pointing out players who represent the league average in various categories:

  • For an AL pitcher, you might think that Roenis Elias (LHP,  SEA) had a pretty decent first year in the majors: 10-12, 3.85 ERA, 3.5 Ctl, 7.9 Dom, 70 BPV. Per the above chart, that's actually a below-average pitcher.
  • For an NL pitcher, Matt Garza (RHP, MIL) had a pretty credible 2014, right? Compare his line (8-8, 3.64 ERA, 2.8 Ctl, 6.9 Dom, 72 BPV) to the NL averages above. His ERA is barely above average, and he falls below the average mark in all of those skill metrics.
  • Two AL hitters who had a .704 OPS in 2014: David Freese (3B, LAA) and Chris Davis (3B/1B, BAL). Those guys were terrible in 2014, right? Nope. Dead average.
  • Casey McGehee (3B, MIA) and Brandon Crawford (SS, SF) probably don't fit your mental image of an average hitter, either, but they're the closest everyday players to the NL's average 711 OPS last year: McGehee posted a 712 OPS, Crawford 713. They're both above-average hitters in this day and age!

We could give more examples, but hopefully the over-arching point is starting to sink in: When you start preparing for the 2015 season, before you delve into individual player analysis, start by taking some time to fully calibrate your mind against today's league context. Then, throughout the offseason, keep going back and re-check that calibration until you have it locked in. MLB is not playing the same way it did five years ago, so we can't play our games the same way either.

We will come back to this point throughout the offseason here at BaseballHQ.com: You'll see it in our our player analysis, in our strategy writings, and even in our tools. It will also be a key focus of Ron Shandler's introductory essay in the 2015 Baseball Forecaster (less-subtle reminder: order your copy now!).

 


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.