Remember 1977? It was the year Jimmy Carter held court in the White House, the Soviet threat was legitimate, and Major League Baseball players hit an average of 0.87 home runs per game. It was the last time such a low number of round-trippers left MLB parks — prior to this season. Unfortunately for anyone who loves an old-fashioned (ca. 2000) slugfest, that’s only the beginning of the story in what is a lost season for hitters in 2014. Here are five signs this MLB season’s power outage is of historic levels and approaching the Dead Ball Era. Beware: references to the nineteenth century are ahead.
Stats were sourced from Baseballreference.com and are current as of August 22, 2014.
1. Batting averages and OBP are at 50-year lows
Whatever happened to a base hit? Since MLB teams are deploying dramatic defensive shifts for batters these days, there are countless singles and doubles waiting for a hitter who taps a ball to the infield holes. Yet hitters rarely take the hit waiting for them on the other side of the diamond. Arguing it will “mess up” their (dead-pull) swing, many hitters say they are paid to hit the ball into the seats and not on the ground. (As shown above, they’re not fulfilling their home run promise, either.)
Hitters may even believe they are following the approach of Ted Williams. The Splendid Splinter, the last mortal to hit .400 for a full baseball season (.406 in 1941), began facing dramatic defensive shifts in 1949. They didn’t stop him from putting up slow-pitch softball numbers for the rest of his career. But there was only one Teddy Ballgame.
Today’s hitters politely decline to hit against the shift for a strategy that isn’t working. The collective .251 batting average in 2014 has not been seen since 1964 (and 1915), when batters hit .250 for the season. To believers in advanced statistics who say batting average is not essential, the on-base percentage should fortify this point. MLB hitters have a .313 OBP in 2014. The last time the number was that low? Again, it was 1964. Before that, the next lowest mark was set in the first year of recorded statistics: batters had a .312 OBP in 1871.