Last year, I wrote about how 2010 AL run scoring was significantly depressed. AL batters scored 4.45 runs per game in 2010, down from 4.82 in 2010. In fairly robust 330 game span, here are the early returns from 2011:
AL batters have scored just 4.29 runs per game in 2011. If that were to hold up over a full season, it would be the lowest level of run scoring since 1989.
It should be noted that while there are validity concerns in projecting run scoring down (Baseball conditions are different in April than in other months, although there was little monthly variation last season), 330 games is a pretty robust sample in terms of random variation. We can say with a lot of confidence that run scoring is down, even though that may change in the future.
What does this mean for the 2011 season? First, it means that the Yankees’ 4.19 runs allowed per game and 3.90 ERA so far are worse than they seem. The Yankee pitching staff has basically been league average. I also think it might help to explain to early returns on retreads Bartolo Colon and in particular Freddy Garcia. A more forgiving run scoring environment means that pitchers with more marginal stuff can probably find more success. A less forgiving environment might push a pitching hanging onto the edge of a good start over the breaking point.
If the trend persists, it means that baseball will be returning back to 1980s-levels of run scoring. That means that special plays like steals, bunts, squeezes, hit and runs, etc become more effective on the margin. It also means that guys who can still hit to career norms – I’m looking at you, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez – are enormously valuable. It also makes the early Yankee run scoring (on pace for 879 runs, which looks like 1,000 runs in 1996 terms) pretty darn impressive.
As I said last year, your guess is as good as mine on the cause of depressed run scoring. I think its a combination of a natural talent cycle, steroids exiting the game, renewed emphasis on defense and better maintenance of health for young pitchers.