Hitting, scoring drop to lowest in 2 decades
PHOENIX—Scoring in the first half of the season dropped to its lowest level in 19 years and the major league batting average shrunk to its smallest midseason figure since 1985, confirmation that the Steroids Era has ended and that a new Age of the Pitcher is taking hold.
There were 8.4 runs per game prior to the All-Star break, according to STATS LLC, down 6 percent from last year's 8.9 at the midpoint and 20 percent from the peak of 10.5 in 2000.
"The pitchers in the National League -- it's crazy," San Francisco's Pedro Sandoval said Monday, a day before the All-Star game. "We've got Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee."
It's not only scoring that's decreased. Many offensive measures dipped during the first three months of the regular season.
The major league batting average of .253 was down from .259 at last year's All-Star break. It hasn't been this low since at midseason in 26 years, since it sunk to .252 in 1985. A dozen years ago, at the height of the Steroids Era, it rose to .273.
Hits per game dropped to 17.2 from 17.6 last year, down from 18.8 in 1999 and 2000. Home runs per game declined to 1.8, down a tenth of a point from last year and an astounding 31 percent below the 2000 average of 2.6 at the break.
The major league ERA of 3.85 is down from 4.15 during the first three months of last season and more than a run below the 4.86 ERA when players broke for the 2000 All-Star game at Atlanta's Turner Field.
"It seems like a lot of guys are throwing a lot harder these days. It seems like every team has a couple guys throwing 100," said Chicago White Sox slugger Carlos Quentin, who has 17 homers. "As a hitter, you embrace that challenge."
Hitters seem to be taking shorter strokes, not going for the fences. Strikeouts averaged 6.3 per game, down from 6.6 last year and a high of 7.7 in 2000.
"There's been a lot of young pitcher coming to the big leagues," Philadelphia's Placido Polanco said. "I think that makes a difference."
Quentin has another insight: The way some pitchers are being used has changed.
"There's a lot of guys coming out of the bullpen that are good," he said. "You see a lot of guys that are converted from being starters to relievers, and all of a sudden they're throwing 95 and 96 out of the `pen for one-plus inning. I feel like I've seen more of those guys of late."
Halladay, 11-3 with a 2.45 ERA, was to start for the National League, following Vida Blue, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson as the fourth pitcher to make an All-Star start for both leagues. The Los Angeles Angels' Jered Weaver, 11-4 with a 1.86 ERA, was slated to open for the AL.
The AL won 12 straight All-Star games played to a decision before the NL's 3-1 victory last year in Anaheim. It was the first time the NL won since the All-Star game started determining home-field advantage for the World Series in 2003, and the Giants went on to beat the Texas Rangers in five games for the title.
"Home field can be a very important component in winning the world championship," Weaver said. "So I think it's a great thing for the best players in the world to go out there and compete and work for that home-field advantage."