Offense remains in deep freeze during MLB season’s 1st week
Batters stayed stuck in the deep freeze in the sport’s offensive ice age during the first week of the new major league season, with scoring remaining near its lowest level in more than two decades.
There was an average of 8.34 runs per game through Sunday, according to STATS, down from 8.38 through the first eight days of last season and the second-lowest since 1992. Back in 2006, teams averaged 10.51 runs a game over a similar span.
“Pitching is so good now that it’s just gotten tougher and tougher and tougher on these hitters,” said Bruce Bochy, manager of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants. “The game’s changed. The velocity on these pitchers has gone up quite a bit, particularly in the bullpen.”
Houston’s Evan Gattis is 0 for 20 with 12 strikeouts. Boston’s Mike Napoli was 0 for 18 before an eighth-inning single Sunday night.
“This game is about rhythm and being in there a lot,” Napoli said. “I’m pretty sure that once everyone gets into rhythm it’s going to be good times.”
The .241 big league batting average is down from .246 in the first week last year and the second-lowest in 24 years, ahead of only 2012. Before hitters had a good day at the plate Sunday, the average was .236 — the lowest since 1972.
Home runs are up slightly to 1.81 from last year’s 1.70, the smallest average since 1993.
There were shutouts on each of the first seven days of the season for the first time since 2002. The 20 total blankings equaled two years ago for the most over the first eight days since 1972, STATS said.
“People overanalyze everything,” Oakland outfielder Josh Reddick said. “We’re what, six games in right now? It’s just nothing.”
Still, sometimes early trends do hold up. Last year’s final big league batting average of .251 was the lowest since 1972. Only 12 players had 100 or more RBIs, down from a record 59 in 1999.
Texas slugger Prince Fielder points to the increase in pitchers’ velocity. These days, miles per hour is scrutinized as much as ERA.
“You don’t have too many guys just throwing 86, 88 no more,” he said. “They’re throwing 93, 95 with the same kind of movement as a guy throwing 86. You’ve got to tip your cap. Guys are good.”
And it’s not just power pitching. Throw in tougher testing for steroids and defensive shifts suggested by computer programs, and the sport looks far more like the era of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson in the 1960s than the big bopper days of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“I think a better drug-testing policy has something to do with it,” Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Beyond all that I think it’s all the advanced information, it just slants to pitching and defense. There’s really nothing out there that helps a hitter right now.”
Texas rookie manager Jeff Bannister says the onus is on batters to change their ways.
“Teams play shifts because hitters are unwilling to move the ball around the yard, hit the other way,” he said. “Be a hitter. Put a foot down and be a hitter. Let slugging happen.”
Miguel Montero, Colorado’s All-Star catcher, thought about his vantage point from behind the plate. At least he gets to appreciate the pitching prosperity.
“It’s fun to catch those guys,” he said. “I know hitting isn’t’ that fun.”
AP Sports Writers Jay Cohen, Schuyler Dixon, Pat Graham, Janie McCauley and Bernie Wilson, and freelance writer Charles O’Brien contributed to this report.