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Offense in MLB continues to decline

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Ray updates his research on the trend in the number of hitters who score 80 or more runs and drive in 80 or more runs. The trend continues to slope downward.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Fantasy owners have always tried to draft the best offense as possible on draft day, but it is becoming more and more difficult to find even an average hitter at each position as you go deeper and deeper into your drafts. It used to be that you could find that 70 RBI or 20 home run hitter late in drafts, but that is not the case over the last few years.

With pitching becoming so dominant over the last few seasons,  fantasy owners can stream starting pitchers a few times per week and get the same performance they would get from their #1 or #2 starters. Well, not all the time, but it is possible to utilize a wait on pitching strategy, coupled with an in-season strategy of streaming starting pitchers to allow you to focus on the offensive categories on draft day.

It is pretty common knowledge that run scoring and power is down across baseball, and here are some numbers to prove it, courtesy of FanGraphs:

Season

G

PA

HR

R

RBI

SB

BB%

K%

ISO

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

wOBA

2004

61,111

188,539

5,451

23,375

22,248

2,589

8.60%

16.90%

0.162

0.297

0.266

0.335

0.428

0.330

2005

59,935

186,294

5,017

22,326

21,248

2,565

8.20%

16.40%

0.154

0.295

0.264

0.330

0.419

0.326

2006

60,495

188,071

5,386

23,599

22,491

2,767

8.40%

16.80%

0.163

0.301

0.269

0.337

0.432

0.332

2007

60,785

188,623

4,957

23,322

22,257

2,918

8.50%

17.10%

0.155

0.303

0.268

0.336

0.423

0.331

2008

60,759

187,631

4,878

22,585

21,541

2,799

8.70%

17.50%

0.152

0.300

0.264

0.333

0.416

0.328

2009

59,989

187,079

5,042

22,419

21,363

2,970

8.90%

18.00%

0.155

0.299

0.262

0.333

0.418

0.329

2010

59,813

185,553

4,613

21,308

20,288

2,959

8.50%

18.50%

0.145

0.297

0.257

0.325

0.403

0.321

2011

58,099

185,245

4,552

20,808

19,804

3,279

8.10%

18.60%

0.144

0.295

0.255

0.321

0.399

0.316

2012

59,122

184,179

4,934

21,017

19,999

3,229

8.00%

19.80%

0.151

0.297

0.255

0.319

0.405

0.315

2013

58,596

184,873

4,661

20,255

19,271

2,693

7.90%

19.90%

0.143

0.297

0.253

0.318

0.396

0.314

2014

58,819

183,928

4,186

19,761

18,745

2,764

7.60%

20.40%

0.135

0.299

0.251

0.314

0.386

0.310

I took a look at FanGraph's league average stats from 2004 - 2014, and if you scan the table above, you can see the dramatic decline in home runs, RBI and runs scored, along with corresponding drops in league average OBP, SLG, ISO and wOBA+. Along with that, you can see a big increase in the league average K% over the last decade from 16.9% to 20.4%.

Home runs have dropped from 5,451 in 2004 to 4,186 in 2014, a 23% drop. Run scoring has dropped from 23,375 runs scored in 2004 to 19.761 runs in 2014, a 15% decline. The league average slugging percentage has dropped 10% from .428 to .386 over the same time period.

The reasons for the decline in offense are many, but a few that keep coming to my mind are:

1) pitchers are throwing harder than ever before,

2) teams are using their bullpens more than ever,

3) PED use is not as rampant as it was a decade ago, as MLB and it's players union attempt to crack down on PED use in the game.

PEDs helped keeps hitters with nagging injuries on the field and performing at a high level, and once injured, PEDs helped hitters return to the field quicker as well.

As I did last season, here is a look at the trend in the number of hitters who score and drive in 80 or more runs, along with the number of hitters who achieved both - scored 80+ runs and drove in 80+ runs. The 80-80 column lists the number of players who scored and drove in 80 runs in each season since 2004:

Year

80-80

80 runs

80 RBI

2004

56

88

77

2005

40

70

62

2006

65

98

83

2007

59

93

79

2008

42

76

69

2009

43

75

73

2010

37

66

60

2011

36

58

59

2012

33

61

56

2013

23

49

47

2014

20

41

41

As you can see, the decline in 80 - 80 hitters matches the decline in the league-wide drop in offense. It appears league-wide offense peaked in 2006 and has been in decline ever since.

Here is a graph to show how dramatic the decline is:

2014 80-80- hitters

As power and runs scored continue in this downward spiral, fantasy owners are left with drafting that middling outfielder who could hit 15 home runs and drive in 60 runs over their #3 or #4 starting pitcher who could end up being more valuable at the end of the season. And as we saw last season, fantasy owners were more willing to take a chance on that top prospect earlier in drafts. In 2015, the hot draft day prospect will be Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, as he is the best power hitting prospect in the game right now, and we should see him in Wrigley Field by May at the latest.

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