Mood Music - Holdin on to Black Metal by My Morning Jacket
With my weekly masquerade as a minor league aficionado and my dabbling in writing elsewhere (shameless), I've been a little bit light in analysis pieces here on PSA. I do, however, have some musings to share today, and I'll flatter myself that my charts-and-graph style of spinning the numbers has been missed.
For the past two seasons, the major decline in offensive productivity has caused each year to be dubbed "The Year of the Pitcher" by various pundits, and has shed more light on the concept of run environment to many analysts. In the 2000 season, three pitchers posted a sub-3.00 ERA, in 2009, the number had ballooned to eleven, in 2010, it had reached fifteen, and so far in 2011, twenty-two pitchers are currently below the 3.00 ERA plateau.
There is no denying that, as a whole, offense is down across baseball. Some causes of the offensive drop off, like the slow weeding out of steroids, are obvious, while some are indicative of a more subtle way in which the game goes through peaks and valleys and, in my opinion, an increased emphasis on fielding. But how much does this affect the Yankees?
From a purely anecdotal point of view, it has always seemed to me that the biggest change in run environment has been in the AL and NL West, where dominant pitching has throttled punchless lineups in cavernous ballparks. And in fact, of the twenty-two sub-3.00 ERA pitchers, ten pitch in the West. Also, nine of the top fourteen pitchers by fWAR are on Western teams.
This is not to say that the Yankees will never have to face pitchers from the West, especially AL West aces like Felix Hernandez, Jered Weaver, and C.J. Wilson, but they certainly face them less. Furthermore, the Giants, Padres, and Dodgers playing an endless loop of 2-1 games has next to no relevance to the Yankees, although it is incorporated into league-wide run environments.
While the American League East does not represent the entirety of the Yankees schedule (yet), it should certainly be weighted more than other divisions when considering the team's performance. Below is a graph showing the runs scored by every team in the East:
*To estimate the 2011 numbers, I merely extrapolated the current run scoring pace over 162 games. Although I have no data to support it, I have always heard that offense tends to rise in the second half of the season, and with the warmer weather leading to better carry on fly balls and the wearing down of pitching staffs, I can definitely buy into it. For this exercise, however, my estimate should be fine.
While there is a definite drop off in the final two seasons, the difference is not so severe as to indicate a major shift in run environment. The Yankees and Red Sox have stayed in the top handful of offenses in baseball (with the Red Sox being especially consistent) and the Blue Jays have been able to maintain their solid 700-800 run offense.
Last season the Orioles offense fell off a cliff and the Rays are off to a dreadful start this season, but the total number of runs scored in the division (an average of 4045 from 2005-2009 vs. 3847 in 2010 and a projected 3843 in 2011) have only decreased slightly. The recent decline of the Rays and Orioles have given Yankees pitchers some more favorable matchups, although both teams have a history of playing us tough, but the Red Sox and Blue Jays are no less of a threat to score than ever they were.
While some statistics and measurements make the attempt to be "park and league neutral," it's almost impossible to do so fairly and accurately. How many bonus points do we award CC Sabathia and Jon Lester for consistent brilliance in their run environments? How many do you take away from Clayton Kershaw and Jered Weaver for feasting on replacement level offenses? It's not their fault that they face a lot of poor lineups; you can only beat who you play. Should we be more impressed with Matt Kemp, Pablo Sandoval, and with what Adrian Gonzalez did with the Padres?
There are no definite answers, only guesstimated and often crude adjustments.
Thus, while the last two years has seen the run environment across baseball shift towards the pitchers, you might need a grain of salt when discussing how the Yankees compare to league averages.