Assessing the New Offensive Environment

We’ve spent a lot of virtual column inches, podcast minutes, and tweets discussing the new reality of offense in baseball. Call it the rabbit ball, super happy fun ball, or bouncy ball, whatever you want, but we know that the current structure of the league’s baseballs has fueled an explosion. It’s not the ball alone, players are more in tune with their swings and more of them are understanding the importance of putting the ball in the air to maximize power output.

A quick scan of your own team likely gives you an idea of how different this environment is as many player lines look complete already and we still have a month left. But where exactly are we in relation to previous seasons? Let’s take a look:

HOME RUNS

Home Runs
20+ HR 30+ HR
2015 64 20
2016 111 38
2017 117 41
2018 100 27
2019 93 26

We’re not that far removed from a pitcher-friendly era as 2015 saw pitchers with sub-4.00 ERAs freely available on the wire because even a 3.85 might not actually help that much. It feels like a distant memory, though. Each of the three seasons since 2015 saw at least 100 hitters with 20 homers and 2019 will unquestionably be the fourth with 93 already and 16 more at 19, let alone the 46 others sitting at 15 or more with a full month left.

Of course, this means you need more power on your team. Some early indications suggest you need to average about 20 HR per roster spot to compete. While you will get more than 20 from your foundational pieces, this new reality does make rostering the speed-only guys like Mallex Smith (6 HR/36 SB), Jarrod Dyson (7/27), Billy Hamilton (0/21), Delino DeShields (3/20), and Dee Gordon (3/18) a bit more difficult. Even someone like Lorenzo Cain (8/16) has been tough to keep in the starting lineup with his weak power output and just a .252 AVG coming with the speed.

STOLEN BASES

Stolen Bases
10+ SB 20+ SB
2015 89 30
2016 79 28
2017 85 29
2018 83 28
2019 52 13

We’re pacing toward the fewest stolen bases per game in the last 50 years. At this current pace, we’ll finish about 220 SBs shy of last year’s 2474 and that 2018 total was already the lowest we’d seen in a non-strike season since 1973 when there were six fewer teams. All 14 players within five SBs of reaching 20 would need to get there to come close to the last four seasons and the 27 count would still be the lowest of five years. There are 21 players with 2 of reaching 10 bags, but even if all of them get there that’d still be 10 shy of last year’s count and easily the lowest of the last five years.

It does take fewer SBs to compete in the category, but as I mentioned earlier, you must be cognizant of the power downside you might be taking on to acquire those steals. This puts a premium on the elite power/speed monsters. Of course, it’s hard to get more than one, maybe two, of them given that they are already studs and likely to rise in price next year.

I’m not sure any of the nine batters with 20+ HR/15+ SB already will be available after the third round (15-team lgs): Christian Yelich (41 HR/25 SB), Ronald Acuña Jr. (36/31), Trevor Story (28/19), Francisco Lindor (24/19), Fernando Tatis Jr. (22/16), Jonathan Villar (20/29), Jose Ramirez (20/24), Starling Marte (23/24), and Yasiel Puig (24/16). There’s another quintet with 20+ HR already and within 3 SB of 15, only one of whom is likely to be available after the fifth or sixth round: Mookie Betts (21/13), Juan Soto (29/12), Ramon Laureano (21/12), Marcell Ozuna (24/12), and Danny Santana (23/13).

Santana’s the one likely to be available later on. Soto and Ozuna shouldn’t necessarily be relied up for even 10+ SBs, let alone 15, next year. Soto did nab 8 in his entire 2018 between the majors and minors, but I’m paying for the elite AVG and power package and any speed is a bonus. Ozuna might be the most surprising entrant here, going 12-for-13 on the bases in 424 PA thus far after going 14-for-25 in 3312 PA leading into 2019. He’s actually a lesser Soto who you can confidently invest in early on for the AVG and power, but I’d put exactly zero expectations on his SB count.

There is also an expensive trio with 15 SBs already locked in and within 5 HR of reaching 20: Tommy Pham (19/16), Whit Merrifield (15/17), and Victor Robles (16/23). They’ll all be gone by the fifth round, too. Are you more inclined to push these power-speed studs up your draft board in lieu of guys like Nolan Arenado (34/2), Anthony Rendon (29/3), and J.D. Martinez (32/1) or will you plan to stock transcendent power like those guys and others (Joey Gallo, Yordan Alvarez, Pete Alonso, Bryce Harper, Max Muncy, etc…) so you can afford speed-only players like those mentioned earlier?

RUNS

Runs Scored
80+ R 100+ R
2015 51 13
2016 68 21
2017 72 16
2018 59 19
2019 41 8

Runs, unsurprisingly, are pacing toward a banner year. We’ve already got 41 at or beyond the 80-run threshold with another 32 sitting within 13 of the mark (the average per month needed to reach 80) and another 36 within 20. For reference, there have been 101 individual months of 20+ runs through July and already 24 more this month with three days left. If just the 14 players within 11 runs of 100 join the nine already there, we’ll have a new five year high, while another 11 are within 17 of the mark (the average per month needed to reach 100).

RUNS BATTED IN

RBIs
80+ RBI 100+ RBI
2015 48 13
2016 73 22
2017 63 24
2018 50 16
2019 30 11

The league is 43 players shy of 2016’s count for 80+ runs and it’d take a pretty crazy month to get there. There are just 39 players within 13 RBIs of the mark so we’d need all of them plus another five from the seven with at least 65 RBIs to get there. This initially surprised me a little until I realized how many solo shots we see these days. There are already 3276 solo home runs this year, just 40 shy of last year’s count. This year’s pace of around 3900 destroys anything we’ve ever* seen.

*I didn’t look at every year, but I still feel good about that assessment given that singles are plummeting year over year

BATTING AVERAGE

Batting Average
.275+ AVG .300+ AVG
2015 79 24
2016 83 28
2017 82 31
2018 60 18
2019 78 22
(min. 400 PA)

This is tough one to assess because unlike all the counting categories, batting average can go down just as easily as it goes up so I’m not going to dive too deeply here. However, in light of the note regarding singles at the end of the RBI segment, it’s somewhat surprising that we’re already well clear of last year’s count of .275 AVG hitters, but AVG has been pretty stable since 2010 outside of last year’s random dip. The league average has lived between .251 and .257 in nine of the 10 years with the .248 from 2018 looking like a clear outlier. I’ll look more closely at AVG at the end of the season.

In fact, I’ll revisit all of this analysis in the fall and add in a pitching deep-dive.

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Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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OddBall Herrera
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OddBall Herrera

You couldn’t pay me to take Puig in the third round. But then, I play in a h2h league where his month to two month long slumps are brutal.

Jackie T.
Member
Member
Jackie T.

Same. Zero interest before the 6th or 7th for me, but there are enough players even there with more upside I’ll let someone else have the headaches.