Is the Sky Falling? Where Are the Baserunners?

A "vinegar valentine" ca. 1910.

A “vinegar valentine” ca. 1910.

Before going on MLB Network’s High Heat with Brian Kenny today I rummaged through a piece I wrote eight years ago that focused on the death of the triple. I noted the startling consistency of runs per game (measured by the totals of both teams) over more than a century–until 2014–and, similarly, the ratio of hits to runs, which also has undergone a tectonic-plate shift. I have, for your possible interest, updated my numbers to 2014. I also provide figures from the nadir of the deadball era (1908), the Year of the Hitter (1930), the Year of the Pitcher (1968), and the first year of Major League Baseball (1876). This table provides a handy guide, I believe, not only to how many runs were scored or how few, but how. The devil is in the detail.

Something is happening today that certainly bears watching, and may require action. I am reminded of the frog set in a pot of water which is then, unbothered, brought to a boil.

While run scoring is not yet as minimal as in 1908, we will not wish to test that rock. Let the numbers speak. Sabermetrics need not enter here.

Home Runs

1876: 0.15 per game

1908: 0.21 per game

1911: 0.40 per game

1930: 1.27 per game

1961: 1.90 per game

1968: 1.23 per game

2005: 2.06 per game

2014: 1.72 per game


1876: 0.70 per game

1908: 0.80 per game

1911: 1.06 per game

1930: 1.04 per game

1961: 0.53 per game

1968: 0.43 per game

2005: 0.37 per game

2014: 0.35 per game


1876: 2.43 per game

1908: 2.03 per game

1911: 2.61 per game

1930: 3.85 per game

1961: 2.78 per game

1968: 2.38 per game

2005: 3.65 per game

2014: 3.35 per game


1876: 17.25 per game

1908: 12.45 per game

1911: 13.59 per game

1930: 14.58 per game

1961: 12.31 per game

1968: 11.78 per game

2005: 12.02 per game

2014: 11.70 per game


1876: 12.01 per game

1908: 3.41 per game

1911: 3.66 per game

1930: 2.46 per game

1961: 1.82 per game

1968: 1.70 per game

2005: 1.22 per game

2014: 1.20 per game


1876: 1.29 per game

1908: 4.71 per game

1911: 6.34 per game

1930: 6.20 per game

1961: 6.92 per game

1968: 5.63 per game

2005: 6.26 per game

2014: 5.77 per game


1876: 2.27 per game

1908: 7.30 per game

1911: 7.98 per game

1930: 6.43 per game

1961: 10.45 per game

1968: 11.78 per game

2005: 12.61 per game

2014: 15.41 per game


1876: 11.79 per game

1908: 6.77 per game

1911: 9.03 per game

1930: 11.10 per game

1961: 9.05 per game

1968: 6.84 per game

2005: 9.18 per game

2014: 8.13 per game

Hit/Run ratio:

1876: 1.74

1908: 2.29

1911: 1.96

1930: 1.87

1961: 1.94

1968: 2.31

2005: 1.97

2014: 2.10


Do we have a similar historical break down of how many runs scored on home runs? (Or, for that matter, when batters perform other offensive events?)

That depth of data mining requires play-by-play data. It may well be within the range of the Play Index at

The ebb and flow between pitcher & batter dominance has gone on for over 100 years. I hope MLB resists the temptation to legislate offense into the game by banning shifts and tinkering with the strike zone. The refusal of batters to alter their approach with 2 strikes, preferring to K rather than putting the ball in play (when anything can happen) is mystifying to an old ball player like myself. What would John McGraw have said to Turkey Mike Donlin if Frank Chance had moved Joe Tinker to the right side of the infield? “Hit the &^%$*) ball the other way, Donlin!”

I think the steroid era altered fundamental perspectives on basics. “Chicks dig the long ball!” 150-200 strikeouts a year is OK if you can crack 25+ homers. A generation of players (now all geriatric millionaires on some squads) were raised being unable or unwilling to “Hit em where they ain’t!”

This will self adjust without changing the rules, don’t you think? The dinosaurs will be gone inside of 5 years and guys who can’t hit the ball where it’s pitched consistently won’t be on MLB rosters.

I think it’s not simply generational and a changing of the guard. Pitching will inevitably and inexorably dominate hitting (action beats reaction), without periodic rules interventions. We have had them before and will again.

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