Teams running up numbers in high-scoring early season

April 23, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

The Detroit Tigers scored 20 runs in a game last week -- twice. The Texas Rangers are pounding everyone in their path. The surprising number of double-digit offensive performances has created the perception that major-league run production has gone through the roof this year, and there are some cumulative numbers to back it up.

Through the first two weeks of play, American League scoring was up by 16 percent over last year. In the National League, the increase in run production was less dramatic, but there has been a 25 percent rise in home runs.

What's going on? Has expansion stretched pitching depth so thin that the hitters are taking over the game? Or is it something else altogether?

Opinions vary on the reasons for -- and even the significance of -- the statistics that suggest that offensive production has taken a decided upturn. In some cases, it depends on the method of statistical analysis. In others, it comes down to the eye of the beholder.

"I've only been watching our games," said Orioles general manager Roland Hemond, "and I certainly haven't seen any increase."

The Orioles apparently have not been invited to the party. They averaged 3.5 runs in their first 12 games, down from 4.3 at the same point a year ago and more than a run per game below the 1993 league average. They have hit just six home runs, equaling the Rangers' total for the season-opening, two-game series at Camden Yards.

But even if it isn't obvious in Baltimore, the ball is carrying very well this year, and the runs are piling up all over the majors. The average total score of an American League game during the first two weeks of the 1993 season was 10.05 runs, up from 8.64 at this point in 1992. The National League average was 8.36 runs, up 4 percent from last year (8.01).

Though the increase in National League run production was fairly modest, the two-week home run total was significantly higher. There was an average of 1.52 home runs per game this year vs. 1.21 after two weeks a year ago. That may not sound like much, but it works out to a 25 percent increase.

Home run frequency in the American League increased by 11 percent over the same period.

The most popular explanation for all this can be found in the expansion process. After the November expansion draft, each major-league team had to replace at least two players who might have had a chance to compete for big-league jobs in spring training. Of the 72 players taken in the draft, 41 were pitchers.

"I don't have any figures," Orioles manager Johnny Oates said, "but you've got a lot of ugly numbers on the board this year. If you lose about one pitcher off every major-league team, that's going to affect 10 percent of your pitching. But I wouldn't want to draw a conclusion 12 games into the season. If it [run production] remains that far up all season, come back and talk to me."

TC Not all expansion numbers

The notion that the ugly games would be concentrated in the expansion cities has turned out to be only half-right. The Colorado Rockies ranked 13th in the league with a 5.07 ERA through the first two weeks of play, with the opposition hitting a combined .303 against them. But the Florida Marlins had a respectable 3.82 ERA after their first 13 games.

The big numbers were being rolled up in the other league, where 10 of the 14 teams entered Wednesday's games with a combined ERA of 4.30 or higher. The league ERA was an inflated 4.57, significantly higher than the league's 3.91 ERA at the same point a year ago.

"Obviously, you've got 22 pitchers in the major leagues that you didn't have last year," said Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer. "If you take those 22 pitchers away from other teams, maybe your fifth starter would normally be a long reliever and maybe you've got another guy who would probably be a Triple-A pitcher. Remember, everyone thought there was a dearth of pitching even before expansion."

It is difficult to dispute the immediate impact that expansion has on the level of competition. Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's single-season home run record during an expansion year (1961), hitting nine of his 61 home runs against the expansion Washington Senators.

Maury Wills set a single-season stolen base record when the National League expanded a year later, stealing 27 of his 104 bases against the two expansion franchises.

The across-the-board effect on pitching depth also is easy to document. During the 1977 season in which the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners came into being, American League clubs averaged 86 more runs than the previous season.

Nevertheless, there are other plausible explanations, one of which has come up the past few years.

"I know that every time you have a sudden splurge of home runs, everybody wants to know if the ball is jacked up," Los Angeles Dodgers special assignment scout Mel Didier said. "I'll tell you this much: I've talked about this with other scouts, and we're seeing balls flying farther than we've seen in a while.

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