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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Tuesday, March 20, 2001
The “High Strike” and Run Scoring Fluctuations: A Brief Summary
Don looks into the past to gain some insight into the effects of the new strike zone.
Many of you are already scrutinizing the spring training box scores, looking for signs of the ?high strike.? That?s a good thing, as it will keep you off the streets.
Just kidding. (Well, maybe I?m not, come to think of it.) At any rate, my spies tell me that run scoring seems to be down in the early goings-on in Florida and Arizona; that might well mean that a rule book strike zone may re-emerge.
That?s something we won?t know for sure until the season starts, of course. (And maybe not even for awhile after that.) While we wait for some official evidence, let?s take a brief look at yearly run scoring fluctuations in baseball history, so we might know what to expect should a strike zone change actually occur.
There are three basic reference points for strike zone changes. The first is the comparison of run scoring in 1962 and 1963, when the rule book definition of the strike zone was expanded. The second is a comparison of 1968 and 1969, when this rule was rescinded. Third and last is a comparison of 1987 and 1988, when an ?unofficial? strike zone change took place.
There are a few other nuances here that we?ll examine in due course, the most important of which being that it?s not really sufficient to look at one-year run scoring changes, but let?s press on.
First is the 1962-63 run-scoring change. We?ll look at this by league, rather than by MLB as a whole. In 1963, run scoring was down 17.6% from 1962 levels in the NL. Over in the AL, this drop in scoring was much more modest (down 8.1%).
In 1969, run scoring increased as a result of MLB?s reversion to the old strike zone and due to expansion. It?s almost impossible to separate these elements, which produced a somewhat higher ?bounce-back? in both leagues. Run scoring increased 19.9% in the AL, and 15.3% in the NL.
After the ?year of the homer? in 1987 (a title that looks a little anemic from our current vantage point), the ?informal? strike zone change had a significant impact on run-scoring in 1988. Scoring levels declined 16.5% in the NL and 11.0% in the AL.
That?s not a lot of data points to work with, but you could reasonably expect a run scoring downturn ranging from eight to fifteen percent from a serious application of the ?high strike.?
None of the above means that the umps will, in fact, enforce such a rule. However, since major league baseball has been after such a change since 1999, it?s possible that the third time will be the charm.
There?s another question to ask while we?re on this subject, however. And that is: where do these rule change-based run-scoring fluctuations rank in terms of year-to-year run scoring fluctuation in general? Are the 1962-63, 1968-69, and 1987-88 changes extreme manifestations of this phenomenon?
To answer this question, it?s possible to construct an entire set of these run-scoring fluctuation percentages?one for every year since 1877 in the NL and 1902 in the AL. When we do that, we discover that the run-scoring downturn in the NL from 1962-63 is the fifth largest change in baseball history. The 1987-88 downturn in the NL is right behind it, ranking sixth on the list. Here are the top ten run scoring downturns from one season to the next:
Years (League),? Pct.
Looking at this list, you get the impression that run scoring levels have been more volatile in the NL than in the AL. (Nine of the top ten downturns in run scoring have occurred in the NL).
Interestingly, this effect is not duplicated when we look at the reverse situation (biggest run scoring gains from one season to the next). As the next chart demonstrates, these extreme changes are distributed more evenly among the leagues:
Years (League), Pct.
As you can see, the 1968-69 upswing (strike zone and expansion combining as catalysts for offense) is big, but it?s not really close to being at the top of the list.
For most of these big run-scoring swings, there?s some kind of significant change in the rules, or the baseball, or some other elemental aspect of the game that has been the agent of change. Changing the ball (1911), changing the base on balls rule (1889), changing the pitching mound distance (1893), or adding the DH (1973) have had greater impacts on scoring gains than strike zone changes.
A similar conclusion can be arrived at in terms of the scoring downturns.
A couple of other points before we wrap up. First, the upswing in offense in the 90s doesn?t quite get into the top ten list for either league. The big upswing in the NL came over 1992-93, with expansion and Denver: that produced a 13.6% rise, which ranks 12th all-time.? Offense rose 9% in the AL in 1992-93, and another 11% in 1993-94, but this 20% increase over two years is only tenth on the two-year list. There are a couple of two-year periods in which leagues saw offense increase by more than 30%: the NL from 1892-94, and the AL from 1909-11. The rise in NL offense from 1992-94 was 16.4%, which ranks seventeenth on the list.
Second, you may have noticed the existence of some odd ?ping-pong? years in the above charts. By that I mean years in which a downturn is followed by an almost equal upturn in the next season. The first of these ?ping-pong? phenomena occurs in the 1887-89 NL, where run scoring dropped 34%, then gained back 22%. There?s a three-year ping pong effect in the NL from 1901-04, with the league first shedding 16% of its offense, gaining 17% in 1903, and then tossing off 22% the next year.
The NL from 1968-71 went through a wild variation of this, losing 12% of its 1967 offense in 1968, gaining 15% back in the expansion/strike zone change year of 1969, tacking on another 10% in 1970 (briefly restoring offensive levels to their 1961-62 levels), before lopping off another 16% in 1971.? When we construct a five-year standard deviation of run scoring fluctuation, the 1966-71 NL, at .138, ranks seventh highest all-time.? By contrast, the 1996-2000 NL has a standard deviation of just .039.
We?ll look into all this in greater detail on my weblog.
To wrap up, we may not know what will actually happen in terms of the ?high strike? in 2001, but this little exercise has at least helped us set the likely effects based on previous examples of such rules changes in the historical context of run fluctuation.
And I think many of us would welcome some kind of ?correction? in offensive levels.?
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