I saw these two quotes in Sunday’s Louisville Courier-Journal in an article about the Louisville Bats and I feel they’re a harbinger of things to come in baseball.

From Louisville manager Rick Sweet discussing AAA all-star and top Reds prospect Drew Stubbs:

“He’s not only stolen bases, he’s hit very well. He creates a lot of havoc with (opposing) ballclubs. He’s very aggressive, and he’s really been consistent offensively.”

The Courier-Journal writer Jason Frakes writes: “As major league teams have reverted to putting a premium on speed, Stubbs has found a valuable niche.”

Stubbs is quoted:

“After the steroid era and all that kind of stuff, the game is going back to the way it was. Stealing bases helps manufacture runs…”

I think Sweet and Stubbs are right; baseball is going through change at this time. Sweet’s havoc comment makes it obvious to me that the “havoc” mantra is a Reds corporate theme, and the message is reaching the players, as indicated by Stubbs’s comment.

I’ve met Sweet and he’s an absolutely great guy, and a great man to be preaching the Reds’ gospel. He’s personable, he’s quotable and available. He says enough to keep you interested, but not more than he should.

I’ve seen Stubbs’s aggressiveness in action. I’ve seen him steal third base before the pitcher ever delivered the ball (left handed pitcher). It was an extremely heads up and exciting play.

I think Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty was onto something when he signed Willy Taveras to play centerfield. I don’t think he should have signed Taveras because I don’t Taveras is the player the Reds thought he was, but the Reds needed a quality defensive centerfielder who could lead off. They needed him even worse last year with Adam Dunn in left and Ken Griffey, Jr. in right. I think Jocketty has read that baseball’s desired game is changing, but I also think changing for the sake of change may have tipped his hand and he may have overreacted in letting Adam Dunn get away and then signing an overpriced, overvalued centerfielder.

Fans are now revolting against the power age. I think, over time, the steroids scandal will blow over for it seems to have touched too many of the big name stars. If the scandal could have been isolated to a few identifiable players, I think the ramifications to those specific players would have been worse, but with it being so far reaching, baseball has to be careful not to alienate its fan base. Over time, someone tainted by steroids will be inducted in MLB’s Hall of Fame and then I think “healing” will take place.

In the meantime, the game is changing. Offense is down, and I think it will continue to be in decline for a few years. I believe the new wave of “defensive statistics” will get some of the credit, whether that credit is deserved or not. I really feel the decline will come as a result of the negative short-term public backlash to steroids and the home run.

There has been a new trend in baseball offense. I’m going to stick with the National League here since it’s the league where the Reds play, and there’s not enough DH activity to skew the numbers. Team batting average is down, as is team OBP, runs scored per game, and home runs per game. I had expected to see steals per game to rise, but that hasn’t happened yet. I think it will, but the teams are retooling and I think steals will slowly begin to increase from this point.

Baseball has changed it’s offensive structure many times. I researched the National League averages back to 1876 and the chart below will show years of change and the related change in offensive production.

National League Offensive Analysis
Year R/Gm ERA/G UER/G BA OBP HR/G St/G Notes
1876 5.90 2.31 3.59 0.265 0.277 0.08 n/a 1st NL year
1892 5.10 3.28 1.82 0.245 0.317 0.23 1.74 50 ft mound
1893 6.57 4.66 1.91 0.280 0.356 0.29 1.75 60’6″ rubber
1906 3.57 2.62 0.95 0.244 0.310 0.10 1.19 Deadball era
1919 3.65 2.91 0.74 0.258 0.311 0.19 1.04 World War I
1921 4.59 3.78 0.81 0.289 0.338 0.38 0.65 Lively ball!!
1930 5.69 4.97 0.72 0.303 0.360 0.72 0.39 Most offense
1945 4.46 3.80 0.66 0.265 0.333 0.47 0.42 World War II
1946 3.96 3.41 0.55 0.256 0.329 0.45 0.38 Veterans home
1956 4.25 3.77 0.48 0.256 0.321 0.98 0.30 Home Runs!!
1968 3.43 2.99 0.44 0.243 0.300 0.55 0.43 Lowest offense
1969 4.05 3.57 0.48 0.250 0.319 0.76 0.42 Mound lowered
1976 3.98 3.50 0.48 0.255 0.320 0.57 0.70 Big Red Machine
1987 4.52 4.08 0.44 0.261 0.328 0.94 0.95 Most balance?
2000 5.02 4.64 0.38 0.266 0.342 1.16 0.63 The Steroid Pinnacle
2006 4.76 4.49 0.27 0.265 0.334 1.10 0.58 HR decline
2007 4.71 4.44 0.27 0.266 0.334 1.04 0.60
2008 4.54 4.30 0.24 0.260 0.331 1.01 0.57
2009 4.55 4.24 0.31 0.257 0.330 0.99 0.58 Unearned Runs?

R/Gm Runs/Game
ERA/G Earned Runs per game
UER/G Unearned Runs per game
BA Batting Average
OBP On Base Percentage
HR/G Home Runs per Game
St/G Steals per Game

Looking at the chart, you’ll notice how runs scored by team have varied over the years. The most consistent variable has been the decline of unearned runs per game, until this year. I think it’s just an anomaly. Batting averages tend to stay around .260, except for the outlier years when changes are enacted.

Home runs have taken a drastic step forward since the 1970’s. Did home runs spark the steroid era so that more homers could be hit, or did steroids spark the home run era?

Whatever you think, I believe you’ll see that home runs will continue to decline as will overall offense. You may notice that changes in steals per game do not greatly affect overall offense. I think it’s a pretty important concept to understand. A steal is one base; a home run is four bases plus base advances for whomever was already on base at the time of the homer.

That’s why the home run and OBP are important, even in the deadball eras. I’m certain everyone heard about Dunn’s 300th home run over the weekend. He’s the fifth fastest ever to reach that plateau. Those faster were Babe Ruth (1920’s), Ralph Kiner(40’s), Harmon Killebrew(60’s), and Mark McGwiree (90’s). Those were unique hitters, and all were power hitters, who walked a lot and struck out a lot, and only Ruth hit for high averages. Since the introduction of the lively ball in the 1920’s, home run rates and OBP have pretty much dictated the level of scoring in baseball, and not stolen bases. It will be very interesting to see how many home runs baseball is willing to lose, since “chicks dig the long ball.”

I am a bit surprised at the steals rate. Stolen bases took longer to increase in the 1960’s than I thought, and seem to have been a need created to go along with the artificial turf and cookie cutter stadiums at the time. Or, steals could have been necessitated by the lack of the offense of the 1960’s before the pitching mound was lowered. The strike zone is said to be smaller than during those days also, leading to more offense. However, I get the impression that offenses are more balanced today than at previous times in the game’s history, which puts the game today at an uncertain crossroads.

Welcome to the return of havoc!! It will be very interesting to see the direction major league teams take in the next few years. Specialized skills may be more important than ever.