Every team is struggling, not just your favorite one.
MLB offenses are having a serious problem, and it’s not just a handful of teams either. Many teams across the league have struggling offenses still despite being 36 games into the season. There are many different factors to look towards. Baseballs not being juiced, hitters still feeling the effects of the 60-game sprint last year, and pitchers being the best they’ve ever been. These are all significant contributors to some team’s non-existent offense. But just how bad have some teams been?
The average slash line in the MLB this season is .234/.311/.392—the lowest it’s been since 1968. MLB hitters strike out in 24.3% of their plate appearances so far. Strikeouts are occurring more than hits for the fourth consecutive season, something that never occurred before this era. Some of the most prominent stars in the sport fell victim to slow starts, notably Franciso Lindor. Lindor recently signed a 10-year, $340 million extension with the Mets. Francisco is currently posting a .197 batting average, with three home runs and eight runs batted in. Two years ago in his last full season, he hit .284/.335/.518, with 32 home runs, and an all-star game appearance. He received MVP votes and his second gold glove at shortstop. Christian Yelich, Javy Baez, Nolan Arenado, and Cody Bellinger are also players who underperformed in 2020, despite being some of the most prominent players in baseball.
Why are offenses struggling so much?
Pitching is a significant factor for why offenses across the league are struggling. There have already been four no-hitters this year alone that came at the hands of John Means, Carlos Rondon, Joe Musgrove, and Wade Miley. In the last full 162-game season, there were only two. This year through only 36 there are four, it’s evident that pitchers are at an all-time high in velocity, movement, repertoire; talent as a whole for pitchers has never been better. Curveballs have more breaks, sliders have a higher spin rate, and changeups resemble fastballs even better than before. Not only that but there are pitchers out there who throw these pitches with such precision and accuracy, they can completely control where they’re going, making it even more difficult.
There was a lot of speculation that the MLB introduced a “juiced” ball in the 2019 season to help offenses improve scoring in the sport. Many of the sports higher-ups believed the lack of offense during games is what caused less interest. Like most of what Commissioner Rob Manfred does, it did not positively affect the sport at all. Many pitchers expressed their opinions as well. In an article with ESPN, Justin Verlander, one of the game’s most renowned pitchers, referred to it as “A f–king joke”.
How has MLB addressed this issue?
While the MLB never admitted they modified the baseball, it was evident that balls were leaving the field at a much higher rate than before for every MLB offense. Both the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins slugged over 300 home runs as a team. For reference, the team leader for home runs in 2018 was the Yankees with 267 home runs, and in 2017 it was the Yankees again, with 241. Sure, maybe they learned to swing for the fences a little bit better in 2019, but the fact that so many teams saw inflated numbers in their home run total is a testament to the fact that the ball had to have been altered to some sort in an attempt to improve the overall offense in the league.
Two years later, we’re finally getting a look at our first full season since the pandemic started. The conspiracy that the MLB reverted to “un-juiced balls” is still widely discussed. MLB has few proposals to address this issue; one that is constantly discussed is moving back the pitchers’ mound. The plan would move the mound back 12 inches. This move would do tons more harm than good for both pitchers and hitters. Hitters are accustomed to standing in the back of the box and loading up when the pitcher begins their wind up. A change like this throws off timing for both pitchers and hitters. While the MLB believes this change could benefit hitters, I don’t see how it could at all. It would affect the entire sport of baseball drastically; would the NCAA have college baseball follow the same rule? It’s creating more problems than solving, that’s for sure.
Nevertheless, baseball and most notably the MLB has an offense problem. We can look and say “maybe this lineup figures it out at some point”, but when it’s nearly all teams and has been occurring for the past four years, it’s worth noting. It will be intriguing to see what MLB does to address this problem if they decide to, and how Rob Manfred can go wrong this time around yet again.