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Baseball statistics seem to be falling

October 6, 2008

by Matt Kane

While watching Game 1 of the American League Division Series between the Angels and Red Sox Wednesday night, I noticed something. The statistics under each guy’s name seemed to be deflated, compared to years past.

A .312 batting average, 29 home runs, and 115 runs batted. These are the regular season numbers posted by Boston first baseman Kevin Youkilis.

Youkilis is in the running for the MVP award, and, with these numbers, deservedly so. He leads the Red Sox in home runs, runs batted in, and on-base percentage (.390).

When I noticed the numbers, I was taken back by how impressive they were, but then I thought, wait a minute, 29 home runs leads the team? That’s not what I’m used to.

Home run leaders should have at least 40 if they want to lead a team, and at least 50 if he plans on leading the league or even being in the top five.

Apparently, that’s not the case anymore. Fifty, 60, and 70 home run seasons for a handful of players is for the cartoon era of the late 1990s and early 2000s, when a pack of bubble-headed, blow-up players swung for the fences.

It appears the late 2000s is going to resemble, more, the 1980s and early ‘90s, when long ball numbers in the high 30s and 40s won home run titles.

This season ended with the Phillies’ Ryan Howard leading all of baseball with 48 home runs. That total is one more than Howard’s total from the 2007 season, but it is a deflation from the 58 he put out in 2006.

Howard and Adam Dunn (40) are the only two players in Majore League Baseball with 40 or more home runs.

Howard’s overall numbers resemble a slugger from past eras, as opposed to the constant triple crown threatening seasons we’ve epxerienced over the past decade. A .251 batting average and 146 RBIs look more Dave Kingman-like than Barry Bonds.

The American League was led by Miguel Cabrera, who belted 37 home runs. That’s right, only 37, which is 17 less than the 54 knocked out of the park by Alex Rodriguez just a year ago.

In 1990, Cecil Fielder opened everybody’s eyes with 51 home runs. Albert Belle hit 50 to lead the American League in 1995, and started what turned into an eight year span where six AL seasons were led by at least 52 home runs.

And then there’s the National League. Starting with McGwire’s 70-home run season in 1998, seven of the last 11 campaigns have had home run leaders with 50 or more.

The home run leader in 1997, before McGwire hit 70 in 1998? Larry Walker with 49.

Home runs are one thing, the other two statistics I noticed a demise in are runs batted in and batting average.

This season, only 23 players drove in 100 runs or more. Howard’s 146 led everybody, followed by Texas’s Josh Hamilton (130) and Minnesota’s Justin Morneau (129). I don’t know the facts, but only 23 players with 100 runs batted in seems low.

As for batting average, Joe Mauer won the American League batting title with a .328 average.

The last time a player won a batting title with a below .330 average was 1991 when Terry Pendleton batted .319. The last American League-leading batting title with an average less than .330 came in 1990, when George Brett batted .329.

Since Brett’s title, only Mauer, Michael Young (.331 in 2005), Derrek Lee (.335, 2005) Bernie Williams (.339 in 1998), and Gary Sheffield (.330, 1992) have won their league’s respective batting title with below .340 averages.

Chipper Jones won this year’s National League batting title with an impressive .364 average.

Maybe the overall statistics aren’t down as much as I thought. As I research this, maybe it’s just the numbers of the postseason teams that are down.

From the eight teams that started the playoffs, only nine players hit more than 30 home runs in the regular season. With Howard are his teammates Pat Burrell (33) and Chase Utley (33), the White Sox’s Carlos Quentin (36), Jermaine Dye (34) and Jim Thome (34), Tampa Bay’s Carlos Pena (31), and Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun (37) and Prince Fielder.

There are only a handful of legit .300 hitters. Mark Teixeira (.358 combined for both leagues) and Vladimir Guerrero (.303) with the Angels, Dustin Pedroia (.326) and Youkilis (.312) with the Red Sox, and the Dodgers’ Adam Ethier (.305).