Offense up early on: Are the balls juiced?

April, 5, 2011
4/05/11
11:51
AM ET
David O'Brien, who covers the Braves for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, tweeted the following:
"A bullpen catcher of a team (not #Braves) says baseballs are harder this year, believes they've been juiced to aid attendance in bad economy."

ESPN's Buster Olney reached out to Major League Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney, who responded, "There has been no change whatsoever on the composition of the baseball or the process in which they are made."

That said, offense is up through the small sample size of 52 games played (just more than 2 percent of the schedule):

2011: 4.67 runs per game
2010: 4.38 runs per game

2011: .260/.324/.421 (BA/OBP/SLG)
2010: .257/.325/.403

2011: 119 home runs in 3,563 at-bats (one every 29.9 at-bats)
2010: 4,613 home runs in 165,353 at-bats (one every 35.8 at-bats)

A few notes:
  • While conventional wisdom says scoring is usually lower in April due to cold weather, that wasn't the case in 2010, when the average team scored 4.55 runs per game. The cumulative major league OPS was .738 (compared to .745 so far in 2011), the highest of any month in 2010.
  • Digging further, we see the increased scoring is coming from the American League. The National League is hitting .257/.322/.398, compared to 2010 figures of .255/.324/.399. The AL is hitting .263/.327/.446, compared to .260/.327/.407.
  • The strikeout rate is about the same: 7.1 K's per nine innings in 2010, 7.0 in 2011.

Of course, the Texas Rangers, who have smacked 13 home runs in four games (a pace of 526 over a full season), are a major reason for the AL surge. They're averaging eight runs per game, hitting .308 and slugging .722. In other words, they're sort of like the 1927 Yankees, only if Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth were cloned and filled all eight spots of the lineup.

The AL is averaging 5.06 runs per game; not including the Rangers, that figure is 4.80 runs per game. That's still an increase from the 4.45 of 2010. Last season, the AL averaged a home run every 35.1 at-bats; this season, it's averaging one every 25.3 at-bats (28.8, not including the Rangers).

So, are the balls harder? Does baseball really have an incentive to increase attendance by trying to increase the number of home runs? Are the Rangers the greatest offensive team of all time?

The answer, of course: It's 104 games. Let's see how the Rangers hit away from the friendly confines of The Ballpark. It's also likely that offense in the AL will increase anyway. From 2001 through 2009, runs per game ranged from 4.76 (2005) to 5.01 (2004). The 4.45 rate of 2010 was perhaps an aberration. The NL averaged 4.33 runs per game in 2010 -- its lowest total since 1992, but only a small drop from the 4.43 runs of 2009.

So let's wait a bit before declaring that the era of slow-pitch softball is back.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.

David Schoenfield | email

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