Guess what: MLB hitters don't suck anymore.
Well, let's just say they suck less.
If there was ever any question to the extent steroids impacted Major League Baseball, they were answered with the pathetic offensive performances of the past two seasons. Scoring dipped to levels not seen since the Bush presidency - the FIRST one - and the game had become painful to watch on a daily basis.
However, through one quarter of the season in 2015, things have been looking up. Scoring had nudged up to a respectable level and appears to be trending in the right direction. Considering we haven't even gotten into summer - when home runs and scoring spike - this season has the potential to be one of the highest-scoring of this modest decade.
The Mitchell Report on steroids in baseball was released in 2007, and increased testing in the Major Leagues began shortly after. It took a few seasons to weed out the drugs and the cheats in the game. But by 2013 the game was as natural as it had been in decades. And how do we know that the juice has been squeezed out of baseball? Because we've been treated to a fun trip down Memory Lane the past two seasons with a redux of the Dead Ball Era.
The 8.14 runs per game scored last year were the lowest mark in over 20 years. And the league-wide batting average of .251 was the lowest since 1972 - the year before the implementation of the designated hitter. When you're going that far back to qualify your futility you know things are pretty bad. And obviously 2014 was one of the worst offensive seasons of the past half-century.
So far in 2015 we've seen an average of 8.4 runs per game. That's still nearly a full run lower than what we saw as recently as 2008. But it shows progress after nearly seven straight years of decreased scoring outputs.
Here is a look at scoring trends in the seasons following the Mitchell Report:
2015 - 8.40 runs per game (8.55 A.L. and 8.2 N.L.)
2014 - 8.14 runs (8.36 and 7.90)
2013 - 8.33 runs (8.67 and 8.01)
2012 - 8.65 runs (8.90 and 8.43)
2011 - 8.57 runs (8.93 and 8.25)
2010 - 8.77 runs (8.90 and 8.65)
2009 - 9.22 runs (9.64 and 8.86)
2008 - 9.30 runs (9.57 and 9.06)
It's comically clear that since steroid and HGH use were exposed and testing became more of a priority scoring has been dropping. The question was how low could they go. And if this year's rates hold then hopefully it will begin a trend back towards respectability.
Of course, it isn't all good news. Scoring is up. But the MLB batting average and on-base percentage are actually equal to last year's numbers. This suggests that perhaps our run numbers are a slight anomaly.
Our early-season scoring spike has been due primarily to two factors. First, the league-wide batting average with runners in scoring position is .259, the highest number since 2009. Second, the home run rate has ticked back up after three straight years of decreases.
Here is a look at the league averages in key hitting statistics:
2015 - .251 batting average, 315 OBP, .395 SLG and 0.95 home runs per game.
2014 - .251, 315, .386 and 0.86
2013 - .253, .317, .396 and 0.96
2012 - .254, .319, .405 and 1.01
2011 - .255, .320, .399and 0.94
2010 - .257, .325, .403 and 0.95
2009 - .262, .333, .418 and 1.04
2008 - .264, .333, .416 and 1.0
Again, things have been steadily declining for years. In fact, last year's .251 batting average was nearly 20 points lower than the league average at the turn of the century (.270).
In my experience, more scoring has meant an easier handicapping challenge for MLB bettors. Lower-scoring games are a lot more arbitrary and harder to predict; those games can go either way, and random individual plays carry greater significance.
Whereas more runs generally creates a more static betting structure. There is a greater separation between good teams and bad teams. And when teams are scoring more and blowing one another out there is less room for fluke plays and bad luck to come into play and change the outcome of the game.
Further, pitching is the key to MLB handicapping. The past two years when no one could hit there were mediocre starters all over the league putting up great numbers. Suddenly there wasn't a ton of difference between mediocre arms like Bronson Arroyo, Ricky Nolasco, Jhoulys Chacin and Mike Minor and top-tier starters like Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright and Max Scherzer.
For example, in 2006 there were just 28 starters with an ERA of 4.00 or lower and only 10 starters with ERAs below 3.50. Last season there were 60 starters at 4.00 or below and 39 guys logging in at 3.50 or below. In 2014 there were actually 22 pitchers that managed an ERA below 3.00, by far the highest number in the last quarter-century.
However the smaller performance variance wasn't being reflected in the daily moneyline prices, where the bigger-name pitchers at the top of the food chain were still heavily favored over players with comparable numbers. Savvy underdog bettors could have made a pretty penny on that setup. But the average MLB bettor was more likely than not to take a bath.
The bottom line is that more runs is good for everyone associated with Major League Baseball. It's more entertaining for the fans and enjoyable for the fantasy players. And for bettors it creates greater profit opportunities. So hopefully these early-season trends continue and even improve as the weather warms up.
Robert Ferringo is one of the top MLB handicappers in the country and has been red hot on the diamond, posting four of five winning nights and over $2,000 in profit over the last two weeks alone. Robert's one-of-a-kind Ferringo Method has made him one of the elite long-term sports betting earners in the country and you can sign up today.
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