The major league batting average dipped to .255 this season, the lowest figure since 1989. Similarly, runs scored per nine innings (4.30) and home runs per nine (0.94) at the team level reached their lowest points since 1992, as offensive levels continued their descent from the high-octane 1994-2004 period. In fact, run scoring declined for the sixth consecutive season in 2011, falling more than half a run per nine innings since registering at 4.91 R/9 in 2006.
That drop has not carried over to the high minors. The average Pacific Coast League team in 2011 scored 5.68 runs per nine innings, the highest average for a full-season league in the past five seasons. This year's California League finished two ticks behind at 5.66 R/9, trailing only the ’07 version of the Cal League (5.67 R/9). This ought to come as no surprise because those two leagues annually rank as the most hitter-friendly circuits in the full-season minors.
However, if we turn our attention to the short-season minor leagues, the average Pioneer League team this season scored 6.02 runs per nine innings, blowing away the Pacific Coast and California leagues. This year's Arizona League featured the second-highest scoring average (5.90 R/G) of the past five seasons (if we consider short-season leagues).
On the flip side, this year's Carolina League ranked as the third-lowest run-scoring environment of the past five seasons (full-season leagues only), featuring just an average of 4.35 runs per nine innings per team. This year's International League ranked eighth-lowest at 4.46 R/9. But neither could touch the ’09 Florida State League (4.24 R/9) for run scarcity.
• R/9 scales runs scored to nine innings, making no distinction between earned and unearned runs.
• The BB and SO columns figure walks and strikeouts as a percentage of plate appearances. Walks do not include intentional passes.
• Isolated power (ISO) is the difference between slugging and average, separating extra bases and weighing them per at-bat.
• Balls in play average (BIP) figures the rate at which struck baseballs—excluding home runs—evade defenses and are scored as hits.
• The average number of home runs per team and runs scored per team are represented by HR and RUNS.
|LEAGUE AVERAGES, SHORT-SEASON CIRCUITS
Having examined this season's league averages, let's take a look at run-scoring trends and five-year averages for the four full-season classifications. B-Age stands for average batter age and P-Age for average pitcher age. Note that the Triple-A leagues play 144 games, while the Eastern League plays 142. Everybody else plays 140-game seasons.
|TRIPLE-A • 2007-11
Batters in the Pacific Coast League have all the fun at the Triple-A level. As a group, they walk more than their International League counterparts (8.6 to 8.1 percent), strike out less (17.5 to 18.8 percent) and, as you can see from the table, collect hits more frequently when putting the ball in play and hit for more power.
This graph clarifies the extent to which the two Triple-A leagues operate in different galaxies. Pacific Coast League batters really do have all the fun, with run-scoring on the upswing since 2009.
|DOUBLE-A • 2007-11
The Texas League produces more runs per nine innings than the Eastern or Southern leagues by virtue of small advantages in on-base percentage (over the SL) and isolated power (over the EL). Run-scoring in the TL this season increased by more than 9 percent over 2010—after two years of downswings—getting back near to the ’08 rate of 4.95 R/9. Meanwhile, the EL and SL have remained relatively static.
Texas League teams generally outscore their Eastern and Southern counterparts, but the gap is often small.
|HIGH CLASS A • 2007-11
No two leagues at any one classification could be more disparate than the California and Florida State leagues. The average team in the Cal League scores nearly a run more per nine innings than an average FSL team. Over the course of the season that's 140 runs, and the gap may be widening. Scoring in the Cal League jumped nearly 2 percent in 2010 and nearly 7 percent in ’11. For its part, the FSL has experienced consecutive bumps in run-scoring averages, while the Carolina League has continued its steady, downward trend.
The Carolina League is far from a hitter's circuit, but home runs and other extra-base hits are more prevalent than in the FSL and, thus, so are runs scored (in most years). Strikeout (roughly 19 percent) and walk (roughly 8 percent) rates hold steady across all three leagues at this classification.
The Florida State League outpaced the Carolina this year, but that could be a fluke. With the talent spread across three leagues, the variation from year to year can increase more than classifications with just two leagues. The Cal League operates on another plane altogether, on par with the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.
|LOW CLASS A • 2007-11
The South Atlantic League is generally viewed as the dramatically more hitter friendly of the two low Class A leagues, but the five-year averages don't bear this out. SAL batters have enjoyed marginal advantages over the Midwest League in terms of batting average, on-base, slugging and ball-in-play average, but the end result is just 25 runs per season for the average team. However, since paring from 16 to 14 teams in 2010, the SAL has seen a nine percent bump in run scoring.
In similar fashion to the Double-A classification, the low Class A leagues feature similar overall-run-scoring environments.
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