New Normal: Average Production Around The Diamond

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Major league teams scored 12 percent fewer runs in 2011 than they did five years earlier, and the collective per game scoring rate has declined each season since 2006. Fewer crooked numbers on scoreboards has a direct impact on batting lines for major league hitters, of course, but to what extent have regular position players been affected by baseball's offensive downturn? We queried Baseball-Reference's Play Index database to find the answer.

Using the definition for major league regulars outlined here, we singled out the player—both today and 10 years ago—who best represents the level of average production at each position. The numbers you see in the charts represent cumulative batting statistics for all regulars during the two seasons sampled. Following that you'll find the "average" regular's actual two-year rate statistics as well as a 15-point range for batting average and five-unit range for home runs that could be considered typical of the average regular of that era (based on median values at his position).

Keep in mind that the following statistics apply exclusively to big league regulars, and are not the strict major league averages of all players to make plate appearances at each position.

Around The Diamond

We can find out what teams expect from everyday players at each position by examining how those regulars actually performed. Here we break out each position around the diamond, presenting them in order of highest offensive expectations to lowest.
The average first-base regular has lost about five percent in the batting average department in the past decade (.286 down to .271), though he hasn't lost as many home runs as center fielders, corner outfielders, shortstops or third basemen. Today's top sluggers include Albert Pujols (35 HR/600 PA) and Paul Konerko (33 HR/600), whereas the most powerful first basemen a decade ago, like Todd Helton and Jim Thome, topped out near 39 HR/600.

• View the 2000-01 regulars and the 2010-11 regulars at first base

Corner outfielders sustained the largest drop in walk rate (-15.6 percent) and isolated power (-17 percent), which led to significant losses in the on-base and slugging percentage departments. Only Jose Bautista (43 HR/600) in today's game comes close to matching the home run totals from the best sluggers from a decade ago, including Barry Bonds (58 HR/600), Sammy Sosa (48), Manny Ramirez (41) and Gary Sheffield (39). As with first basemen, strikeouts are about 12 percent more frequent today among corner outfielders.

• View the 2000-01 regulars and the 2010-11 regulars at corner outfield

The talent level at the hot corner may be healthier today than it's ever been, so the mid-level third baseman of today compares favorably with his counterpart from a decade ago. Nine of today's regulars—Evan Longoria, Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Beltre, Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright, Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Pablo Sandoval and Aramis Ramirez—are at least 15 percent more productive than the average player, according to Baseball-Reference's adjusted-OPS metric. Compare that with six third basemen from a decade ago: Chipper Jones, Phil Nevin, Troy Glaus, Scott Rolen, Eric Chavez and Corey Koskie.

• View the 2000-01 regulars and the 2010-11 regulars at third base

Strikeouts are up all over the diamond, nowhere more than the keystone, where today's second-base regular strikes out 16.3 percent more frequently than he did a decade ago. Three second basemen, Kelly Johnson, Dan Uggla and Rickie Weeks, have most dramatically moved the strikeout needle, but they, along with Robinson Cano and Ian Kinsler, have done the most to enhance the position's power output. Today's regular at second base hits 15.4 percent more home runs per 600 PA than he did 10 years ago.

• View the 2000-01 regulars and the 2010-11 regulars at second base

The paradigm for a center-field regular has shifted as much as at any other position. They haven't lost much in terms of batting average or on-base percentage in a decade, but the average center-field regular today hits 25.3 percent fewer home runs per 600 PA while stealing 46.8 percent more bases. Regulars from a decade ago such as Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Edmonds, Andruw Jones and Bernie Williams would star in any era, but it's hard to envision mashers like Richard Hidalgo, Jose Cruz Jr., Carl Everett or Preston Wilson playing center in today's game. Not when the paradigm has shifted to swifter, rangier players like Matt Kemp, Curtis Granderson, Andrew McCutchen and Jacoby Ellsbury.

• View the 2000-01 regulars and the 2010-11 regulars at center field

The typical regular at shortstop hits for much less power today than he did a decade ago (home run rate is down 19 percent) as teams have emphasized defensive fundamentals and foot speed (stolen bases are up nearly 10 percent). Remarkably, five shortstops averaged more than 20 homers per 600 PA in the 2000-01 period—Alex Rodriguez (40), Jose Valentin (28), Rich Aurilia (27), Miguel Tejada (27) and Jose Hernandez (20)—compared with just two today: Troy Tulowitzki (30) and J.J. Hardy (23).

• View the 2000-01 regulars and the 2010-11 regulars at shortstop

While Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez served as leading lights in terms of offensive production a decade ago, the catching middle and lower classes were actually much softer back then compared with today, when the median values for home runs per 450 PA (44 percent) and slugging (10 percent) are up dramatically. One front office executive believes that increase can be at least partially attributed to the enhanced athleticism of today's receivers, such as Joe Mauer, Buster Posey, Matt Wieters and Alex Avila. Others like Carlos Santana and Russell Martin actually converted to catcher from other positions while in the minors.

• View the 2000-01 regulars and the 2010-11 regulars at catcher