Something Really, Really Weird Is Happening In The Low-A Southeast League
We’re just seven days into the minor league season. We must wait at least until the calendar turns to June to make even sweeping generalizations.
So for now, let’s just put it this way: something really, really weird is happening in the Low-A Southeast—the league formerly known as the Florida State League.
The league went from High-A to Low-A this year, so it’s filled with younger players than it had been in the past. Two teams (Port Charlotte and Florida) were dropped from the league as part of Major League Baseball’s takeover of the minors.
But there have been few stronger constants in minor league baseball than the idea that the Florida State League, year after year, was going to be a pitcher’s league.
Whether it’s the use of the new Automated Ball Strike system that’s calling balls and strikes, the switch to younger players or just the flukiest of fluky weeks, the first week of the Low-A Southeast has been unlike anything we’ve seen in this league before.
Runs came in dribs and drabs in the Florida State League. There were two games in the league in all of 2019 where 15 or more runs were scored. Dunedin topped the league with an 18-run game in late April and added a 16-run game in mid May.
In the first seven days of this season, there have already been four games where a team has scored 18 or more runs. The Tampa Tarpons (a Yankees affiliate) scored 19 runs in the second game of the season. They scored 25 runs two days later.
In 2019, Tampa reached double digits in scoring three times all year and scored 12 runs in its biggest offensive performance of the 140-game season. Seven games into the 2021 season, Tampa is averaging 12 runs per game. It’s already scored 10 or more runs on five different occasions.
Tampa beat up on Dunedin, winning five of the six games in their series. But it’s not as if Dunedin didn’t score runs. In 2019, Dunedin was 26-1 when it scored eight or more runs. This year, Dunedin is 0-3 when it has scored nine runs or more.
As a league, the Florida State League scored 10 or more runs 70 times in 1,610 games in 2019, a rate of one double-digit performance every 23 games played. So far this year, the Low-A Southeast has seen 16 double-digit performances in 70 games, a rate of one for every 4.38 games played.
The league as a whole is hitting .243 so far this year after hitting .242 last year. But two things are different. This year, teams have averaged one home run per game, up massively from .56 home runs per game in 2019. St. Lucie’s 2005 team set the Florida State League all-time record with 137 home runs in 134 games. The league as a whole is on pace to nearly equal that mark so far this season.
And more importantly, pitchers this year are walking 5.8 batters per nine innings, up from 3.2 walks per nine in 2019.
Younger pitchers in Low-A will normally walk more batters than more experienced High-A pitchers, so that may be part of the explanation. The new robo-ump system may mean the strike zone is a little smaller as well. Walks are up all around the minors, but nothing like the increase the Low-A Southeast is seeing.
Maybe there are tweaks that need to be made with the strike zone, but the Atlantic League’s experiment with robo-umps in 2019 didn’t show anything like this explosion of walks.
It’s way too early to make any assessments of what is going on here. But it’s not too early to say that the Low-A Southeast has seen things already this year that it doesn’t see in a normal year.