We could go on with such cheap parallelism for maybe six paragraphs, but others have seemingly procured a patent on that, and we don't want to shell out any of our precious dough at a time when the economic indicators are so dire. The so-called great champions of the sabe-neo-post hoc "enlightenment" (aka the institutional analytic madness) are either apologists for these catastrophic developments, or they are whistling loudly past the graveyard as the bodies pile up. (Now there is a parallelism that is not cheap, except in the eyes of certain "politicians" who've concluded that a certain portion of American life is decidedly unprecious.)
The data measure we employ to highlight baseball's escalating descent into two-dimensional irrelevance is called ISOBA. (Sounds like it might be a virus, yes? It might as well be.) The relative health of the game, in terms of "shape variety" existent in baseball offense, is captured by ISOBA, which takes isolated power (a wonderfully simple measure from Bill James, before he fell into a series of rabbit holes: it is, simply enough, slugging average minus batting average, or SLG-BA) and divides it against batting average itself (in order to see just how much hitting is being moved around by hits other than singles).
In the course of baseball history, triples have been marginalized, so doubles and homers have vied for prominence in the ongoing measurement of ISOBA. As the chart below intimates, these two principal pillars of run creation have been in relative balance since the live ball arrived in 1920, with a few oscillating escalations over time.
But look at what has happened since 2015. In a manner not un-analogous to the escalation of economic inequality in a certain nation (in danger of being traded for an autocracy to be named later...), ISOBA has gone...well, virulent. Worse than that, the two leagues--which had often shown divergent paths with respect to the power/BA interaction, had achieved a hegemonic lockstep that could only come from the incursion of antigens akin to a pandemic. The "second wave" of sabermetrics, as infused into baseball organizations as a giant "booster shot", has, in fact, produced a "death spiral" leading the game further into an "all or nothing" approach to scoring runs.
2019 brought absurd (as in Beckett/Ionesco-style absurdity) new highs in terms of HR/G, with both leagues cracking the previously unthinkable .700 ISOBA barrier. We warned at the time that the implementation of practical approaches emphasizing "launch angles" and "three true outcome" theorizing would result in a game where batting average would decline. The "official bright minds" (James, Tango, Posnanski) were mostly silent on this. (After all, batting average is such a flawed measure; why would we care if it declined more, so long as run scoring didn't crater?) Only Joe pushed back in public, praising hitters for a "smart adjustment" as pitchers became more strikeout-oriented. (Of course, Joe tossed his shiny penny-wise brain into a mud puddle by omitting the fact that it takes two to Tango--pardon the pun--and the batters were at least as culpable for the rise in K/9 as their counterparts on the mound.)
So, here, in 2020, with a strange version of baseball on display--and in an preparatory environment that due to the disruption of spring training would seem to favor the hitters--we have the first results to examine. ISOBA is down--but not by much: it's still over .700. HR/G are down--but not by much. The ratio of D/HR is down, and to a marked degree: in the 2020 AL thus far, that ratio is 1.19, whereas in 2014 the ratio was 1.91.
What else is down? You guessed it: batting average. The most precipitous drop in BA in either league in any given year is 1931, when the NL lost 26 points of BA. In the 2020 AL, we currently have a drop of 21 points of BA (from .253 to .232). Worked out as a percentage, the NL BA drop from 1930 to 1931 is 8.6%; right now, the AL BA drop from 2019 to 2020 is 8.3%. The delta in the 2020 NL is milder, but only mildly so...
|Baseball fans from the Reagan era will "capture" this reference...|
We'll let you decide which one you think is more important to world history; all we can say is that it is symptomatic of a malaise that has systematically befallen America, gestating slowly and picking up steam, triggered by forces that care little for nuance or the give-and-take of true reasoned discourse. It's all of a piece, and it's got to stop. For baseball, ISOBA is the measure that tell us that the consequences are dire, and the sand in the hourglass is picking up speed...