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Home runs, strikeouts and walks dominating again

A little early trend-spotting finds baseball on much the same path as it has been in recent years.

Shortstop Javy Baez and the Cubs have averaged five runs per game in the first 21⁄2 weeks of the season.
Shortstop Javy Baez and the Cubs have averaged five runs per game in the first 21⁄2 weeks of the season.
Kevin Doster/AP

Two and a half weeks of baseball is nowhere near enough to make set-in-stone judgments.

But in a 60-game season that’s hovering between ‘‘it’s early’’ and ‘‘it’s later than you think,’’ a little early trend-spotting finds a game on much the same path as it has been in recent years.

Baseball 2020 continues to be a three-true-outcomes game, with walks and strikeouts rising and home runs at the third-highest per-game level in history.

Scoring is down, with a small dip in homers accompanied by slides in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

Roughly a quarter of the season is gone. The White Sox, with 16 games played through Sunday, are among 19 teams that have played 15 or more — the 25% mark — while the Cubs are just shy at 13 games.

Some highlights:

• Runs are down from 4.83 per team per game last season to 4.36. That’s the lowest average since 4.25 in 2015. The Cubs, at five runs per game, rank seventh in the majors; the Sox, at 4.31, are 14th.

•  Homers are at 1.23 per team per game. That’s not as many as the record 1.39 last season, but it’s more than in any other season but the 1.26 in 2017.

The explosion last season drew complaints that the game had gone too homer-happy. There was speculation Major League Baseball would make the balls less lively, and some wondered whether starting the season in warm weather would prop up numbers.

Homers have driven in 44.21% of runs so far, down slightly from 45.24% in 2019.

•  Strikeouts are up to 8.85 per team per game from 8.81 last season. Whiffs have set major-league records every season since 2008, when the average was 6.77 per team per game.

Walks also are up to 3.44 per team per game from 3.27 last season. That means the three true outcomes in which fielders are not involved — homers, strikeouts and walks — are at 13.52 per team per game, even higher than the 13.47 in the big home-run season of 2019. Add in the 0.5 hit batters per game after the post-1900-record 0.41 last season, and fewer plate appearances than ever are ending with a ball in play.

• Batting average has plummeted to .230, which would shatter the 1968 Year of the Pitcher record of .237. The average last season was .252.

That has led to a decline in on-base percentage from .323 last season to .311, despite the increase in walks. Slugging percentage is down to .396 from .435 and OPS to .708 from .758.

• Sacrifice bunts are down from 0.16 per team per game in 2019 to 0.05 this season. That’s the National League DH effect. The NL is down from .21 to .04.

It’s early even in a 60-game season, and there’s plenty of room for doubt about how meaningful the early numbers are. So far, however, a power dip and an on-base outage have brought a decline on the scoreboard.