Cold weather is always tough on hitters. Bats heat up when the weather warms.
Still, early returns point to a decline in scoring in Major League Baseball in 2022, and the main culprit is a fall-off in power.
Teams averaged 4.03 runs per game in April, down from 4.26 in March/April 2021. The rise early in May has been minimal at 4.08 runs per team per game, bringing the season average to 4.04. In a full May last season, the average was 4.41 on the way to a season average of 4.53.
Through Sunday, the Cubs were averaging 3.81 runs and the White Sox 3.30 (28th of 30 teams). Even in their six-game winning streak entering play Monday, the Sox scored four runs twice and three four times for a 3.33 average.
Batting average and on-base percentage haven’t changed much. In April 2021, the major-league batting average was .232 and the on-base percentage .309, with rises in May to .239 and .315. In 2022, April averages were .232 and .307, with .234 and .304 so far in May.
But slugging percentage has dropped to .369 in April and .374 in May, compared with .390 and .397 in 2021. Last season, averages were 1.14 home runs per team per game in April and 1.12 in May. In 2022, homers have fallen to .91 per team per game in April and .94 in May.
Homers are likely to rise with temperatures, but if those figures were to hold up, it would be the first season with less than a homer per team per game since .86 in 2014. Teams averaged 4.07 runs per game that season, the lowest level since 4.00 in the strike year of 1981.
An anticipated increase in offense with the full-time use of designated hitters in the National League hasn’t happened. Through Sunday, NL DHs had an OPS of only .623 on .204/.292/.331 hitting. That’s the weakest output of any position, with catchers next up at a .633 OPS.
Cubs DHs have been just about at the major-league average, with a .629 OPS on .192/.286/.343 hitting. Willson Contreras has a 1.371 OPS in four games as a DH. More frequent DHs have been Yan Gomes (.550), Rafael Ortega (.613) and Clint Frazier (.488).
American League DHs have been a bit better, with a .670 OPS that tops catchers (.583), second basemen (.616) and left fielders (.663).
The Sox’ .724 OPS by DHs is boosted by Jose Abreu’s .881 in five games and Andrew Vaughn’s 1.539 in three. Yasmani Grandal (.625 in 10 games) and Gavin Sheets (.466 in six) have been less successful.
When looking for causes beyond cold weather for the power outage early this season, a shortened spring training because of the owners’ lockout is one suspect. Some have questioned whether MLB has deadened the balls or whether the use of humidors in all ballparks has had an effect.
Regardless, a home-run drop without a dramatic increase in singles, doubles and triples is a recipe for low-scoring games, such as the ones we’ve seen early in 2022.