The way baseball is played today, the White Sox are almost an anomaly.
Stringing together enough hits to produce runs has become more difficult in an age of hard-throwing pitchers and defensive shifts. Rosters have been constructed to favor home-run hitters and quick-strike offenses.
With the caution that April is always tough on hitters, we’ve seen a continuation of the trends toward fewer balls in play and offenses dominated by the three true outcomes of strikeouts, walks and homers.
Yet the Sox, who rank fourth in the majors at 4.96 runs per game (through Sunday), are 26th with 24 homers, eight fewer than the major-league average. Their 236 strikeouts represent 23.3% of their plate appearances, lower than the major-league average of 24.4%.
The Sox’ .257 batting average ranks third and is 23 points above the major-league average of .234. Augmented by 101 walks — 10.1% of their plate appearances — the Sox have a .340 on-base percentage that trails only the Dodgers’ .346.
The Cubs are more in line with trends. They’re hitting for a low average (.224, 10 points below the major-league average), striking out (282 times for 26.9% of their plate appearances, sixth in the majors), walking (104 times for 9.9% of their plate appearances) and hitting homers (37 for 3.5% of their plate appearances vs. the major-league average of 3.1). Their 4.61 runs per game are 14th in the majors but .28 above average.
Let’s take a look at major-league averages:
• Strikeouts: In 2020, strikeouts per game dropped after 14 consecutive seasons of year-to-year increases.
But strikeouts weren’t really down. That was just a statistical oddity created by shorter games with seven-inning doubleheaders and extra innings shortened by the man-on-second rule.
Strikeouts per game fell from a record 8.81 per team in 2019 to 8.68 in 2020, but strikeouts increased to 23.4% of plate appearances in 2020 after 23% in 2019. The long-term rise in strikeouts continued, masked by shorter games.
Through Sunday, teams are striking out an average of 9.05 times per game, a record pace if it continues.
• Walks: Bases on balls are down to 3.29 per team per game after 3.39 last season, which was up from 3.27 in 2019. Walks crested with an expansion-era high of 3.75 in 2000 but settled down to a recent low of 2.88 in 2014.
• Home runs: At 1.16 per team per game, homers are down from 1.28 last season and a record 1.39 in 2019, but they’re still at the fifth-highest level in history. Expect a power increase in warmer weather.
• Batting average: The current .234 average would be the lowest in history, even below the .237 in the Year of the Pitcher in 1968. That’s down from .245 in 2020, the lowest since .244 in 1972.
Roster construction plays a part in the trends. If execs thought the best way to score was to have contact hitters spray the ball, you’d see prospects with thick-handled, thick-barreled bats learning to hit to the opposite field. But power is what puts runs on the board these days, and more homers, more strikeouts and lower batting averages are what you get.