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11 Stats that Define the 2018 MLB Season

Jose Altuve by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

11 Stats that Define the 2018 MLB Season

Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes

The 2018 MLB season is equal parts statistical anomaly and shining exemplar of where the game of baseball is going. All season long you have probably heard the common gripes from analysts and reporters around the league- balls aren’t being put into play, there’s way too many strikeouts, it’s all about the homers, small-ball strategies belong in the Jurassic Era, etc.

All this got me thinking about where this season stands against all the others statistically, because it just feels different, doesn’t it? The eye test alone tells you that today’s brand of baseball is unlike any we have ever had. But what do the numbers say?

So I delved into the depths of Baseball Reference and compared batting, pitching, and defensive statistics (both yearly totals and per game rates) between 2018 and all other seasons in MLB history. I have for you below my favorite, most interesting tidbits (plus some of my own commentary) on the 2018 season through this point. A lot of them show where the current game of baseball is trending, while others I suppose could just be luck of the draw for this year. Either way, all you stats nerds out there- this one’s for you. Here’s how we will come to remember the 2018 MLB season:

  • As it stands now, the league-wide batting average of .249 is the lowest we’ve seen since 1972. Coincidentally, this was the last season before the DH was introduced in the American League.
  • In the history of baseball, there have only been 8 seasons in which more batters were hit by a pitch on a per game basis than 2018. All 8 of those seasons happened between 1890 and 1900. It’s all about velocity these days, especially out of the bullpen. Power over control.
  • 2018 is on pace to set the record for fewest sacrifice bunts per team per game (0.17) of any season in history. There have been a total of 740 sacrifice bunts so far. Compare that to 1915, when there were 4,441 by the end of the season. Do base coaches still even have a sign for bunt anymore?
  • Intentional walks are also at historic lows. As it stands, the 2018 season has seen an average of 0.19 IBBs per team per game, tied for the lowest rate since the stat was first recorded.
  • 2018 may also be the first ever season in which more players strike out than collect hits. Currently, the MLB totals for each stand at 36,264 Ks and 36,332 hits. This would just be straight up bonkers.
  • 2018 is on pace to set the record for most strikeouts per team per game, at 8.46. So like every fourth at-bat per team, nothing happens (assuming about 35 ABs per team each game). Talk about a hurting the watchability of the sport. Note: Every season since 2008 has set this record at the time.
  • There have been a total of 39 complete games pitched so far in 2018, on pace for the lowest amount in a season in history.  Now that managers know sabermetrics on pitchers’ efficiency against the third and fourth trips through the lineup, plus the fact that there’s 5 dudes in the pen who can throw 100 mph, there’s almost no point to leave a starter in past 5.2 innings anymore. Note: Every season since 2015 set this record at the time. Double note: The season with the most CGs is 1884, with 2,885.
  • If the season ended today, there would be more wild pitches per team per game in 2018 (0.38) than any other season after 1890. Again, it’s all about velocity over control.
  • Defensive chances (putouts + assists + errors) in 2018 currently sit at 36.63 per team per game. If the season ended today, this would be the fewest defensive chances per game in the history of baseball. More strikeouts means fewer balls in play. Fewer balls in play means fewer defensive chances. Which means fewer things to actually see happen during a game. Just a heads up in case you too were finding baseball a little more boring to watch this year.
  • There are an average of 0.57 errors per team per game in 2018. If the season ended today, this would be the second lowest rate in the history of baseball. I doubt it’s better defense as much as it is the result of fewer defensive chances overall.
  • The number of double-plays turned per game in 2018 is 0.85 per team per game, one of the lowest rates in history. The only season in the live ball era of baseball to have a lower rate is 1920.

For many of these stats, the numbers have been trending in this direction over the last several seasons. Others have seemed to come more out of the blue. But if you have been wondering why baseball has gotten harder to watch, or had a feeling like there’s way less action than their used to be, you’d be absolutely right. And these are the stats to prove it.

*All stats in this article were taken from Baseball Reference, and are accurate through 9/9/18. Edits were made on 9/11 to clarify certain stats that were  listed as “per team per game”.

Ryan Kelly lives in Cambridge, MA, a stone's throw away from his beloved Boston teams. When he is not working as an editorial assistant, he is providing commentary on the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins for The Turf.

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