September 19, 2014
A few weeks ago, I took stock of the dramatic changes we’re seeing across the league in terms of ERA/FIP/xFIP. We knew that good pitching was trending upward, but my thought was that we weren’t accurate in our view of just how much good pitching there was.
Today, I want to look at the inverse, and take stock of how hitting is on the decline. While there are myriad ways of attacking this issue, I’m going to focus on hitting for power because in standard leagues, hitting for power carries the most weight, affecting three categories (HR, R, RBI). While this is going to be old hat for some, it’s my hope that looking at the dramatic changes in power production over the course of two seasons will help us properly evaluate those hitters who do provide power.
Note: All rankings are based on qualified hitters, removing those with too few at-bats from the equation.
Table 1: SLG
To no one’s surprise, power is down across the board. The top spot isn’t suffering so much, but we see the degradation become wider and wider down the line. This shows itself even more further down the rankings, as it took until no. 30 in 2012 to find a player with a sub-.500 slugging percentage, while 2014 features only 14 players with slugging percentages over .500. Something like the 20 point gap that exists starting around no. 7 exists all the way through no. 130 or so, where things start evening out. This shows us that both the top of the scale and bottom of the scale are largely similar at least in relation to each other, but the impact of the power outage is being felt in the middle.
Table 2: ISO
In 2012, 47 players posted an isolated slugging percentage of .200 or better, while in 2014, that number tops out at 22. Less than half of players are hitting for the type of power that they did only two years ago, once we remove singles from the equation. For frame of reference, Albert Pujols’ .193 ISO ranks 30th in 2014, but would drop to 52nd in 2012. Once again, things aren’t that different at the edges of the spectrum, so this isn’t a case of the bottom dragging the average down, but of the middle-of-the-pack hitters failing to generate the power they did before.
Table 3: HR
A couple of notes: The 2014 season isn’t done, so raw totals are obviously a bit misleading here, but it’s clear that power is down at the very top of the scale. While they get closer around the back end of the top 10, the difference gets bigger further down the list. Picking some spots at random, Anthony Rendon’s 20-homer campaign thus far checks in at 40th in 2014, but would only be good for 61st in 2012, a marked difference. If that’s too far down the list for you, 20th ranked (2014) Brandon Moss’ 25 homers would only land him 36th in 2012. Things finally even out at no. 40 (three homers on both lists), but unlike our previous two categories, the raw homer totals see a decline right at the top, which only gets worse in the middle before tapering off toward the bottom of the list.
In all cases, we’re reminded that hitting is suffering throughout the game right now, especially so in the case of hitting for power. This means we need to readjust what it is to be a power hitter in fantasy leagues. The league average SLG in 2012 was .405, compared to .387 in 2014. For ISO it was .151 in 2012, with 2014 at .136. This means we need to consider a .400 slugging percentage actively good, which is something I’m still grappling with as a fantasy owner. Despite knowing that power hitting is in decline, it’s hard to accept that someone barely cracking .400 in SLG is “hitting for power.” Certainly, they’re not elite, but that’s not where the margins are large in this type of comparison. The middling guys are the ones for which we need to adjust.