Scoring was up in the Pacific Coast League in 2011, reaching levels that had not been seen since before the Triple-A merger in 1998.
PCL teams averaged 798 runs scored, or 5.54 runs per game. This represented a 6.5% increase from 2010.
This was the highest total since 1997, back when the PCL had just ten teams.
There was a lot of talk about this around the league, as people wondered why scoring was up so much. I decided to look back at the numbers. The chart below lists the runs, home runs, and batting average per team for each season.
As you can see, the figures fluctuate from season to season. Sometimes, it’s quite clear why.
Prior to 1998, the league had just ten teams and many were in high-elevation locations. In 1998 the league added six teams from the American Association, and most of them play in pitcher’s parks.
You can see that scoring was pretty consistent from 1998 to 2000. Then Albuquerque left the league, moving to Portland, so we traded a launching pad for a more pitcher-friendly park, and scoring dropped noticeably in 2001.
Scoring hit a 18-year low in 2003, even though Albuquerque came back into the league that year. We lost one of the best hitter’s parks in baseball in Calgary, and Fresno moved out of its old bandbox and into a pitcher’s park in Chukchansi Park.
Scoring then went bonkers in 2004-2005, especially home runs, and I cannot tell you why. Maybe the wind blew out in Colorado Springs all summer?
Before I looked at the numbers, I thought we would see that scoring went up in 2009, when Reno joined the league. That ballpark seems like the most extreme hitter’s park in the PCL. But scoring actually decreased in 2009, before making two big jumps to where we are now.
Getting back to the original question, why was scoring up so much this year? There are a couple of theories:
New Ballparks: Tacoma and Omaha opened new stadiums. While park factors indicate Werner Park in Omaha is a neutral stadium, Cheney became much more of a home run park than it was previously. A bigger change was the move from pitcher friendly Portland to the hitter’s park in Tucson.
Quality Of Pitching: This was the popular opinion among scouts, managers, and coaches in the league: the quality of pitching league-wide was not as strong as in year’s past. To my eye, this seemed to be the case until the end of the season, when all of a sudden we started to see a lot of strong arms on opposing teams (especially relief pitchers).
The quality of pitching should bounce back; this is something that can fluctuate from year-to-year.
Heavy Hitters: Others feel that there was an inordinate number of good hitters in the league this year. Here’s a telling stat: on Baseball America’s list of the Top 20 prospects in the PCL, there are 16 hitters and four pitchers.
Juiced Baseballs: OK, nobody is claiming the ball was juiced. I just wanted to write that. Remember when they thought the balls were juiced in MLB in the mid-90s? It turns out something else was juiced.
Seriously, though, Colorado Springs is installing a baseball humidor like the Rockies use. It will be very interesting to see if that helps temper the scores in Sky Sox games.
I wonder if scoring will take a natural downturn next year? Or maybe PCL teams will average over 800 runs for the first time since 1997? We’ll see.
This is the first in a series of posts on offense in the PCL. Up next, sometime around or immediately following the World Series, we’ll have a look at the new Cheney Stadium, and we’ll see how much offense increased with the new fences.