A Sticky Situation

June 18th, 2021 by Kevin

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Oh, hey!  It only took me two and a half months to write my first in-season post!  Obviously, I’m not going to be doing the monthly awards posts this season, but I will try to get back into a more regular writing schedule as the summer progresses.  It certainly hasn’t been a lack of potential content that has kept me away.  From the seemingly daily no-hitters of the spring, a rash of injuries like we’ve never seen before, the nose-dive in scoring across the league and now the pending implementation of punishment to pitchers caught doctoring balls, it’s been a pretty compelling 11 weeks.

I will list all of the weekly and monthly batter and pitcher honors that have been accumulated so far this season at the bottom of this article.  But first, let’s take a look at the leaguewide statistical trends, how they may have played a role into MLB’s decision to crack down on pitcher’s foreign substance use, and what effect that enforcement may have moving forward.

Since I will be using PAR numbers throughout this analysis, I should explain the slight differences in how these numbers are being calculated this year compared to years past.  Usually, the constants that make up the PAR formula are determined by taking the previous five seasons data.  So for our last normal full season of 2019, during the season, PAR was calculated using numbers from 2014-2018.  Then when the season ends, I do an across-the-board adjustment to include the recently completed season and remove the earliest season from the set.  So the post-2019 update included numbers from 2015-2019.  Those were also the numbers used during the shortened 2020 campaign.  The difference being that I did not perform a post-season update after last season.  Due to the extremely unusual nature of the ’20 season, I decided to exclude its season totals from my calculations, not only for 2020, but moving forward as well.  So heading into this season, I’m still using that same set of numbers from 2015-2019 to calculate PAR in 2021.  When the season ends, the adjustment will be to lump in 2021 and remove 2015, making the included years 2016-2019 and 2021.  Usually, the post-season adjustment has a very minor impact on the numbers.  However, I suspect the impact will be much greater this year, because unless things change dramatically over the next few months, the 2021 season totals won’t look anything like those from 2015.

As things stand today, PAR paints a pretty clear picture of what is going on in baseball in 2021.  Across the league, hitters have combined to accumulate just 14.57 PAR.  That is setting a full season pace well under 40 PAR.  Hitters accumulated 69 PAR last year in just a 60 game season.  The record for lowest total batting PAR for a 162 game season is 141 in 2014.  As mentioned in the previous paragraph, this year’s numbers will be adjusted after the season, which will certainly cause batting PAR numbers to increase.  But this is staggering stuff.  Compared to recent seasons, hitters are simply not putting up anywhere near the normal level of offensive production.  Meanwhile, pitchers have already accumulated 126 PAR and are on pace for around 300 for the season, well above the expected total of 225.


In retrospect, quoting mid-week leaguewide PAR numbers may have been a tad misleading.  One part of the PAR formula for all of the counting categories is number of weeks a player has spent on the active roster (as a ratio over 26, the total number of weeks in the season).  This value is incremented at the beginning of the week, causing the threshold needed to reach replacement level to increase in those categories.  I figured we were far enough into the season for this to be of little consequence.  And that is generally true for individual players, but not when looking at the league as a whole.  Following the completion of the past week, hitters have now accumulated a total of 42.74 batting PAR.  That’s still well below normal and on pace to break the full season futility record.  But not to the same degree as the 14.57 number I mentioned above.  Another factor I neglected to mention is that the abundance of injuries to position players so far this season has caused far more teams to have injured players occupying active roster spots than we would typically see at this point in the season.  And players who accumulate no stats will see their PAR numbers drop like a rock.  So there are some other factors besides the reduced offensive environment that are causing these low batting PAR totals this season.


Interestingly, the league batting average of .257 is actually up a tick from last year, but still well below the the .267 number from 2019.  It is the rest of the offensive categories that have cratered.  We are on pace for 2,840 home runs to be hit.  That would be almost 700 fewer than 2019.  Runs scored and RBIs are down more than 10% from two seasons ago.  On the pitching side, the league WHIP of 1.124 would be a record low, by a considerable margin.  ERA is down almost 0.4 points from two seasons ago.  And the strikeout record is likely to be broken once again this year.  What’s happening this year isn’t exactly a continuation of the three true outcome (home runs, walks, strikeouts) revolution of recent seasons.  Only one of those outcomes is continuing to increase:  strikeouts.  Which means pitchers are getting the upper hand like never before.

Enter the sticky substance debate.  I think it is pretty clear at this point that the prevalence of pitchers using sticky substances has had a significant impact on the game, and most would agree that the fewer balls in play it has seemingly caused is not a good thing.  So a crackdown on this is appropriate and long overdue.  The issue is the manner in which it is being implemented and the timing.  It certainly would have been more logical to start this enforcement of the rules at the beginning of the season, or maybe wait until next year.  And perhaps some compromises could have been made on what substances are and are not allowed.  We will have to wait and see if the unintended consequences are severe (see Glasnow, Tyler).  And we will also have to wait and see how dramatic of an impact it has across the game.  However, I am hopeful that the intended consequences of increased offense will materialize and kill any thoughts of more drastic rule changes like moving the pitcher’s mound further from the plate.  So put me down as being in favor of the crackdown, but not the timing or manner in which it is being implemented.

Now here’s a list of players who have excelled so far this season in spite of, or maybe because of, the foreign substance boom.  As usual, these are strictly determined by who had the highest PAR total for a given week or month.

Batters of the Week:

Week 1 (4/1 – 4/4) – Nick Castellanos, Mavericks
Week 2 (4/5 – 4/11) – Ronald Acuna, Jackalope
Week 3 (4/12 – 4/18) – Ronald Acuna, Jackalope
Week 4 (4/19 – 4/25) – Fernando Tatis, Demigods
Week 5 (4/26 – 5/2) – Kris Bryant, Cougars
Week 6 (5/3 – 5/9) – Yordan Alvarez, Komodos
Week 7 (5/10 – 5/16) – Aaron Judge, Mavericks
Week 8 (5/17 – 5/23) – Fernando Tatis, Demigods
Week 9 (5/24 – 5/30) – Fernando Tatis, Demigods
Week 10 (5/31 – 6/6) – Ryan Mountcastle, Moonshiners
Week 11 (6/7 – 6/13) – Bo Bichette, Beanballers

Pitchers of the Week:

Week 1 (4/1 – 4/4) – Zack Wheeler, Kings
Week 2 (4/5 – 4/11) – Clayton Kershaw, Mavericks
Week 3 (4/12 – 4/18) – Shane Bieber, Choppers
Week 4 (4/19 – 4/25) – Brandon Woodruff, Choppers
Week 5 (4/26 – 5/2) – Zack Wheeler, Kings
Week 6 (5/3 – 5/9) – John Means, Beanballers
Week 7 (5/10 – 5/16) – Freddy Peralta, Demigods
Week 8 (5/17 – 5/23) – Zack Wheeler, Kings
Week 9 (5/24 – 5/30) – Brandon Woodruff, Choppers
Week 10 (5/31 – 6/6) – Jacob deGrom, Darkhorses
Week 11 (6/7 – 6/13) – Zach Davies, Beanballers

Quite a list of stars on the hitting side, including two players who won back-to-back weekly honors.  Unsurprisingly, they parlayed those weeks into monthly honors as well.  Zack Wheeler has won the weekly pitcher award three times, with Brandon Woodruff adding a pair.  Surprisingly, league Pitching PAR leader Jacob deGrom only has one weekly honor so far.

April Batter of the Month:

Ronald Acuna, Jackalope
.341 AVG, 8 HR, 18 RBI, 25 R, 3 SB, 2.10 PAR

April Pitcher of the Month:

Gerrit Cole, Jackalope
1.43 ERA, 0.717 WHIP, 4 W, 0 SV, 62 K, 4.41 PAR

May Batter of the Month:

Fernando Tatis, Demigods
.353 AVG, 9 HR, 26 RBI, 21 R, 8 SB, 3.01 PAR

May Pitcher of the Month:

Kevin Gausman, Cougars
0.73 ERA, 0.757 WHIP, 5 W, 0 SV, 49 K, 4.67 PAR

Not sure any player in baseball is having a more under the radar stellar campaign than Kevin Gausman.  He is right on deGrom’s heels for the PAR lead.  Two of the previous three first overall draft picks, Ronald Acuna and Fernando Tatis, are off to tremendous starts as well.  They are third and first in Batting PAR, respectively.  In between them is Moonshiners first baseman Vladimir Guerrero, who surprisingly does not appear anywhere above.

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