Apr 4, 2022

Visualizing Baseball’s Modern Era with Charts

Jordan Aronson
Baseball, Spreadsheets, and Sabermetrics

Perhaps no sport is better understood through spreadsheets than baseball. The Modern Era – the term Major League Baseball uses to describe the game since the end of World War II – has been marked by a rise in data collection and analytics-driven decision making.

Today, MLB’s Statcast (a system of cameras and radars installed in all thirty ballparks) collects roughly seven terabytes of data per game. With 2,430 games per regular season, that’s over 17 petabytes of on-field data collected between Opening Day and the postseason.

Statistics are so crucial to the modern game that baseball has developed its own sub-discipline of empirical analysis: sabermetrics. Derived from the acronym for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), sabermetrics research has been conducted since the mid-1900s.

As the Modern Era progressed, more teams began employing sabermetric analysis in their decision making on and off the field and in today’s game, sabermetrics are as ubiquitous as peanuts and crackerjacks.

How Baseball has Changed in the Modern Era

We could wax poetic and argue endlessly with baseball purists about how America’s pastime has changed since the start of the Modern Era. Still we figure it’s better to examine the sport’s progression the best way we know how: with spreadsheets, charts, and cold hard numbers.

Below, we’ll use Spreadsheet.com’s built-in charts to examine some of the significant ways that baseball, as we know it today, has changed over the past 76 years.

You can explore all of the data and charts yourself in our MLB Modern Era Statistics workbook, or create a copy to make your own sabermetric visualizations.

1. Complete games have all but disappeared
Complete Games Pitched per Season

A pitcher records a complete game when he pitches for his team for the entire game, regardless of how long it lasts. At the beginning of the Modern Era, complete games were extremely common, with about 45% of pitching appearances resulting in one. Since then, the number of complete games recorded each season has continuously declined. Last season, only 1% of pitching appearances resulted in a complete game.

As the Modern Era has progressed, pitchers have thrown with increasingly higher velocity and more significant movement in their breaking balls, increasing their fatigue throughout games and reducing the total number of pitches they’re able to throw. The rise of sabermetrics, too, has convinced managers to make more use of relief pitchers to draw statistically better matchups with hitters later in games.

2. Wild pitches have increased dramatically
Average Wild Pitches versus Hits by Pitches per Team per Game

A wild pitch (WP) is recorded when a pitcher’s pitch is so errant that the catcher is unable to catch and control it, resulting in a runner on base advancing. WIld pitches – and, accordingly, players hit by pitches (HBP) – have increased nearly three-fold since the start of the Modern Era.

Like the decline in complete games, this can also likely be attributed to the evolution of pitchers’ methods. The combination of an increase in velocity, more spin being put on the ball, and a wider variety of pitch release angles not only makes balls harder for catchers to catch, but provides more opportunities for a pitch to go astray.

3. The sacrifice bunt is on its way out
Average Sacrifice Bunts per Team per Game

Like complete games, the sacrifice bunt has been disappearing throughout the Modern Era. A sacrifice bunt is when a batter lays down a bunt to advance a runner on base, but gets himself out in the process.

Sacrifice bunts have never been all that common: at their peak at the beginning of the Modern Era, there was an average of around 0.7 sacrifice bunts per team per game. By last season, that number had dropped to less than 0.2 per team per game.

Sacrifice bunts are costly and risky plays, as using one “wastes” an out and only advances a runner one base. Sabermetric research has also revealed that teams are more likely to score with no outs and a runner on first base than with one out and a runner on second, contributing to their near disappearance from the modern game.

4. Extra-base hits are more common, but triples are more rare than ever
Average Extra-base Hits per Team per Game

An extra-base hit (XBH) describes any hit that isn’t a single, including doubles (2B), triples (3B), and home runs (HR). Extra-base hits have been on the rise since the start of the Modern Era, increasing a little over 40% between 1946 and last season. During the “Steroid Era” (roughly the late 1980s to mid-2000s), the league saw a dramatic rise in the number of extra-base hits.

Many of these extra-base hits can be attributed to the increase in the average power of batters’ swings. But the ball itself plays a significant role in this statistic as well. In 2019, the year of the “juiced” ball, the league saw a record number of extra-base hits and a significant year-over-year increase in the number of home runs.

Despite a continuous rise in doubles and home runs, the number of triples has steadily decreased over the Modern Era. Like the sacrifice blunt, the triple was never all that common to begin with. In 1946, teams recorded an average of .34 triples per game, far lower than doubles (1.4 per game) and even home runs (.46 per game). Last season, teams recorded an average of just .14 triples per game, making them one of the least likely plays in the sport alongside balks, intentional walks, and grand slams.

Share of Extra Base Hits - 2B vs. 3B vs. HR

Among all extra-base hits recorded, the triple’s share has been reduced from 15.1% to just 4.7% since the start of the Modern Era. Meanwhile, where home runs once made up 21% of extra-base hits, they now account for over 40% of them.

5. Perfect games remain as elusive as ever
Perfect Games per Season

Despite all that’s changed over the past 76 years, one thing remains constant: the perfect game is the most elusive feat in baseball. A perfect game is achieved when a pitcher retires all 27 batters from the opposing team in order without recording any hits, walks, hit by pitches, uncaught third strikes, catcher or fielder interference, or fielding errors.

Throughout the Modern Era only 18 perfect games have been achieved, and only 23 have been achieved across the entire history of MLB. Despite a record high three perfect games in 2012, none have been recorded since.

Spreadsheet.com Baseball Scorecard Template

While you may not be able to collect seven terabytes of data like Statcast, you can try your hand at scoring a baseball game with our Baseball Scorecard template. All that’s required for baseball scorekeeping is an attentive eye, some basic methodology, and a set of common abbreviations, all of which are listed directly on our template.

Our Baseball Scorecard template includes two sheets – one printable, for a traditional scorekeeping experience, and one digital, which lets you record plays with the Multiselect data type. The Digital Scorecard sheet will also automatically calculate scoring totals and each pitcher’s ERA.

Whether you’re sitting on your couch or out in the bleachers, our Baseball Scorecard template has everything you need to track a game from the first pitch to the final out.

Printable Baseball Scorecard Template
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