How baseball has changed since 1908

Most recent championship seasons for Cubs, Indians, Dodgers provide striking contrast to modern game

October 22nd, 2016

Each of the final three franchises still alive this postseason has waited a long time to bring home another championship. But while their World Series trophy collections have remained stagnant, the game itself has changed considerably.

Long ago October triumphs tie the Cubs to 1908, the Indians to 1948 and the Dodgers to 1988. And those years, so conveniently spaced out, provide useful checkpoints to trace the ever-shifting environment of Major League Baseball.

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Over the past 108 years, MLB has expanded from 16 to 30 teams, moved westward from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, integrated and grown more international, broken into four and then six divisions, pushed the regular-season schedule to 162 games, adopted the designated hitter and video reviews, altered the postseason system and much more.

All the while, the product on the field has been transformed. Here is a look at some of the ways in which today's game looks far different from when the Cubs, Indians and Dodgers each won their most recent championship.

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Home runs

The last Cubs team to go all the way did so firmly in the middle of the Deadball Era, when the spitball was legal, much to the chagrin of hitters. The league as a whole batted .239/.297/.305 in 1908, producing an OPS a bit below the career mark of Mets pitcher (.613).

Offense has increased dramatically since then, but by far the biggest difference is the prevalence of the home run. In 2016, there were fewer singles hit per team game (5.7) than in 1908 (6.2). Triples also dropped. Homers, on the other hand, have risen from rare feat to routine occurrence.

1908: 0.11 HR, 3.38 runs per team game

1948: 0.63 HR, 4.58 runs per team game

1988: 0.76 HR, 4.14 runs per team game

2016: 1.16 HR, 4.48 runs per team game

All 16 teams combined for just 267 homers in 1908, or 14 more than the Orioles hit this year, when there were more long balls than in any season other than 2000. Way back 108 years ago, Tim Jordan led the Majors with 12 -- two more than Hall of Famer Honus Wagner -- and Jordan's Brooklyn Superbas (who later became the Dodgers) topped all teams with 28. This year, 48 players went deep at least 28 times.

For the starkest view of how alien the 1908 version of the game now appears, consider the team across town from the Cubs. Although they didn't make it to the World Series, that year's White Sox were a solid bunch, going 88-64-4. They managed that despite hitting .224/.298/.271 and knocking a grand total of three home runs -- yes, three -- each of them of the inside-the-park variety.


Pitchers collectively reached the threshold of eight strikeouts per nine innings for the first time in 2016, with that stat seeing an uptick for the 11th straight season. While such a number was unheard of in 1908, it remained a long ways off 80 years later, when Orel Hershiser strung together 59 straight scoreless innings and led the Dodgers to the World Series.

1908: 3.7 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 1.49 K/BB

1948: 3.7 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, 0.94 K/BB

1988: 5.6 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.80 K/BB

2016: 8.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 2.58 K/BB

Even when pitchers controlled the game in 1908, they didn't do it with strikeouts. In '48, a much better offensive environment, K's remained about the same while walks shot up, making it one of 17 seasons between 1922-50 with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of less than 1.0.

The differences between 1988 and 2016 are staggering. While pitchers issued walks at roughly the same rate, strikeout rate has increased by more than 40 percent. In '88, just 15 percent of qualified starters struck out at least seven batters per nine innings, but 81 percent did so this year.

Pitcher usage

On that 1908 White Sox team, ace Ed Walsh pitched in 66 games (49 starts), threw 464 innings (about one-third of the team's total), picked up 40 wins and posted a 1.42 ERA.

Flash forward to the present day, when five-man rotations and pitch counts have rendered such a stat line unrecognizable. In 2016, the top two pitchers in innings ( and ) accumulated 458 1/3 innings combined -- fewer than Walsh. Only three pitchers won at least 20 games.

Over the course of 108 years, starters have thrown fewer and fewer innings, while teams have used more relievers but counted on each of them to do less. Here is how the league has evolved in terms of innings per start (IP/GS), relief appearances per team game (RP/G) and innings per relief appearance (IP/RP).

1913 : 7.2 IP/GS, 0.64 RP/G, 2.7 IP/RP

1948: 6.5 IP/GS, 1.23 RP/G, 1.9 IP/RP

1988: 6.4 IP/GS, 1.75 RP/G, 1.5 IP/RP

2016: 5.6 IP/GS, 3.15 RP/G, 1.0 IP/RP

1913 is the earliest season for which these numbers are available

From 1908 to 2016, the percentage of starts that lasted at least eight innings dropped from 58.8 percent to 5.5 percent, and the number of pitchers to reach 250 innings sank from 34 to zero. In fact, nobody has hit that mark since '11.

On the other hand, those 1908 White Sox went to a reliever 62 times all year, twice more than the Cubs. This year's Cubs, with a rotation that has helped lead them to 103 regular-season wins and the brink of the World Series, did it more than 500 times.

As it turns out, a lot can change in 108 years.