Offense historically low during season's early going
Major League Baseball's first month is usually full of inclement weather. Games are routinely postponed because of rain -- sometimes snow -- and players are bundled in anything and everything to help stay warm.
As Tigers left-hander Phil Coke quipped on Opening Day, the only way to do that in the bullpen is "happy thoughts. Warm, happy thoughts."
Cold weather is a part of April. And April is a part of baseball season. That's nothing new, and it isn't changing any time soon.
It's no surprise that when stacked against the rest of the season, April is the lowest-scoring month on the calendar. There are many factors, with cold weather topping the list, but pitchers also are usually ahead of the hitters in the season's early going.
But as the game's focus has changed during the last few years from power hitting to power pitching, April has been even more unkind than usual to hitters.
Last year, the average Major League team scored 97 runs in April. The last time the league average was below the century mark? In 1993, when it was 92.
Although there's never been an April that low scoring in between, the trend has been heading that way since 2009. The average Major League team scored 104 runs in '09, 105 in '10 and 113 in '11.
One reason for the low offensive output is the standard effect cold weather has on a pitcher versus a hitter.
"Once you get out there, it's fine," White Sox left-hander Chris Sale said. "You get a little adrenaline going and kind of get caught up in the moment of what you are doing, and you are not really focusing on the wind or how cold it is."
For hitters, it's more difficult to get in a groove when you only step to the plate three or four times a game.
"There's no way to prepare for it," White Sox captain Paul Konerko said. "One thing I can say is it's expected. April and May in the Midwest [stinks]. That's kind of the way it is."
And as Konerko noted, both pitchers and hitters alike have to deal with it.
"It's the old 'Both teams have to play in it' cliche," Konerko said. "It really is that. Baseball wasn't meant to be played in cold weather, but you just got to gut it out. It's that's simple."
The low-scoring Aprils of late are just another example of this era's pitching dominance. The overall league-average ERA dropped five straight seasons from 2006-11, when the Major League average mark was 3.94 and the average team run output was below 700 for the first time since that '93 season (when the average was 695).
The Major League average ERA last season was 4.01, while average run output was 701.
The difficulty of playing and hitting in the cold, coupled with the season-long pitching dominance the game has come to expect, makes teams more mindful of getting off to a good start.
"If we can get off to a good start in April with the weather, they're often low-scoring games, and there's a real fine line between victory and defeat, and the key is good execution and playing smart baseball," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said.
As the last few years have proven, that fine line has become increasingly finer -- especially in April.