After years of declines, MLB offense perks up in 2nd half

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NEW YORK (AP) -- As fresh-faced rookies cleared fences right along with the reliable sluggers into late September, hitters perked up in the second half this season and stopped an eight-year slide in the big league batting average.

The majors' batting average jumped from .253 before the All-Star break to .257. Runs were up, too, and there was a significant spike in homers.

Major League Baseball has been concerned about decreased offense over the past 15 years and has been watching the figures closely.

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"Am I glad we had a little more offense? Yes," new Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "But do I think an uptick in August and September of one year is enough to base any decision on? No, I really don't."

Why the hot second half at the plate?

"Seeing guys for the first time can be a little bit of a disadvantage. You pick up their arm angle a little differently," Chicago White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton said. "When you see them the second time, you have the advantage. And when you see them the third, fourth, fifth time, after the All-Star break, as a hitter, you learn from your mistakes."

The average number of runs per team each game climbed 9 percent in the second half, from 4.1 to 4.46, and home runs shot up nearly 16 percent, from .95 to 1.1.

Still, the sport is nothing like the homer-happy days of the Steroids Era, an offense boom that saw the batting average peak at .271 in 1999 and the team home run average at 1.17 per game the following year.

The big league batting average was .269 in 2006 but dropped for eight seasons in a row to .251 last year - its lowest since a .244 in 1972, the last season before the American League adopted the designated hitter.

That drop followed the start of drug testing in 2003, penalties for positive steroids tests the following year and a ban on amphetamines in 2006. This season's average is back up to .255.

Average home runs per team each game plateaued at .87 last year, its lowest level since 1992, but perked up to 1.01 this season - around the level of 2012.

"You go back and talk about the juiced balls or some of the technology, the bats and so forth, I don't know if that has something to do with it," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "But offense is definitely up, - homers are more so."

Melvin saw plenty of them leave the ballpark against his A's last weekend, when San Francisco rookie Jarrett Parker connected four times in two games, including a grand slam among his three homers in s 14-10 win Saturday.

After explosive growth in defensive shifts in 2014 and 2015, it appears more hitters adjusted this year - laying down a bunt here and there to give opponents second thoughts and occasionally making an effort to drive outside pitches the other way.

One trend hasn't changed: Most teams have an assembly line of relievers coming out of their bullpens in the middle innings at 95 mph and up.

"A lot of guys are throwing hard," Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford said. "It seems like everybody's throwing a cutter now to keep you off the straight fastball."

Seemingly tied to the increase in an offense is a spike in game times. Baseball made an effort to speed the pace this year, installing clocks to time between-innings breaks and pitching changes, and telling hitters to keep at least one foot in the batter's box in many instances.

The average time of a nine-inning game was 2 hours, 53 minutes before the All-Star break, a drop of 10 minutes from 2014. But it has been 3:00 since the break, down just two minutes. That leaves the overall season average at 2:56, a 6-minute decrease.

"We're basically back to the 2012 game," Manfred said. "To get an improvement in offense while your still shortening the game, if that's the way it turns out, that would be a very positive development."

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After years of declines, MLB offense perks up in 2nd half
NEW YORK - APRIL 24: A general view of Yankee Stadium from the upper deck during the game between the New York Yankees and the New York Mets on April 24, 2015 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 29: General aerial views of Fenway Park during a game between the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox in Boston, Massachusetts on July 29, 2015. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 10: A general view between the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on June 10, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Baltimore Orioles won, 5-2. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 06: General view as James Shields #33 of the San Diego Padres pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers during opening day at Dodger Stadium on April 6, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JULY 25: A general view of an overall of Citi Field at dusk from the upper deck during the game between the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field on July 25, 2015 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - MAY 16: Aerial views form a helicopter of the San Diego Padres game against the Washington Nationals at Petco Park on May 16, 2015 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Andy Hayt/San Diego Padres/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - JULY 09: A general view of game action during the game between the Miami Marlins and the Cincinnati Reds at Marlins Park on July 9, 2015 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 30: A general wide angle view of the stadium at sunset during the fourth inning of the game between the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Yankees at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 30, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Josh Barber/Angels Baseball LP/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JULY 04: A general view of the ballpark during the national anthem before the game between the Marlins and Cubs on July 04, 2015 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - JULY 25: A general view of the stadium while a rainbow shines above as the Pittsburgh Pirates take on the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on July 25, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 19: A general view Progressive Field during the seventh inning of the game between the Cleveland Indians and the Tampa Bay Rays on June 19, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 12: A general view of Busch Stadium and the downtown skyline during the game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium on May 12, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. The Cubs defeated the Cardinals 17-5. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 12: A general view of Chase Field during the game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers at Chase Field on Sunday, April 12, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Barry Gossage/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 08: A general view of PNC Park during the game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on June 8, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA- APRIL 24: A general view of the Seattle skyline during a game between the Seattle Mariners and the Minnesota Twins on April 24, 2015 at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. The Mariners defeated the Twins 2-0. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 6: General view of baseball fans getting settled into their seats inside Tropicana Field before the start of an Opening Day game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles on April 6, 2015 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - JULY 1: A general view of the Rogers Centre on Canada Day in the first inning during the Toronto Blue Jays MLB game against the Boston Red Sox on July 1, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - MAY 02: General view of Minute Maid Park during a game between the Houston Astros and the Seattle Mariners on May 2, 2015 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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