The strikeout-to-walk ratio was remarkably consistent from 2000 to 2009, being right around 2.00 every year. Since 2010, it has risen slightly more than .1 every year on average. If that continues, it could reach 3.00 by 2018.
Of course, it could stop rising or even reverse itself, but there is no reason to think it will in the next few years. With steroids out of the game and speciality relievers becoming more dominant, it looks like it will a tough couple of years for hitters.
We have enough data by now about 2014 to say that strikeouts trends are continuing as they have for the past few years. The enormous jump in relievers' strikeouts from 2011 to 2012 is holding steady and strikeouts among starters is increasing. This probably can't continue forever before there is an adjustment back towards the hitters, but it looks like it will continue like this for a while.
Toronto and Detroit are both currently ranked among the bottom 5 teams in baseball in relievers' ERA. Going back over the last ten years, the only teams that finished the season in the bottom 5 and made the playoffs were the 2005 Red Sox and the 2011 Rangers.
The '05 Red Sox were #1 in run scored and won the wild card before being swept in the 1st round by the White Sox. The 2011 Rangers came within 1 pitch of winning the World Series, but that seems like an aberration. They also finished 7th in starters' ERA and 3rd in runs scored.
The Blue Jays and Tigers both play in (as of right now) mediocre divisions and have the ability to score plenty of runs (ranked 2nd and 3rd in OPS). They have the 10th and 11th best ERA in their starting rotation, and Detroit (at least in theory) should have one of the best starting rotations in baseball. Being ranked near the bottom in relievers' ERA isn't something that can't be overcome, but it is a major hurdle.
The Tigers are always a threat to catch fire because of their starting pitching, but that usually doesn't last more than a series. The Blue Jays probably can't count on being able to outscore everyone in October. Absent significant improvement, however, I have a hard time seeing the Blue Jays or Tigers winning the World Series with their current bullpens.
# of teams with 7.5+ K/9 in May
After a monster April for strikeouts (7.93 K/9 in April 2014 vs. 7.68 in April of 2013), strikeouts have leveled off and are identical to May of 2013 (7.54). The number of teams, though, that are maintaining a high rate is still going up. The strikeout numbers might not shoot up as much as they have the last few years, but they are still mind-blowing when compared to just a few years ago.
It is still early in the season, but the increase in the number of at bats it takes to hit a home run is very noticeable. Not only is the overall rate up, but the numbers are worse in May than in April. Since last June, 3 of the 4 complete months have been above 40 and May appears to be heading that way too. If this is the new normal, it will be be a significant shift that will have a major impact on the way the game is played.
Date on which Albert Pujols hit 8th HR of season
2004: May 3
2005: May 9
2006: April 16
2007: May 25
2008: May 13
2009: April 30
2010: May 14
2011: May 23
2012: May 29
2013: May 23
2014: April 22
He's hitting HR again, but his average hasn't rebounded yet (.274 vs. .321 career). It doesn't seem outlandish, though, that he could hit around .300 this year. It seems unlikely that he's going to hit .330, but not that he might hit 40 HR again. He also could finish with relatively low walk and strikeout totals for a power hitter. Are there are historical precedents for this? Yes, several great hitters from the past had similar seasons in their mid-30's.
Of these 3, Aaron is the only one that continued to be productive for years afterward. Mays did win the MVP in 1965, but began to decline almost immediately afterward. After 1966, he never again hit over.300 or 30 HR again. Greenberg retired after another productive season in 1947. Aaron continued having excellent seasons until he was nearly 40.
Historical comparisons are imperfect because times have changed. None of those players was able to take advantage of being a DH, which Pujols almost certainly will for plenty of years. Being a DH has helped David Ortiz continue to hit well into his 30's, in addition to players like Paul Molitor and Edgar Martinez.
Pujols has maintained that he is "too young" to become a DH full-time. I'm sure people in the Angels organization are wondering if he would be hitting better if he were a full-time DH. If he sustains an injury playing the field this year, the talk about him becoming a DH will only intensify.
They would probably be happy at this point with an average around .300 if he would hit 40 HR, although that would be below what I'm sure they were expecting when they signed him to that monster contract. If he's healthy, he's young enough to have a bounce back, although it will probably never get back to where it was from 2001-2009.
# of teams in top 3 (including teams tied for 3rd) in W-L% on April 18 to make playoffs
2008: 3/5 (Cubs, Brewers, White Sox)
2009: 1/3 (Dodgers)
2010: 3/3 (Yankees, Rays, Twins)
2011: 1/3 (Rangers)
2012: 4/5 (Rangers, Nationals, Tigers, Cardinals)
2013: 3/4 (Braves, A's, Red Sox)
Over the past 6 seasons, 15/23 teams made the playoffs, including 7 out of 9 in the last two years. That's probably a trend that will continue because of the additional wild card teams added in 2012. In 2012, two of the four teams were wild card teams, and the Cardinals (who nearly made the World Series) were the 2nd WC team with 88 wins.
The top 3 teams today are the Brewers, A's and Braves. The Brewers are the only surprise, and are actually the only real surprise in the top 10 (4-10: Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, Cardinals, Tigers, Rangers). The team with the #1 record on April 18 has made the playoffs each of the last 2 years (Braves, Rangers) and 3 of the last 4 (Rays, Yankees tied for 1st in 2010).
A team's record on April 18th seems to be a good predictor of whether they'll make the playoffs, especially with an extra wild card slot in each league. I don't think the Brewers will end up with the best record or even in the top 3, but I think they will at least be competitive for a wild card spot.
# of teams with 10+ K/9, 7th Inning and later
# of teams with 1.10 WHIP or lower, 7th Inning and later
K/9, 7th Inning and later
WHIP, 7th Inning and later
The strikeouts keep going up, but the WHIP has stayed very consistent despite a growing number of teams with extremely low WHIP totals. This can be explained because there are more teams with terrible numbers at the end of the game. In 2013, the only team at 1.50 or above was Houston.
In 2014, there are 7 teams at 1.50 or above (Tigers, Royals, D-backs, Cubs, White Sox, Mets, Astros). It's very early in the season, so a couple of bad games can drag down a team's numbers. If the bad teams can get their numbers, the league numbers should improve substantially over previous years.
One of the biggest reasons why the Pirates were able to make the playoffs last year was that their pitching staff gave up very few home runs (#1 in fewest allowed with 101). Even in the 2nd half when they became hittable (falling from 1st in batting average against to 17th), they still managed to lead the league in fewest home runs allowed.
In 2014, they're pitching very well so far, with the 7th best ERA in the ML (2.66). It's early, but they are allowed more home runs than at the end of last year, ranking only 19th in fewest HR allowed.
It might be nothing to worry about even if it persists because they didn't become really stingy until after April last year.