A single used to score a runner from second, with few exceptions. That’s why they call it scoring position.
The axiom was reinforced in my youth by playing APBA baseball, a table game using dice and player cards reflecting their real life performance. My 1955 game, one of the first versions sold, was understandably crude and not a precise reflection of real outcomes. But in my game, runners from second always scored unless it was a bunt or infield single.
That’s not how it is in 2019. Even three singles in an inning often do not change the score. Sending the runner home from second is more complex calculation, depending on the velocity and location of the hit and the arm of the outfielder. Increasingly, the runner is simply held at third.
The evidence is in.
According to research on SBNation.com (beyondtheboxscore.com/2012/9/27/3414592/the-slow-death-of-aggressive-baserunning#comments), 71 percent of the runners scored from second on singles in the 1950s. That share has steadily declined in each decade since so that in the current decade, only 58.8 make it home.
The article characterized the trend as a reluctance to take chances, though I differ with that point. As fewer runners being sent home, those who try are being thrown out more consistently. It’s not just that third base coaches don’t want to look bad; they really are mistaken more often when they take the chance. In the ’50s, 3.4 percent of such runners were out at the plate; in the 2010s, 4.7 percent are nailed.
What’s going on?
Outfielders have stronger arms, for one. Many approach 100 mph on their pegs, which more than makes up for the presumably better speed of today’s runners.
Like seemingly everything else these days, the trend favors homerun hitting. Singles lose some of their value when they do not advance runners as far as they used to. Homeruns always clear the sacks.