I'll get into the sports part momentarily, but I have a second "story" that will hopefully lend some sort of hand to this discussion. I was, uncharacteristically, watching "Doctor Who" on Netflix tonight before the Twins game and if there is anything that show will do, it will make you think about what time is (a lot of time travel). I'm really throwing in this example just because I said "time has been a theme in my day" and decided that my professor talking about didn't constitute a theme in my day, but TWO (!) examples must qualify, right?
Anyway... baseball. Today's ballplayer's deserve a chance to question their place in space and time to right? I mean, what if you took an average player and sent him back two, five or ten years, would he have the same production? I admit, not the most interesting hook, how much could change in five or ten years? Hell, most of the guys who were around then are still clinging onto a roster somewhere. Well I'm here to tell you that a lot has changed. Not in any dramatic or fundamental way, but in a way that a casual fan might not have noticed and it's part of a larger trend.
Since the days of Bonds and McGwire, the hitting environment has been on a steady decline. There are many reasons for this (do NOT say steroids or I will hunt you down) but we're not getting into the causes here, just exploring the effect of the weaker environment on our perceptions of players. First of all, here's the data (from baseball-reference.com):
Year AVG / OBA / SLG
2012 .250/ .317/ .395
2011 .255/ .320/ .399
2010 .257/ .325/ .403
2005 .264/ .330/ .419
2000 .270/ .345/ .437
As you can see, offense has been on a steady decline over the last dozen years. You can take that as the fact it is. The reason I want to present these data to you is because of how it relates to the average hitter (keep in mind it, of course, affects ALL hitters).
It's quite possible that a guy hitting .250/.317/.395 wouldn't have had a spot on some major league teams in 2000. On the other hand it's true that a guy hitting near the average 2000 production level .270/.345/.437 is hitting cleanup for the 27-18 Tampa Bay Rays (Ahem, Luke Scott). So what does this mean for what we should expect out of the fringy-to-average hitters that are plentiful in major league lineups every day? It means that when Twins' fans see Ryan Doumit hitting .263/.328/.441, they should actually be quite pleased, it means they should be tolerant of Jamey Carroll hitting .231/.322/.269* even if the numbers look relatively horrific based on the standards we (or at least I) grew up on.
*feel free to be outraged about Carroll's slugging percentage, that's horrific.
Depending on the context of time, the production of the average Joe can materialize in a wide range of statistics. As such, it's important to judge a player based in their current environment. As of now, that's a low run scoring environment, and you should adapt your expectations accordingly.