July 10, 2017

"Through Saturday, baseball was on pace for 6,117 home runs this season..."

"... which would shatter the record of 5,693 set in 2000, in the era before steroid testing. Hitters swatted 1,101 home runs in June, the most for any month in baseball history. Whether this makes for a better brand of baseball is debatable. The instant surge of excitement from a homer can be offset by the loss of nuance — and the relative lack of action — that goes with an all-or-nothing approach to the game.... It is possible, of course, that this power boom is caused by chemicals. But that would mean a widespread wave of cheating is taking place despite increasingly stringent drug testing.... More plausible, perhaps, is that the homers are an outgrowth of baseball’s statistical revolution and the logical concepts it has popularized. Hitters understand that driving the ball in the air, instead of on the ground, offers far more potential for production and financial reward. Technology shows them precisely how to angle their bats to turn fly balls into homers, and many have the skills to apply what they know...."

From "This Season’s First Half Was a Home Run Derby," a long article in the NYT.

67 comments:

Curious George said...

Juiced ball.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I blame Trump.

Lucien said...

Or it could be that there are more 100 mph+ pitches out there, and when you hit one in the air it goes farther.

madAsHell said...

Move over, Chuck! Let me kick over the hornet's nest......baseball is boring.

Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry said...

There are many articles in the sabrmetric community about this.

It's (mostly) the ball.

Most interestingly is that not only is the ball slightly bouncier, but its seams are flatter, lowering its air resistance and potentially dampening the movement of off-speed pitches.

Bay Area Guy said...

Roids!

traditionalguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traditionalguy said...

Can't you see it? It's Russian meddling in our National pastime. It started with the Cincinnati REDS. Then the New World Order Illuminati disguised as the Bush Family took over the team in Dallas. It's special Prosecutor time.

Want more proof? Tim Tebow is about to make it with the Mets by hitting home runs. Which fits in with the juicy parts of the Book of Revelation.

traditionalguy said...

But there is hope. Football starts up in 5 weeks.

madAsHell said...

lowering its air resistance

Mostly, it's Trump sucking the air out of the tent.

AJ Lynch said...

Phillies manager said the other day that most players today are just swinging for the fences. They make no adjustments when they are in the whole with two strikes and he thought, as a result, strikeouts are up and averages are down.

Lance said...

From Henry's linked 538 article...

Yesterday, former FiveThirtyEight writer Ben Lindbergh and prominent sabermetrician Mitchel Lichtman published a piece at the Ringer with evidence showing that alterations to the ball might partially explain the spike in home runs over the past two seasons. By physically testing the balls, they found that in addition to changes that make the ball come off the bat faster, the seams were made flatter in a way that could affect the ball’s aerodynamics. With their findings in mind, I examined the rate of home runs per fly ball and found further evidence suggesting that the ball itself may be the culprit.

might
partially
could
suggesting
may

Gonna need a gas-powered trimmer for all those hedges.

David Begley said...

Before this year coaches taught players to just beat the ball into the ground and hope that you don't hit into a double play.

Dave from Minnesota said...

Major leagues sports found out that people want:

A) Lots of scoring
B) Lots of teams making it into postseason play

I prefer the opposite, but what's a guy to do......

David Begley said...

Henry is correct. The NCAA changed the ball and homeruns are up at the College World Series.

MadisonMan said...

A warmer planet has air that is less dense -- especially if you've added more water vapor to it -- and the ball can therefore fly farther.

320Busdriver said...

Nutrition, strength and conditioning, modernized.

M Jordan said...

The long ball. Going yard. Kiss it goodbye. It's outta here. A dinger. A homer. A four-bagger. He touched them all. See ya later. Took him deep. A big fly.

Nothing like the home run to juice up the language.

Curious George said...

"AJ Lynch said...
Phillies manager said the other day that most players today are just swinging for the fences. They make no adjustments when they are in the whole with two strikes and he thought, as a result, strikeouts are up and averages are down."

"320Busdriver said...
Nutrition, strength and conditioning, modernized."

In the last year? Nope, it's the ball. It's the only thing that can change instantly.

Francisco D said...

"But there is hope. Football starts up in 5 weeks."

YESSSSS!

rhhardin said...

Cavell on baseball (read to the middle of the next page).

That certain ranges of difficulty, crisis and speed are necessary to the game.

M Jordan said...

"Nope, it's the ball ... the only thing that can change instantly."

Really? Statistical variation can't do that?

Ray said...

The Charlie Lau theory of hitting has finally been abandoned. Ted Williams was right.

glenn said...

It (the long ball) puts meat in the seats, Th the th the that's all folks.

Mark Caplan said...

Return baseball to its roots and make it great again: call any fair ball hit out of the park a ground rule double. Batters will go back to making contact, moving runners, and not just swinging for the fences.

Ipso Fatso said...

I blame Global Warming and the Koch Brothers, Sara Palin and George Bush. Obama is God!!!!

Henry said...

Here's some hard-core physics. (PDF)

Hit distance was verified with a physical tape measure. The ball’s roundness influenced the effective height of a seam. Measurements of the nonseam area of a ball were necessary to characterize the seams of a ball. A strong correlation was observed between seam height and a ball’s drag coefficient. Lift, however, was not sensitive to seam height or ball shape.

Henry said...

And this article is very interesting, when considering how a hitter like Aaron Judge dramatically exceeds his minor league power when he hits the big leagues:

The MLB ball is made in Costa Rica, and the MiLB ball is made in China.

richlb said...

I'd like to think the pitching staff for my beloved Orioles played a big hand in this.

mockturtle said...

While 'driving the ball in the air' may produce more home runs, it's not the best way to bring base runners home. They are left stranded when the ball [usually] fails to clear the fence and is caught in the outfield.

mockturtle said...

Per richib: I'd like to think the pitching staff for my beloved Orioles played a big hand in this.

LOL!

deepelemblues said...

The general decline of pitching talent (oh it's true it's damn true sadly), the increase in pitchers wearing their arms out which waters down the talent level as guys who should be staying in AAA are called up to replace guys in the rotation, and the added watering down of pitching talent thanks to league expansion have absolutely nothing to do with it, I swear. I swear.

Okay well that has everything to do with it.

Mountain Maven said...

Better to strike out than hit into a do.

Jason said...

Don't blame me! I'm a Dodger fan!

rehajm said...

More plausible, perhaps, is that the homers are an outgrowth of baseball’s statistical revolution and the logical concepts it has popularized. Hitters understand that driving the ball in the air, instead of on the ground, offers far more potential for production and financial reward. Technology shows them precisely how to angle their bats to turn fly balls into homers, and many have the skills to apply what they know

Not to diminish the ball theory (and to reluctantly agree with NYT) there's been an explosion in players using not just video but cheaper and easy to use motion capture technology and launch monitors. In golf a few years back a few guys embraced it and saw amazing results. Now most pros and many amateurs have embraced the tech. What was once freakishly long is now commonplace. It's been happening the same way in baseball.

Static Ping said...

There's lots of reasons why home runs are higher now than in the past. Ballparks are smaller. Simply having a team in Denver increases the number of home runs. The stigma against striking out is mostly gone so there is no pressure to put the ball in play with 2 strikes. The ball is probably different this year and it is certainly a lot different than the way it was a hundred years ago. Players are stronger both due to better conditioning and training, as well as PEDs. A number of myths of baseball yore, such as middle infielders are not supposed to hit for power or middle infielders are not supposed to be tall resulting in lots of short singles hitters playing those positions, have been debunked and opened up more jobs for offensive minded players. The fact that strikeouts are up reduces the importance of fielding, which also makes slugging shortstops with middling defense more tolerable. Bats are designed to produce more power, replacing the "hit it with a big stick" theory with the "whip the bat as fast as possible" theory. Defensive shifts have made ground balls less productive, especially for power hitters that typically pull the ball, so there is motivation to hit the ball in the air where there will be better results. I'm sure there are more reasons.

Historically, baseball has gone through changes of how the game is played on a regular basis. The Dead Ball Era with lots of bunting and running to eke out runs in a very low run environment was followed by the Lively Ball Era with Babe Ruth and lots of other people hitting home runs, which then segued into a more station-to-station type game with very little in the way of stolen bases, followed by the stolen base revolution, followed by another very low-run environment. A lot of people consider the 1980s to be the Golden Age as it was a transition period with sluggers who hit lots of home runs, speedsters that stole lots of bases and hit lots of triples, batters that were focused on high batting averages, defensive wizards, and basically every sort of baseball in all its variety. As for too many home runs right now, this too will pass. How it will pass is yet to be determined.

mikeski said...

rehajm said...
What was once freakishly long is now commonplace.


...You are Laslo.

Original Mike said...

Blogger MadisonMan said..."A warmer planet has air that is less dense -- especially if you've added more water vapor to it -- and the ball can therefore fly farther."

But the planet hasn't warmed for the last 15 years.

Static Ping said...

It is also possible that pitching may have something to do with it, but I tend to find that explanation is most popular with the "back in my day players were better" crowd. It is quite possible that pitching has gotten better but hitters simply have the advantage of them for the time being. If the strike zone was expanded and all stadiums were suddenly switched to Braves Field dimensions, home runs would drop 90% and the same folks would be complaining how no one knows how to hit anymore.

Mountain Maven said...

Double Play

exiledonmainstreet said...

Very good post, static ping.

"As for too many home runs right now, this too will pass. How it will pass is yet to be determined."

After Maris beat Ruth's HR in a single season record (and he did beat it; fie on that nasty asterisk after his name), mlb became concerned about the number of home runs being hit and made changes, including moving the fences back, that benefited the pitchers. As a result the '60's was a Golden Era for pitching.

The problem is that most casual baseball fans don't much like pitchers' duels. Heck, I'm fairly knowledgeable about baseball and enjoy a good pitchers' duel, but I don't want to see them all the time. As much as people enjoyed seeing Koufax and Gibson pitch, they wanted to see some bats moving. The mound was lowered at the end of the '60's to give some advantage back to the hitters.

As Static Ping noted, the advantage swings back and forth from the pitcher to the hitter throughout the history of baseball. There are certainly sterling pitchers today. Nobody takes Kershaw or Bumgartener (when he's healthy) out of the park very often.

Yancey Ward said...

My first suspicion would be that MLB has juiced the ball. When do they negotiate for the next TV deal?

Yancey Ward said...

It has been at least 10 years since I watched a baseball game for more than a half inning, and I was a big fan growing up.

Matthew Blaine said...

Ted Williams' The Science of Hitting has been in print since 1970. He advocated an upper-cut swing. More homers now is because the players are jacked up on weights. And yes, the game is terrible, and unwatchable. Games are too long. Don't get me started.

Henry said...

Static Ping, I agree with a lot of what you wrote, but there's been a major league team in Denver since 1993. That's almost a quarter of a century. Starting in 2002, the Rockies began keeping balls in a humidor that maintained constant humidity. Dry leather is harder to grip. The Arizona Diamondbacks have started using a humidor this season.

The specific discrepancy is an increase in home runs in the last full year.

exiledonmainstreet said...

If the strike zone was expanded and all stadiums were suddenly switched to Braves Field dimensions, home runs would drop 90% and the same folks would be complaining how no one knows how to hit anymore.

7/10/17, 11:39 AM

One of the most enjoyable teams to watch in recent years was the 2014-15 Royals, who developed a great running game as a result of playing in a park where it is hard to hit home runs. Watching those guys steal their way around the bases was as much fun as watching dingers.

The Wild Card game where they came back from behind to knock a stunned A's team out of the playoffs has to be one of the greatest games I've ever seen.

Sample Commenter said...

Home runs are boring. I mean they are great if they are part of a rally, or whatever, with a couple guys on base, but when scoring consists of all singleton homers, it's boring baseball.

Sample Commenter said...

Blogger MadisonMan said..."A warmer planet has air that is less dense -- especially if you've added more water vapor to it -- and the ball can therefore fly farther."


What's that got to do with this year? Now that the super El Nino is over, temps are back to where they were prior.

Sample Commenter said...

Sorry, wrong graph.

Sample Commenter said...

.....baseball is boring.

It's true that if you got nothing going on upstairs while watching the game, it would probably be pretty boring. To me, there is almost always something happening in a baseball game.

Ann Althouse said...

"Home runs are boring. I mean they are great if they are part of a rally, or whatever, with a couple guys on base, but when scoring consists of all singleton homers, it's boring baseball."

I agree.

Dave from Minnesota said...

I also agree..home runs are boring. I'd rather see a well placed single. Steal of 2nd. Then a sprint home on a ball to right field. With a close play at home, of course.

mccullough said...

Aaron Judge drastically improved his swing during the offseason. Josh Donaldson, Justin Turner, Daniel Murphy, and Jose Bautista improved their swings.

The pitching and defense in MLB is the best it's ever been. MLB batting average through both leagues is .250. In 1941, it was .282. In 2005, it was .265. The MLB average fastball has increased 6 mph over the last 30 years. There are more 100 mph pitches than ever. The late movement on cutters, trailers, and sinkers is incredible.

Guys are striking out way more because smart people figured out that grounding into double plays or just grounding or popping out by "putting the ball in play" is worthless. There are a handful of guys in MLB with the speed to beat out an infield grounder. The range of middle infielders is incredible.

So the way to get on is to drive the ball. And, as Ted Williams wrote in 1971, the optimal swing is a slight upper cut.

All that said, there are still guys like Joey Votto and Miguel Cabrera, who are as good of hitters as anyone to play the game. The numbers they have put up over the last 7 seasons are astonishing given the quality of pitching, especially relief pitchers.

Achilles said...

madAsHell said...

Let me kick over the hornet's nest......baseball is boring.

This is the opposite of a hornets nest. It is boring truth with few defenders not soaking in apathy.

Michael Fitzgerald said...

Curious George said...
Juiced ball.

7/10/17, 7:31 AM

Yup. Ya know that special mud they rub MLB baseballs with before the game? Steroids...

Achilles said...

The games are too long.

The season is too long.

There is no edge to the game. You used to have slow home run jogs and at 'em balls. People used to flip bats and call shots.

Baseball went beta.

rehajm said...

mikeski said...
rehajm said...
What was once freakishly long is now commonplace.

...You are Laslo.



I was worried it was too subtle.

Jim at said...

"Don't blame me! I'm a Dodger fan!"

Best record at the Break.
First time 32 games over .500 since '78.

Think Blue!

exiledonmainstreet said...

exiledonmainstreet said...
"You used to have slow home run jogs and at 'em balls. People used to flip bats and call shots."

You still have slow home run jogs, but I'm not sure how that makes the game more interesting.

By "at 'em balls," I assume you mean intentional throws at the head. Now that pitchers throw as hard as they do, I don't think that's a good idea. The pitch that hit Ray Chapman in the head probably was not thrown at 98 mph, but it was enough to kill him.

"People used to flip bats"

Some Latino players do now, but it's not considered old school behavior. It's considered rude and an insult to old school behavior.

As for calling shots, I am aware of only one player who did that just once - and there is some debate as to whether Ruth really did call his shot, although it's fun to think he did.

The most boring thing about baseball threads is the inevitable non-baseball fan who has to announce how boring he finds baseball.

MountainMan said...

Watching right now, for the first time ever, the home run derby in Miami. It is pretty boring. Except for Charlie Blackmon of the Rockies, I haven't heard of any of these guys.

I plan to watch the All-Star Game for the first time in about 20 years tomorrow night. I haven't followed the game much since the Braves lost to the Yankees in the World Series, which I think was 1996. Too much work, business travel, etc. Now that I am retired my interest has increased a little, mainly because I spent a couple of days a few weeks ago when it was raining every day and I couldn't bike or hike watching Ken Burns' "Baseball" series. I thought it was really well done, better than the Civil War series, except for the inaccuracies about Ty Cobb. I realized when watching it I remember more about all the great players and teams of the 50's, 60's, and 70's than any of the current teams. One problem for me today is that there are a lot of teams, 6 divisions, multiple play-ins to the World Series; just too much to follow. When I was about 12 I could tell you the starting lineup of every team in the National League and some in the American League as well. Also, free agency means players are not longer emblematic of the teams they play for so from one year to the next it can be hard to keep up. And I hate the designated hitter in the American League; what an abomination. Get rid of it.

Humperdink said...

"But there is hope. Football starts up in 5 weeks."

Most uplifting post I've read all day. The 8-10 weeks between the end of the NHL playoffs and start of football define the dog days of summer.

Danno said...

Sorry to see this so late, but I saw this in the WSJ earlier this year-

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-gurus-behind-baseballs-search-for-the-perfect-swing-1489496965

In summary, players are now being taught to employ a slight uppercut rather than driving the ball down.

Tom said...

The homeruns have a variety of potential causss.

1) The balls are juiced. This is a popular theory and one that would be embarrassing to MLB. I don't think this is the case.

2) The players are juiced. Well, if this means the players are on PEDs, it's possible. What I think is more likely is that modern nutrition and exercise has made players stronger and more powerful.

3) The statistics are being translated to production. This is most likely the case in my mind. Hitters have so much data. In the past, our biases often supported success factors that, in reality, weren't the real success factors. Now, data is blowing this up. Joey Votto, one of the games most prolific offensive threats just reduced his Strikeout % from 19% to 10%. That had to be done with with a physical / mental adjustment to data. He's also hit more homeruns at age 33 than at any point in his career, including his 2010 MVP season - he now is tied for the lead in HRs in the National League. He also is second in MLB in .OPS, first in the NL. The upside is that data can also be used by pitchers to adjust, so a counter revolution is coming.

4) Pitchers are throwing much harder. Velocity is up and that helps in the energy transfer. It's hard to hit a Knuckleball at 70 MPH out of the park. I don't have to swing as hard to put a 99 MPH heater over the fence. The pitcher supplied the energy.

My guess is that a combo of 2, 3 & 4 are driving the change, but our biases keep taking us back to 1.

Tom said...

A couple more factors.

5) Material sciences are affecting the bats. Sure, there still wood but it doesn't mean they can't be "engineered." Same for golf clubs.

6) The uppercut swing. This is being taught on a prolific level and can have an affect - ask Yonder Alonzo. That said, note that Joey Votto has not adopted the uppercut.

7) Harder throwing pitchers end up on the DL faster, bringing up less effective pitchers. Over the last 4 years, the reads have had 49% of their pitching starts made by rookies, largely due to veteran injuries. Rookies give up the long ball. The more rookies pitch, the more balls go over the fence.

8) Less variation on the strike zone. We now have data that shows how accurate the umpires are in calling balls and strikes. I don't have swing outside the strike zone as much because I know it's more likely a ball will be called a ball and a strike a strike. So, I can wait on my pitch with less risk I'll be struck out by a ball outside the zone.

mccullough said...

Every great hitter from Babe Ruth to Miguel Cabrera had or has a slight upper cut at contact. MLB fastballs come down at a 6.5 degree angle, curve balls at 10 degree. Mike Trout has a 10 degree attack angle (bat is going up 10 degrees relative to a straight line (0 degreees) represented by the ground). If he hits just below the center of the ball, the ball will come off the bat at about 15 degrees. 15 degree launch angle is the optimal to get get base hits. Line drives in MLB are those with a launch angle between 10 and 25 degrees. The batting average on those launch angles is .700. Most home runs are hit at a launch angle between 20 and 30 degrees. When Trout hits a home run, he hit slightly below his intended target. When he hits a grounder, he hit above the middle of the ball. Home runs are mistakes and ground balls and fly balls are bigger mistakes.

Bricap said...

538 did a good article on this awhile back.