I don’t want to make too much of this, but here it is:

  • In 1998, an expansion year when both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa surpassed the season home run record with 70 and 66, respectively, the home run rate across the major leagues was 2.7% of all plate appearances.
  • In 2012, after 10 years of random P.E.D. testing, Miguel Cabrera led the majors with 44 HRs, and the home run rate was … still 2.7% of all plate appearances.

 

Outside of the PED era, only 1987 saw a higher HR% than last season. And while the 2010-11 HR% was a bit lower (2.5% each year), that figure is still higher than any year but 1961, 1987 and the PED era.

A couple of notes before we go on:

  • The HR peak of the PED era was not 1998 (2.7%), but 2000 (3.0%). 1998 was about average for the period.
  • HRs per game in 2012 were slightly below the 1998 level (1.02 vs. 1.04) — but only because there were slightly fewer PAs per game, due to declines in batting average (.266 to .255) and walks per game (3.38 to 3.03).

Comparing 1998 and 2012, HRs per hit went up from 11.4% to 11.7%, and HRs per batted ball went up from 3.7% to 3.8%.

Time for some graphs of home runs over the past 30 years:

HR pct of PA

 

HR pct of Hits

 

Sure, the leaders aren’t hitting great heights of late. Cabrera’s 44 was the highest of the last two years, whereas every full season from 1993-2007 had at least three hitters with 45+, and most of those years had at least one 50-HR slugger. The HRs aren’t flaunting themselves at the top of the heap; they’re nestled in the middle tiers. Check out the distributions from 1998-2012:

Hitters with 35 plus HRs

 

Hitters with 25-34 HRs

 

Hitters with 15-24 HRs

 

I’m not making the case that juicing is still rampant, though some believe it is. But whatever else the hitters are doing, when you add up the results — including the ever-growing strikeout rate — it’s clear that the intent to hit HRs is broader than ever before.

Note the distribution by batting order position for 1998 and 2012. The percentage of total HRs that were hit by each spot in the middle of the order (#3-5) went down, while every other spot went up. It’s subtle, but it’s there:

Pct HRs hit by BOP

 

What do you think? What other factors are involved in this trend? And do you like what it’s done to the game?

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