2017 – Year of the Home Run

As you’re probably aware, more home runs were hit during the 2017 season than in any prior year. A lot more, actually, as the 2017 total of 6105 round-trippers was a whopping 415 more than the previous record season in 2000.

More after the jump on the season of the long ball.

As shown below, the seventeen year gap between record home run seasons is the second longest of the modern era, so it should not be a surprise that a new record has been set.

What is more surprising is the suddenness of the change to the higher long ball totals, coming on the heels of the longest down trend of the modern era, as shown below.

Looking at year-over-year changes in home run totals, this is the third straight year of increases, something that’s happened only twice before in the post-war period (the other two times, in 1985-87 and 1998-2000, also culminated in new record seasons).

Looking at the 3-year trend, the more than 40% jump since 2014 in the largest of the post-war period.

Nearly every hitter now has at least a little pop, as show below for home runs by batting order position. The “heart” of the batting order in positions 3-6 now account for less than 60% of home runs, while the top and bottom each account for more than 20%.

In terms of numbers of players at different home runs levels, those hitting ten or more home runs has expanded from almost none in the dead ball era to nearly 8 per team today, while those compiling 200+ PA and hitting no home runs at all have virtually disappeared (last year marked the first time with fewer than 5 such major league players for three straight seasons).

Looking at the same data on a line chart shows the 1-9 home run group at its lowest level since World War II while the 10+ and 20+ groups are at record highs, and the 30+ group nearly so.

Looking at in game home run trends, here are a couple that caught my eye. The first line on the chart below shows percent of home runs hit with a batter platoon advantage, increasing steadily through the early 1980s, then declining until the mid-1990s, and mostly steady since then. The rise can be attributed to the growth in switch hitters and to greater use of pinch-hitters (the latter peaking from 1958-62 at 2.96% of home runs, and with no 5-year period since 1983-87 above 2.5%). The decline phase from the early 1980s through the mid-1990s coincides with modern reliever usage and managers increasingly using relief pitchers to counter batter platoon advantages. The steady state since the mid-1990s reflects further refinements in reliever usage with 7th, 8th and 9th inning specialists, regardless of platoon advantage or disadvantage; the most recent period has also seen larger bullpens and shorter benches, giving managers fewer pinch-hitting options.

The second trend in the above chart is the increase in home runs with 0 outs, reflecting both a greater number of players with home run clout and a change in batting approach from trying to get on base to trying to do some damage. Illustrative of this change in batting approach is the percent of PA with zero out and the bases empty (occurring at the beginning of each half inning and following home runs with zero outs), with the 5 highest marks since 1950 all occurring in the past 5 seasons.

Home runs by inning are shown in the chart below. Relief specialization by inning has indeed reduced the frequency of late inning home runs. Of course, a decrease in late inning home runs means an increase somewhere else, in this case in the early innings, a trend also indirectly related to greater dependence on relief pitching; the dotted line showing a marked and steady decline in short starts indicates that managers today are far more likely to stick with an ineffective starter in the early innings, mainly because of the need to get a least a few innings from that starter to avoid overtaxing the bullpen.
The charts below show color coded team home run totals by season. The pre-expansion period shows a general rise in home run totals through the period for all teams, with the Yankees in the vanguard of that trend in the AL, and the Giants and the Phillies in the NL. Some of those season home run totals in the early years are especially low, led by the White Sox who failed to reach triple digits over a full decade (99 total home runs from 1902-11).

The influence of ballparks on home run production has always been a significant factor and remains so today. Sudden changes in team results often coincide with moves to new ballparks.

Looking at home run rankings, again color coded by team and season, provides the results below. The longest runs leading the majors in home runs are the 7 seasons (1949-55) by the Dodgers and 6 years (1936-41) by the Yankees. Expansion era dominance is less pronounced, given more teams and greater player movement between them. Thus, the longest expansion era run leading the pack is only three years by the Braves (1965-67), Tigers (1990-92), Mariners (1997-99) and Rangers (2001-03).

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26 Comments on "2017 – Year of the Home Run"

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no statistician but
Guest

Just a brief opening observation:

It took the big leagues through 1985, if my count is correct, to produce 17 teams who slugged 200+ HRs.

2017 produced 17 in one season.

Doug
Guest

Your count is correct. Nice observation.

Of those first 17 seasons of 200+ HR, only one team did so in consecutive seasons. Hats off to you if you knew it was the ’63-’64 Twins.

e pluribus munu
Guest
As with many of Doug’s elaborate statistical posts, this one is easy to admire but not easy to comment on: the data is too rich to absorb in detail over a short period and without a set of governing questions. Many of these posts don’t generate the long comment strings that the work should deserve, and I have a suggestion (chiefly to Doug and Andy) about what might be done. This sort of post is general resource research that it would be helpful to be able to access with ease again and again in the context of later discussions, where… Read more »
Doug
Guest

Thanks for the suggestion, epm.

I will go back and categorize older posts, and try to create a search utility you can use to find them. Will let you know when it’s ready.

no statistician but
Guest

Another observation: the 6105 HRs of 2017 is an increase of 7.24% over the 5693 of 2000, but the 40104 Ks of 2017 is 27.7% more than the 31396 of 2000.

no statistician but
Guest

Some more observations:

The 2017 HR leaders included three playing their first full season, Gallo, Judge, Bellinger. Four of the other top eleven bested their previous high seasonal output in double digits: Stanton by 22, Smoak by 18, Moustaka by 16, and Morrison by 15. Martinez, playing only 119 games, hit 7 more than his previous high. Khris Davis bested his 2016 mark by one, 43 over 42, but his previous high was 27. Davis, by the way, batted .247 the third year in a row. Can that be some kind of record?

Richard Chester
Guest

It ties a record shared by the following (100 PA min. in all years):

Ricky Gutierrrez, .261 from 1997-1999
Tim Foli, .252 from 1982-1984
Alex Kampouris, .249 from 1936-1938
Mike Stanley, .249 from 1990-1992
Mookie Wilson, .276 from 1983-1985

Doug
Guest

Judge and Bellinger set modern era rookie home run records in their respective leagues. Last time that happened in the same season was in 1925 with Lou Gehrig (20) and Mandy Brooks (14), though Brooks only tied the NL record set by Butch Henline in 1922.

Going back before the modern era, Buck Freeman set the NL rookie record with 25 home runs in 1899 that was not eclipsed until Wally Berger swatted 38 in 1930, that record matched by Frank Robinson (1956) and surpassed only by Bellinger.

Hartvig
Guest
On something of a tangent, I have to wonder what the net effect of everyone swinging for the fences has on scoring. There was a brief discussion on the last post about whether it would make sense to have your best hitters batting leadoff partly because a) it would get them more plate appearances over the course of a season but also b) it would mean having more runners on base at the top of the order. Of course, the obvious problem with that approach would be that you would have worse hitters coming up to drive them in. It… Read more »
Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

You are overlooking nothing. Very little about modern society, baseball or non-baseball, makes sense.

e pluribus munu
Guest

Hmmm. Follow the money.

Hartvig
Guest

Ah, yes.

The old “Home run hitters drive Cadillacs and singles hitters drive Chevy’s” theory.

Of course nowadays EVERYONE drives HumVees and Lexus’s (or is it Lexi?).

And does anyone remember who it was that got Matty Alou to change his approach?

Was it Harry the Hat?

Paul E
Guest

It was absolutely Harry the Hat Walker who turned Mateo into a real contributor in lieu of prior status as a fourth outfielder…..Stargell, Clemente, Clendenon, Bailey, Burgess and Pags – even Gene Alley; they all hit better than the league norm for their positions

e pluribus munu
Guest
It probably would be good to bear in mind that we are mostly retrograde oldtimers, longing for the days of lost youth (Voomo will have to be honorary in that category, since he is, from my standpoint, still stuck in the midst of his younger days). I’m with Hartvig and Voomo on this, but in a decade or two, I think we’ll look quaint, and with better reason than we’d like to acknowledge. Baseball people are now entranced with what modern technology like statcast has revealed — they’re in a search for guys who can hit “barrels” and turn them… Read more »
Dr. Doom
Guest
These are good points, epm, and I’d stand with you. I’d like to make one counterpoint, and a couple of other observations: 1. Counterpoint: Maybe you were only talking about the posters in this particular thread, but if you were talking about HHSers overall, some of us are not “retrograde oldtimers.” I’m only 31 (and have been commenting here since it was on the baseball-reference blog, I would guess in about 2007 or 2008… which was a REALLY long time ago). I’m getting older (as my waistline, wrinkles, and general lack of energy when it comes to caring for my… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest
Well, Doom, I hope that the potential trends you describe in your second point ease current tendencies enough that the more drastic steps of your third point don’t need to be taken. I guess that in baseball I prefer to let the unregulated market prevail. There are exceptions — I was glad to see the mound lowered in 1969 — but piling on with the DH four years later only confirmed for me the moral superiority of the NL, which I’d been taught as a religious belief two decades before. On your point 1, I’ll hide behind my weasel-word, “mostly.”… Read more »
Doug
Guest

World-series winning teams finishing last in MLB in home runs.
2012 Giants
1982 Cardinals
1965 Dodgers
1924 Senators
1906 White Sox

Any others?

Richard Chester
Guest

I got the same 5 teams that you got.

AlbaNate
Guest

For a while I was convinced that the surge in homers was because of the juiced ball, and that may very well be the root cause of this, or part of the root cause, along with the focus on launch angle, the desire to not hit into the shift, and so on. But I wonder if part of this could also be attributable to the effect that Stephen Jay Gould noticed over thirty years ago, that there’s a decline in variation of batters over time. Perhaps those with no power have simply been completely squeezed out of the league?

no statistician but
Guest

AlbaNate:

I think you’re on to something. Scouts at one time looked for ballplayers. Now they look for ballplaying athletes with particular skill sets, and, to a degree, size. In fact, the very organized way the game is run at every level from T-Ball up winnows not the grain from the chaff so much as those who conform to the various position models and those who don’t. Hard to see a Nellie Fox getting a look now. Ed Lopat would be running an accounting firm.

e pluribus munu
Guest
I’m not sure whether we have an HHS tradition of pausing to note the deaths of outstanding umpires, but reading about Doug Harvey today — a HoF umpire whose active years stretched back to my high school days — I began thinking about how great an impact individual umpires have upon games, and how little we actually understand what that impact is. (By “we” here I guess I mean the general fan; it may be that teams collect or contract for detailed data on individual umps.) Almost everything I know about umpires is based on narratives; the few stats that… Read more »
Paul E
Guest

E p m,
Going slightly tangential here, but after 50+ years of watching MLB, I couldn’t name the 5 best umpires over that period. However, I believe everyone could name the 5 worst. That belief, right or wrong, might speak volumes about the anonymous nature of good umpiring.
Harvey, Weyer, Pelakoudas-they were as much a part of the NL (and my youth) as Mays and Aaron

Insert Name Here
Guest
Hi, is this thing on? Haha. If you don’t remember me, I used to be a fairly regular commenter around these parts years ago. Before real life took some turns and I couldn’t stop by as often as I wished, until eventually I was never stopping by HHS at all. I somehow stumbled back on this site tonight and figured I’d check out what’s going on. Glad to see you’re still keeping HHS kicking, Doug! Anyway, this is really interesting. Although I was aware of it by now of course, I somehow didn’t even notice the stark increase in HR… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest
Nice to see a once-familiar screen name returning! Doug’s the man: no Doug, no HHS. My thought on your question is that it may be like El NiƱo years: a pattern of ups and downs, but steadily rising and spiking when conditions are periodically ripe. Now that StatCast has taught teams how ball-in-play outcomes are affected by bat speed and launch angle combinations, I expect coaching staffs are going to learn how to use high-tech monitoring to train young guys with those payoffs specifically in mind, and the proportion of players effectively aiming for line drives that could reach the… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Guest
I don’t know whether anyone will spot this comment, but it concerns our upcoming CoG rounds, and I think the issue I’d like to discuss is one we may want to consider before Doug opens the first of what I assume will be four rounds, given today’s Hall announcement. I should note at the outset that I’m not sure I remember the rules of the CoG process clearly, so this may be a wasted post: my understanding is that we will be tasked with choosing 4 new inductees, selected from 11 holdover candidates (Luis Tiant, Dick Allen, Kevin Brown, Dave… Read more »
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