Power Surge

Home runs and strikeouts are both on the rise this year, to new record levels. So, what else is new, you say. Find out after the jump.

What’s new this year is the magnitude of the increases in whiffs and whallops, especially the latter. At the All-Star break this year, teams had connected for 3691 long balls, 408 more (11%) more than last year, despite having played 7% fewer games than in the first half a year ago. That total is also 379 more (10%) than in the previous record first half in 2017, despite playing only 1% more games in this year’s first half.

Looking at the number of players with 20 home runs by the All-Star break, there were 34 such players this season, 14 more than last year and 10 more than in 2017, and trailing only the 37 such players in 2000.

Projecting this year’s totals to a full season produces results that look like this.

Lots to talk about here, so let me explain. First, let’s look at what hasn’t changed much. That would he hits, which continue their very slow decline, but are generally averaging about 9 hits per team game for the past 75 years or so. And, walks, also basically steady at about 3 per team game. So, with essentially constant hits, the top two lines on the chart, HR per team game, and HR as a percentage of hits, pretty much track each other in lock step as you see on the chart. And, look at the increase since 2014, a mere 5 years ago – the home run rate has jumped from 0.86 per team game to 1.37 this year, a staggering 59% rise.

The other line showing a steady increase is strikeouts, crossing the hits line this year and last, as strikeouts have exceeded hits for the first time. That result combined with the rise in home runs has pushed balls in play ever lower, dropping below 25 per team game for the first time this year and last, after previous first time depths below 26 in 2015, and below 27 in 2009. Thus, compared to 2007, this year there are 11% fewer balls per game that fielders can make a play on. That trend is depicted in the turquoise line near the bottom of the chart, showing HR as a percentage of BIP plus HR, with a result of 5.3% this year compared to 3.2% in 2014, a 66% jump in just 5 years.

The last item on the chart is the ratio of SO to HR, showing a range between 6 and 9 for most of the past 60 seasons or so. That relationship may be more clearly appreciated in the next chart, showing home runs and strikeouts in the first half of the season.

Without the extra things on the chart, the fairly consistent relationship between home runs and strikeouts stands out more clearly. Mostly the two lines track each other closely, with home runs increasing faster than strikeouts only in the 1950s and the 1995-2005 decade, and strikeouts outpacing home runs only in brief periods, the longest being from about 2006 to 2014. In a sense, then, the big jump in home runs since 2014 has really been about “catching up” to the rise in strikeouts over that period.

How do these changes manifest themselves at the team level. That result is shown in the charts below. First, for home runs:

The forecast for 2019 is for each team to average almost five players with 20 home runs, or 145 such players overall. That compares to 57 such players, or fewer than two per team, as recently as 2014. For 30 home run players, the forecast is just over two per team, more than the number of qualified players with fewer than 20 home runs. At the end of the 2017 season, games between the Cubs and Cardinals, and between the Cubs and Reds, featured as many as 11 players in a game then with 20 home runs; look for that record to fall this year.

The picture for strikeouts looks like this.

Pretty much every regular player now will exceed 60 strikeouts, with an average of 6 players per team in triple digits, more than double the number in 2011.

Who’s hitting all these home runs? That result is depicted below.

More than 75% of home runs this year will be hit by players aged 30 or younger, not a record proportion but in the same ballpark as the previous highs in the 1960s. It’s also a marked departure from the record lows just above 60% that were seen in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This change over the past 20 years has produced the result shown below.

With a larger proportion of home runs being hit by older players twenty years ago, the number of career 200 home run hitters peaked in 2007 before falling by more than a third by 2014. As the current large group of younger power hitters ages over the next 5 to 10 years, expect to see rises in the 200 home run club matching or exceeding previous record totals.

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15 Comments on "Power Surge"

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Bob Eno (epm)
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Thanks again for finding and organizing all this data, Doug. It confirms anew the trends that we’ve been discussing here (and that are discussed very broadly, including by MLB). My usual reaction, dutifully fulfilling the requirements of old-guy commentary, is to deplore the narrowing variety of game plays as K’s and HR’s continue their relentless ascendancy. Balls in play, fielders vs. runners, are for me the greatest excitement in the game, though an occasional HR can be great to see. But this time I want, seriously, to share a positive impression I have about the way the game has changed.… Read more »
Mike L
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To echo Bob below, these trends are not necessarily to baseball’s long-term benefit as entertainment. One of things that’s different about baseball than the other three major sports is that, with the exception of the pitcher, catcher, and perhaps first baseman, most players are involved in a comparatively small number of plays in any game. The rest of the time, they are either standing still (or moving into position) or in the dugout waiting to come to the plate. The more we go to TTO, and to modern management that eschews things like the bunt, the hit and run, hitting… Read more »
Doug
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While attention was focused on the Yankees record 31 game streak with a HR that ended last week, they have another notable streak still going. Friday’s game is their 171st straight scoring a run, the fifth longest searchable streak. It could become the second longest streak before the end of August.

Voomo Zanzibar
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Reds managed to do it and barely crack .500. Their streak actually began with a tie on opening day. They were shut out for the final game of 1999, one of only two shutouts in that season, the other being on April 30th. So that was 141 out of 142 games without a goose egg immediately before the 208. (no such lack-of-zeros after the streak ended in 2001). _________ The Yankees streak began the day after being stopped in the 2nd game of a doubleheader by the Red Sox’ Wilcy Moore. The streak was ended by Lefty Grove. Grove was… Read more »
Bob Eno (epm)
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Back on the topic of Doug’s post, I just came across an article on Deadspin.com that attributes part of this year’s home run surge to changes in the manufacture of baseballs by Rawlings, that have made the ball more aerodynamically active. The article connects three elements: Rob Manfred’s declared wish for increased offense; MLB’s purchase of Rawlings; scientific studies indicating changes in the ball that have the effect of juicing it. (The main scientific article referenced is, unfortunately, behind a pay wall.) It seems to me we’ve been here before. FiveThirtyEight.com reported small changes in baseballs since 2015 that enhanced… Read more »
Doug
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I recall an article we discussed some time ago about the technical specs for baseballs. There was an “expert” quoted who explained how the different specifications (for weight, circumference, seams, etc.) would enhance aerodynamics, The main point was that the tolerances for these specs (e.g. the weight must be between x and y) were large enough to significantly affect how the ball would fly, So, if there’s been a change in manufacturer, or the location of manufacture, or even just the raw materials and/or their supplier, and one or more specs has shifted in the direction of a livelier ball… Read more »
Bob Eno (epm)
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I’m not sure how much this sort of random variation could account for what we’re seeing. After all, the variation can move in either direction and I haven’t encountered any data that MLB has loosened its tolerances, so the leap this year is outside the range of normal variation. Moreover, unlike a truly anomalous year, like 1987, the 2019 spike is part of an ongoing trend, especially when we consider the stat, HR/(BiP+HR). The message of the Deadspin article was Justin Verlander’s: MLB is not getting sloppy and letting Rawlings determine the quality control of the balls, it is directing… Read more »
Doug
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Give everyone McNeil’s bat. I like it. Just by the by, but I happened to catch the final inning of the ’68 WS on You-Tube. The whole inning, top and bottom, was less than 10 minutes, including commercials. Most hitters were swinging on the first pitch and, often as not, putting it in play. But, their swings seemed so strange compared to today’s mighty cuts. Just trying to meet the ball and make contact. Even the one home run ball was nothing like today’s max effort swings – just a controlled, smooth swing that found the sweet spot. But, it… Read more »
Bob Eno (epm)
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Well, climatologists tell us we’re in for a sea change, so perhaps . . .

Paul E
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Move the fences back, no kidding. This might cut down on seating but at least more balls would be in play and it might encourage athleticism in outfield play as well as speed on the basepaths. Perhaps a mandatory 345′ in the corners, 385′ in the alleys, and 415′ to CF? To balance it out, move the fans closer to the game and reduce foul territory. This will also provide additional seating and revenue to make up for the seating lost to the deeper fences. IIRC, when the Phillies opened their current home park, they had something like “375” painted… Read more »
Doug
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Might actually see some more triples in the game with deeper fences, which would be a welcome change.

Really, it’s only the two old-time ballparks where this would be a problem. Extending fences would impinge on bullpens in many parks, but that can be easily remedied by moving the bullpens to foul territory and, in some configurations, replacing lost seating with new seating where the bullpens were before.

Voomo Zanzibar
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Yankees were down to their last out before scoring today.
Was getting ready to comment on Doug’s jinxing abilities.

Doug
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Well, maybe the jinx was this. The last two games are the first time this season that neither team has homered in consecutive games at Yankee Stadium.

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