Let’s forget about the Coronavirus pandemic for the sake of this article. Remember when we were able to watch our favorite team play? It seems like a long time ago since we last saw baseball, and when we last saw it, it was a game of power.
In recent years, Major League Baseball has started becoming a game of power, especially during the 2019 season. There is no debate about this. It’s a fact.
In case you don’t believe me, here are the MLB home runs totals from 2014-2019:
Since 2014, the home runs rate league-wide has been trending upwards, but that doesn’t tell the full story. 2017 and 2019 were the top two home run seasons of all-time, in terms of home runs per-game and total home runs in a season. Four of the top five seasons all-time in those categories have come since 2016.
2019 had an increase in home runs just like other years listed above. But 2019 was different. 2019 had 671 more home runs league-wide than the prior record set in 2017. Coming into 2019, the 2018 Yankees had the all-time team record for most home runs in a season with 267. This record was shattered by the Minnesota Twins in 2019, who hit 307 home runs, beating the record by 50 home runs. Now, the 2018 Yankees are in fifth place on the single-season list behind the 2019 Twins (307), 2019 Yankees (306), 2019 Astros (288), and 2019 Dodgers (279). Also, half of MLB teams set franchise records for home runs in 2019.
These trends stand out, even more, when you realize that even though homerun rates are at an all-time high, overall run-scoring is down from previous times such as the home run era in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Homeruns make up a very large part of run-scoring today than ever before.
Here’s an astonishing fact to show just how big the homerun was in 2019:
In 2019, 24 teams hit 200 or more home runs. From 1871 – 1994, a total of 22 teams hit 200 home runs or more.
Why is baseball suddenly having a power surge? This is a very important question to answer because the power surge has completely changed the game. It is believed the main reason for this is the change in the baseball itself and the change in hitters’ approaches.
Changes to the Baseball
We know that the baseball has been altered in the past five years. ESPN Sport Science procured a sample of baseballs used in Major League Baseball from 2014-2015 and another set of Major League Baseballs that were used from 2016-2017. ESPN had the USC School of Medicine run them through a CT scan. The study showed that the baseballs from 2016-2017 had a significantly less dense cork-and-rubber core than the baseballs used from 2014-2015.
Why would MLB want to change the anatomy of the baseball? The answer is simple. They constructed the baseball so it would go further, which leads to more home runs. People, including non-baseball fans, like watching home runs. More home runs lead to more people watching games, which causes the MLB to make more money.
Change to the Hitter's Approach
The change to the hitter's approach at the plate correlates with the surge of home runs. Four scientists studying home run rates in MLB most notably concluded:
"Analysis of StatCast data shows that the increase in home run rate between 2018 and 2019 was due in part to a change in launch conditions and part to a change in the baseball. The increase due to changes in launch conditions was determined to be due to a change in player behavior.”
Launch angle is defined as the angle at which a batter ball leaves the bat. Coaches have been encouraging their players to increase their launch angle over the past few seasons because it increases power significantly.
Here’s the average MLB launch angle from 2015 – 2019:
2015: 10.1 degrees
2016: 10.8 degrees
2017: 11.1 degrees
2018: 11.7 degrees
2019: 12.2 degrees
This is a major increase in launch angle over the past few years. The trend towards a higher launch angle increases power drastically so coaches will continue to encourage their hitters to have a high launch angle.
There are two clear reasons why the home run rates have been increasing. First, MLB likely altered the baseball to make it travel further to generate more money. Second, the change in approach at the plate in regards to launch angle has had an impact. Either way, baseball has changed, and there’s no going back.