Someone would have to be living under a rock in order to not notice the amazing surge in home runs over the past two years in Major League Baseball. It hasn’t been since the steroid era of the 1990s that fans have been treated to so many baseballs leaving the ballpark on the way to becoming souvenirs. Assuming the baseball world is not seeing steroid era – part two, it begs the question, “What gives?.
By the Numbers
During the 2014 season, Major League teams combined for a total of 4,186 home runs, the lowest total in 20 years. There was a total of 11 players who hit 30 or more dingers, led by Nelson Cruz, who was the only player to hit 40 or more at an even 40.
Turning the page to the 2015 season, both leagues, American and National, combined for 4,909 home runs, an increase of 17.3%. Nine players ended up hitting 40 or more and a total of 20 players hit 30 or more.
In the recently concluded 2016 season, there was another dramatic increase in the home run stats across the board. Both leagues combined for 5,613 home runs, a 14.3% increase from 2015. This was the highest total since 2000 when the two leagues combined for 5,693. More noticeable was the fact 38 players hit 30 or more, which is a dramatic increase of 90% over the prior season.
If nothing else, this has made the entire baseball world suspicious of any material change in baseball’s power numbers. When 38 players hit more than 30 long balls, that’s a material change. It has everyone scrambling to explain the dramatic change. At this point, there are several theories, none of which can be substantiated.
- Steroids Revisited – This is the first logical place to look, but it seems unlikely MLB is facing a new steroid crisis given the effectiveness of the sport’s new drug testing procedures.
- Juiced Balls – To date, some testing on baseballs from both 2015 and 2016 has been done. The results indicate there’s been no material difference in the makeup of the balls. Next.
- Moving the Fences After the 2014 season, the San Diego Padres and New York Mets brought the fences in by an average of approximately 10 feet. After the 2015 season, the Miami Marlins lowered its fences and brought them in a few feet. The net effect has been about 90 home runs a season, which appears to be a bit of a contributing factor.
- Changes in the Way Pitchers Pitch and Hitters Hit – This is the option that offers the most insight. With more power pitchers coming into the game, hitters are sitting on fastballs. Gone are the days when pitchers waste a pitch or two, which gives hitters more pitches to hit. When you give good hitters 95 MPH fastballs down the middle of the plate to hit, something has to give.
Science has not perfected a way to monitor home run hitting in MLB. All of the theories above are but a few reasons why the numbers are changing. If trends hold form, there may be a major drop in home runs next year, and everybody will be scrambling to explain why.