What the is going on with the baseball power stats?

Good question. Home run rates are declining dramatically. Last year there were 27 at bats per homer. The number is up to 36 this year.

As a result, the major league OPS is the lowest since 1968. You fans know that 1968 was a year when pitchers totally ruled the roost, forcing actions to add offense back into the game. The major league batting average has dropped to .233 this year, eleven points less than last year, despite taking the bats away from NL pitchers. That is even lower than 1968, or any other season in history!

Baseball has such detailed stats now that there is no room for bullshit about the distance the balls are traveling. The stats show that balls launched at the same velocity and angle are not going as far.

So what’s the deal?

One word: humidors

Last year there were 10 teams using humidors. This year it is all 30 teams. This is significant, far more important than the ball specs. I mentioned that the number of at bats needed to produce a homer has increased by nine, but that’s not consistent across all teams. The 10 holdover teams (humidors both years) are producing HRs at about the same frequency as last year (within a third of an at bat), while the 20 teams that added humidors have witnessed an increase of 13 AB per HR.

MLB admits that it did tweak the ball specs, but not enough to produce the power reductions we have observed. They expected hard-hit homers to travel about a foot or two less and the real number has been about five feet. This has an impact on homers, but as noted above, the impact is minimal for the teams that had humidors both years.

The ball manufacturing process seems to have some glitches. Some players have noticed that some balls seem to have stitches raised higher than normal. This is advantageous to pitchers, who can grip the higher stitches to get more spin. Presumably this is a temporary situation which will work itself out as the manufacturing process is perfected for the new ball specs.

Part of the run decline is caused by humans, not humidors.

It’s not just homers that are declining. Both singles and triples are currently at the lowest rate in MLB history, dating back to 1876. There has been such an emphasis on launch angles in the past decade or two that hitters have concentrated on their “positive true outcomes” – walks and homers, which are out of the control of the fielders. In the last pre-COVID year, 2019, homers were being launched at the highest rate in history (one every 25 at bats), far higher than in the steroid boom. (In 2000, the year of peak steroid homers, there was one homer for every 29.4 at bats.)

But if the ball won’t travel out of the park, the hitters “got nothin’.” They need a back-up plan, and they don’t have one.

  • Today’s batters rarely think about line drives or hard grounders.
  • Even though opposite-field hitting is the sure counter strategy against the dreaded “shift,” few hitters will wait on an outside pitch to flare a ball to the opposite field.
  • Few left-handers think about bunting for an almost sure base hit down the unguarded third base line.
  • As for stolen bases – fuggitaboudit! There are about half as many as in 1987.

If the prevailing conditions continue to impede homer production, batters will have to learn to employ different approaches, making contact with a level swing and hitting the ball where it is pitched, rather than just waiting for a pitch they can pull, then uppercutting the ball.

Maybe they’ll even try to steal a base now and then, or leg out a triple.

Many fans would see that as a positive development.

19 thoughts on “What the is going on with the baseball power stats?

  1. In regard to the original heading here, the counter revolution against the three true outcomes shit is already underway in Cleveland – and it’s been fun to watch. See the article in today’s Athletic.
    You’ll not see nothing like the Mighty Kwan.

  2. Went to see a Braves game sometime in the ’80s when they were perennial doormats. Got there early, hardly anybody there but they were having some kind Old Timers’ gathering and Feller was there. Walked right down to edge of field and heard a few of his tales. Just don’t remember much else about it.
    Met Max Patkin once, the most foul-mouthed mother fucker I ever heard speak. Lots of stories, he said Dimaggio had the biggest schlong he ever saw, and he was in a lot of baseball shower rooms. Met Catfish Hunter at an outdoor show one weekend. That’s my 3 six degree baseball stories, or I guess one degree

  3. Lots of what-ifs with these guys. Talking the left-handed Feller… What if the bonus baby rule hadn’t prevented him from learning to pitch until Spring 61 after he had been on the major league roster since ’55. What if one of the worst-hitting pitchers ever doesn’t start off the traumatic arthritis by banging his elbow on third base on one of his few times baserunning. Or, what if he had decided to retire after 60. Gives me the mental cold sweats to think about that last one. Or to switch lefthanders, what if Lt. Warren Spahn doesn’t get off that bridge which fell into the Rhine moments before it fell.

    1. Agree, I don’t put much stock in coulda woulda shoulda. It’s just that Feller did well. Putting ourselves in his shoes for a sec makes that more vivid.

  4. Hard to dismiss the lockout and shortened spring training as effecting hitting more than pitching this season

  5. Thanks for a great post! Me, I’m a fanboy of Ty Cobb & Bob Feller. Not necessarily as people, just as players. I’d love to see pitchers get more control & batters to get their RBIs the old-fashioned way. Love me some baserunning, triples, bunts… and lots of ground outs. Heh.

    1. Eh, also love tennis drop shots, moonballs & serve-and-volley. In football, tough D & slant passing with explosive RAC. To me, nuts-and-bolts play can be loads of fun!

        1. Like dogs, not cats. Too old, outgrew flowers & fireworks.

          As for football, too much hinges on big plays.

          Tennis, my whole point was, the big boys don’t play like that anymore, at all. The big girls, too. It’s the composite rackets. With wood, few men & fewer women had power like we see now. Even in doubles, the action’s too fast, the rallies too short.

          I can watch women’s doubles, especially on clay. There’s still moonballs & dropshots. Because women tend to be shorter than men, the balls go over the net higher & slow enough for me to see on TV.

          I don’t need to defend myself on style of baseball. UncleScoopy said it all for me already. Said it very well.

          The backup-plan that players don’t have right now, it’s the kind of ball I used to read about as a kid & loved to watch.

          The Oakland A’s were built around it. Moneyball. They looked for undervalued players, made the most of ’em. Consistent pitching & gold gloves, & RBIs not all from slugging.

          My kind of ball isn’t what we’re seeing nowdays. That’s not just Motherhood & Apple Pie. If I’m preaching to a choir here, we’re the rare animals. We’re outdated, & showing our age. So, I’ll stick to my guns, TYVM.

        2. Oh, and I guess it’s worth mention that the advent of percentage 3s has spread out defenses & made NBA play a lot more dynamic & watchable on TV. Getting clean looks makes such a difference. And, that takes work.

      1. Men’s tennis needs to go back to wooden rackets. Moving away ruined the game. McEnroe/Borg is what is was all about. Not Ivan Lendl.

    2. Because military service took a big bite out of his career stats, Feller is one of the most underrated players in history. He was the right-handed Koufax. He went 5-3 with a 3.34 ERA and 11 Ks per 9 innings in MLB while he was still a junior in high school – including one game when he broke the all-time AL record for most Ks in a game!

      WW2 interrupted his prime, costing him at least 80 wins, but he still won 266. He led the league in wins in the last three years before the war and the first two full years after his return.

      … and 36 complete games, including 10 shutouts, in his first full year after the war? Amazing! The current active leader in complete games is Adam Wainwright with 27 in his entire career. Feller topped that entire career in one season, and he did it in modern times, with modern rules, throwing the modern ball at the current pitching distance, and throwing it hard on almost every pitch.

      1. Complicated man. Had all the prejudices but also was a big factor in getting Satchel Paige on the Indians. Didn’t hesitate for a second to join the Navy but was afterwards much giving to bitching (accurately) about how many more games he might have won, something which Warren Spahn, who might well have ended up with the NL wins record, never did.
        Lived to a great old age and by his death was the most revered sports figure in Cleveland history. A lot of people thought he would live forever just out of sheer cussedness. Gave a talk at my school when I was in 9th grade and for some reason had an accent just like my uncle Don from Des Moines.

      2. Or, Feller doesn’t go to war, and his arm goes out on him sooner and he ends up not having the career he did.

      3. Don’t think that’s the point. As it happened, ol’ Rapid Robert did have a good run. Scoopy’s relating his circumstances was a rhetorical device. It was for emphasis.

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