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.