Lindbergh: As home run rates rise, MLB offers evidence that the ball isn’t juiced

From SABR member Ben Lindbergh at The Ringer on May 9, 2017, with mention of SABR member Alan Nathan:

Monday night in Major League Baseball looked a lot like many other nights in baseball’s highest home run era. Nine games were played, and 25 home runs were hit — an average of 1.4 per team in action, some from the usual suspects (Bryce Harper, Joey Votto, Giancarlo Stanton) and others from less likely sources (Drew Butera, Ryan Goins, Cory Spangenberg). Mark Trumbo went deep on the highest pitch to be hit for a homer since at least 2007. Ryan Schimpf, an uppercut king who might have the highest fly ball rate in history, hit another fly ball over the fence. Marcell Ozuna and Jed Lowrie touched ’em all twice each.

I noted in March that baseball’s home run rate was up slightly in spring training, relative to last spring. Through the first five-plus weeks of the regular season, the same has held true. However you slice the stats — plate appearances per home run, home runs per batted ball — last season’s home run rate was the highest ever. Thus far, this year’s has been higher still, even though home run rates are usually lower early in the season, before the weather warms up and the ball flies farther. All indications are that we’re headed for another new season-long high.


On the face of it, there’s nothing suspicious about the fact that MLB batters are hitting home runs more often than ever. Major leaguers have been getting bigger and (presumably) stronger since the sport went pro, a gradual process that seems to have reached its logical end in the giant Aaron Judge. Pitchers are throwing harder, and with data-driven teams placing less emphasis on making contact, hitters have less reason to ease up on their swings. Some hitters, at least, have used ball- and swing-tracking technology to tinker with their launch angles, aiming for more optimal, fly-ball-oriented outcomes.

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Originally published: May 9, 2017. Last Updated: May 9, 2017.