Cleat Geeks

Juiced Balls: Stats Sunday Special

One of the biggest conversations this past baseball season was the massive increase of home runs flying out of different parks. This year an all-time record 6,105 round trippers were hit in 2017, which broke the previous record of 5,694 in 2000. Note that in the 2017 World Series the Astros and Dodgers combined for 25 home runs, including seven hit in the crazy 13-12 Astros victory in game 5. The previous record does not come as a surprise considering it was the during the peak of the steroid era, but the dramatic increase has brought forward a number of possible theories.

Image result for world series 2017 home runThe name of the game in 2017 was all or nothing. The huge numbers in home runs also came with a lot of strikeouts; 1,337 was the average strikeout number per-team this year which was the highest it has been this decade. With balls flying out of the park, players swung for the fences which created more hard-hit balls and more strikeouts.

So what is causing balls to fly out of the stadiums at such a record rate? Again part of it can be attributed to adjustments in swings to keep up with the home run hitting, but the most common theory is the Juiced Balls theory. Basically this means the baseballs themselves were manufactured differently and/or doctored in a special way which allows them to leave the bat faster. While this has been denied by MLB, several pitchers have expressed that they feel differences in the ball. During the World Series a few players spoke out on the noticeable differences and the balls possibly being “juiced.” These pitchers addressing the baseballs included Lance McCullers, Justin Verlander, Brandon McCarthy and Dallas Keuchel.

Image result for world series 2017 home run

On the day he become commissioner in January 2015, Manfred said, “I’m cognizant in the drop in offense over the last five years, and it’s become a topic of conversation in the game, and it’s something that we’re going to have to continue to monitor and study.”

“The main complaint is that the balls seem a little bit different in the postseason, and even from the postseason to the World Series balls,” Verlander said, two days ahead of his start for the Houston Astros in Game 6. “They’re a little slick. You just deal with it. But I don’t think it’s the case of one pitcher saying, ‘Hey, something is different here.’ I think as a whole, everybody is saying, ‘Whoa, something is a little off here.'”

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred insisted nothing is different about the baseballs this year when he said the following during the World Series, “I’m absolutely confident that the Image result for world series 2017 justin verlanderballs that we’re using are within our established specifications,”

Verlander respectfully yet confidently rejected that notion by saying “I know Mr. Manfred said the balls haven’t changed, but I think there’s enough information out there to say that’s not true.” Verlander also does not think it’s an issue of how balls are rubbed up before games. “I know baseball uses the same mud for every single ball for every single game that’s played,” he said. “I think there’s a broader issue that we’re all missing.”

Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel was not as politicly correct with his comments after Game 2: “Obviously, the balls are juiced.”

So lets take a look at some home run stats. Data has been gathered from every season this decade (2010-2017) to see the increase itself and to give a good idea of where power hitting was just a few years ago compared to now.

First, more on 2017. The 6,105 home runs are not the only stat to look at. The Yankees led the league in long balls (241) this season and was one of 17 different clubs to hit 200+ home runs. The previous season there were 12 different teams to hit 200+, and before that, there was no more than five to accomplish that feat this decade. The following graph will show you the number of teams that hit 200+ home runs from 2010-2017.

Pretty big increase the past two seasons. 2014 was a pretty dead ball year. Which brings on the next topic which is average home runs per season by a team. This year the fact that more than half of MLB teams hit over 200 home runs this year, and that the top 21 hit at least 190, the average was over 200 itself. This was not the case in any year this decade until now. The next graph will show average home runs per-season by a team from 2010-2017.

You can see the dead ball crater that was 2014. This is interesting considering 2014 was when Statcast was being developed and since the All Star game that year, it has been steadily increasing. Something to think about. But it is also interesting that the numbers seemed to somewhat return to a “norm” in 2015 considering where 2011 and 2012 were. Since that it has just been a massive increase to where it is today.

There is a very similar trend in the number of flyballs leaving the park. Naturally, when more home runs are hit…well…that means flyballs are leaving the park. The next graph shows the HR/FB ratios. Notice the similar dip in 2014 compared to the years around it and the almost exact similarity between 2012 and 2015.

There is so much more that can be explored with this great increase in home runs, but this is some of the basic data to look at which is very telling. Heck, keep in mind that Giancarlo Stanton was one off of 60 home runs. No one had hit more than 58 home runs since Mark McGwire hit 65 in 1999. Will next year see more increase? A decrease? Similar? We shall wait and see!

Thanks to Fangraphs, Yahoo Sports and Baseball-Reference for the statistical information.

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