The Long Ball is Back and No One Knows Why

Beginning almost directly after last year’s All Star Break, and surging through the playoffs, there was a clear uptick in home runs in 2015. The 2014-2015 spike in runs per nine innings (4.07 runs/9 to 4.25 runs/9, respectively) is the largest single season spike since the 2005-2006 seasons.

538chart

The HR/contact rate was higher last August and September than it has been in any month since August 2004.

538chart2

The average exit velocity (the speed of the ball upon contact) increased at a rate unseen in any recent season.

538chart3

There is no way around it, there was a definitive uptick in power, runs and home runs last season. The question is why and is this newfound power here to stay?

As you may have deduced from the source of the charts above, FiveThirtyEight.com has done some serious due diligence on this topic. And guess what? No one knows. The weather, the strike zone, the balls themselves are all possible culprits, but none of them are the sole reason for the power surge and likely are not major contributors according to the article. The fact that there were a record amount of power hitting rookies that came up last season could be a factor, but again, not the only one. Perhaps the increased amount of pitchers “phoning it in” toward the end of the season as playoff chances wane or an increase in elite starters getting more rest days could also be a factor, but both tend to happen at a similar rate every season. The nerds at FiveThirtyEight can’t claim any one variable made the difference, so my best guess is that the combination of some or all of them has to be the reason.

As the article suggests, there is only one way to know for sure if the power is back for good and that is MORE BASEBALL! Bring. It. On.

 

 

18 thoughts on “The Long Ball is Back and No One Knows Why

    • Those were 90s chicks though. Do the 2010s chicks dig the long ball as much as the 90s variety? FiveThirtyEight needs to look into it.

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      • What’s the criteria for being a 2010s chick? I may not qualify, but yeah, I dig long balls. The bigger, the better. Consider that a teeny tiny sample size.

        Also, unassisted triple plays are hot, as are double digit strikeout outings.

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        • Let’s just dispel the fiction that chicks who dig the long ball doesn’t know what she’s doing, she knows exactly what she’s doing, she’s trying to change the DH!

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      • If we are strictly talking baseball, nope, I do not dig the long ball. A pitcher’s duel will engross me more than any home run derby, and this has always been true of me. That tense feeling of wondering, which team is going to break through first, watching two pitchers at the top of their game–that is a great game to me.

        And we are talking baseball, right?

        Liked by 1 person

  1. FWIW, the ball tests described are pretty shitty compared to those usually used to evaluate “bounciness” and how that translated into distance traveled by batted balls.

    Kinda weird that the story ignores independent labs that test balls and that have shown how changes in ball manufacturing and materials have changed their absorption of ambient moisture, elasticity, and travel distance.

    Also weird that they give credence to the MLB “ball standards”, those standards are so lax that huge changes in the ball will still fall within them.

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      • How is their approach here cursory? I agree the ball test is not as thorough as it could be, but it still produces tangible results. 538 will use existing data and tools where ever possible to avoid redundancy and to save time. But they also go out and run their own tests and collect their own data. They submit to deadlines and budgets as much as anyone, so I can’t see this as being anything but a well constructed and researched article based off real data. I prefer more data, more results and more accurate testing as much as the next nerd, but you gotta draw the line somewhere.

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        • It is cursory in most every way….whatever is quick, no depth, no pursuit of lines of evidence. This is why if you look back at many of their sports analyses, they don’t hold up….small sample sizes, limited approaches, limited extent of interest.

          It isn’t just this story, it is most of them. When the goal is a quick turn around, there is little ability to do anything that isn’t cursory.

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