Why Are There So Many Home Runs in Major League Baseball Today?


When MLB finally issued stiffer retribution for players caught using steroids, the number of home runs was supposed to go down drastically. And it did, at least for awhile. But now, home runs are at an all-time pace, causing many people to scream “The Ball is Juiced! The Ball is Juiced!” But I think your head is juiced if you believe that is the reason.

Those that buy this theory as the main reason why homers are up often point to increases in exit velocity, or the speed at which balls come flying off the bat. Balls coming off of hitter’s bats are leaving the bat, on average, faster than before. If normal exit velo was 95 mph, now it’s 105.

However, if that was the reason, you’d think that MLB would have corrected it by now just to avoid the negative publicity that would come along with tainting such a sacred sport by cheating. I mean, players and managers and even front offices have cheated since the beginning of time. But the league office? Shame, shame.

Yet the home-run rate on fly balls is 12.8%, same as last season. Those results are the highest ever. So much for trying to correct the “problem”. 

To finally get to the heart of the matter, Fangraphs commissioned research on the baseball and found out it isn’t juiced. This was part of the commentary provided to FanGraphs: “Quite frankly, I was disappointed at that result, because I was hoping I’d find something,” Dr. Alan Nathan, who was compensated by MLB for the time he spent studying the BRC report, said. “I saw nothing in the data that was presented that suggests that the ball has been altered at all.”

So it’s not the ball, apparently. But what is it?

If you recall when the so-called Steroid Era originally began, that was the very same excuse that fans went to in an effort to help explain the sudden propensity for weak, middle infielders to start slugging balls around the yard some 400 feet. Yet as we painfully discovered, it was the players themselves that were juiced, not the baseball.

So could that be happening again? Well I feel it would be very naive of us to think that steroid use does not still exist in the game today. It does, and not just by the guys getting caught. However, with the ramifications for being caught so much higher these days, I doubt it is anywhere near as rampant as before.

No, I think the main reason that home runs are being hit at an historic pace is that the stigma is gone. What’s this stigma you talk about Warja? Well, I’m glad you asked. Once upon a time, somewhat relatively recently in fact, players that routinely struck out more than 100 times in a season were considered a pariah, a type of player to avoid. Unless, of course, that player routinely hit 30-40 homers per season.

But now, the focus is getting on base, and batting average has been replaced by OBP. Suddenly, no one seems to care about strikeouts any more. With that stigma gone, hitters are swinging for the fences more often, striking out a lot, but also leaving the yard with much more regularity.

It is this much more open attitude about K’s that has resulted in the extra homers, in my opinion. In fact, there is a whole school of thought on hitting that has changed quite a bit over the years. No longer do many hitting coaches preach the Charley Lau “swing down on the ball” method; instead, they want hitters to get the ball in the air more often.

Yep, while the pitching is more watered down these days, the hard throwing middle and late inning relievers routinely popping the glove at 95 or more make up for that shortcoming, so I don’t think it’s just the pitching these days, although it’s getting harder and harder to find outstanding starting pitchers.

Meanwhile, chicks dig the long ball, so MLB will never complain about more home runs and increased scoring in general. After all, as bad as the Steroid Era was, the Sosa-McGwire home run chase is credited with saving baseball following the strike that cancelled the 1994 World Series.

Sure, they’ve since adopted much tougher penalties for steroid use, but not for striking out. As long as players know they can swing for the fences they will. That’s what pays the bills, after all. For the players and for the sport itself.

But it’s NOT the damn ball.


Follow me on Twitter @BobWarja






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Tags: MLB

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