The 2019 MLB regular season came to an end on Sunday, and all of the new ink in record books can officially start drying. The home run column might need some extra time.
If there was a single league-wide storyline throughout 2019, it was the sheer, unprecedented number of balls leaving the field.
The league managed to set a record for total home runs hit in a season with 6,106 two and a half weeks ago. It has since upped that total to 6,777. Thanks to one little change in the ball, MLB has significantly altered its run-scoring environment to something never before seen in the sport.
While the record home run total is enough of an alarm that we’re dealing with a whole new ballgame, we can go even deeper. Here are 10 stats that show just how ludicrous the long ball has become:
4 teams hit enough HRs to break the MLB record set last year
The New York Yankees lineup looked unstoppable last year. A group with mashers top to bottom hit enough homers to break a record that had stood for 19 years. We wondered how long this new mark — 267 team homers, nearly 30 per lineup spot — would stand.
Well, it stood for one year before it was broken again. Four times over.
The Minnesota Twins reached 268 home runs on Sept. 1, with a full month left in the season. The Yankees weren’t far behind. The Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers also managed to top 267.
The Twins and Yankees continued to battle it out for the new record, reaching the 300s. The Twins eventually came out on top with an absurd 307, just ahead of the Yankees’ 306.
Those 4 teams also happened to be the four 100-win teams
Remember those four teams who broke the old homer record — the Twins, Yankees, Astros and Dodgers?
Those four teams also happen to be the four winningest teams in the league. You can imagine the two facts are related.
In another wild coincidence, the teams that hit the three fewest home runs — the Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers and Miami Marlins — were also three of the four 100-loss teams this year. The other 100-loss team was the Baltimore Orioles, who hit a respectable 213 home runs but allowed a very non-respectable 305 home runs (more on that later).
It was a season of record extremes. There had never before been four 100-win teams in a single season, and only once (2002) had there been four 100-loss teams. All of that occurring in a season of record home runs might not be surprising.
58 players hit 30 home runs; 32 did it for the first time
Prior to 2019, the record for number of players with 30 home runs in a season was 47 back in 2000, the heyday of the steroid era.
This year, there were 58.
We also saw a record number of 25-homer seasons, 20-homer seasons, 10-homer seasons and, well, you get the point. Ostensible sluggers are coming out of the woodwork in MLB.
What’s more is that of those 58 players with 30 home runs, 32 of them did it for the first time in their careers (though that includes two rookies). That number alone would represent the 11th most in a season in MLB history, even exceeding the amount last year (27).
Two of the new 30-home run sluggers were also New York Mets first baseman Peter Alonso and Kansas City Royals designated hitter Jorge Soler, the National League and American League home run champs.
15 teams broke their franchise home run record
If you are a fan of an MLB team, odds are you saw it celebrate a new franchise home run record this season.
Incredibly enough, 15 teams — the Yankees, Twins, Astros, Dodgers, Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, Mets, Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres — set a new franchise mark in long balls.
That’s half the league reaching a level of home runs never before seen. Not normal.
The Orioles smashed the record for HRs allowed with 305
Those poor Orioles. Between an extremely ill-advised contract and a definitive court ruling, they still owe Chris Davis and the Nationals more than $160 million. Meanwhile, they continue to be one of the worst teams in the MLB, especially when facing the Yankees.
The Orioles allowed an incredible 61 homers — 3.2 per game — to the Yankees this season, shattering the old record for most home runs hit by one team against another team. As you might have heard, Gleyber Torres is responsible for 13 of those, another record.
And while we’re on the subject of home runs allowed, remember how four teams broke the old home run record? Well, four teams this year also broke up the old home runs allowed record! The Orioles (305), Colorado Rockies (270), Los Angeles Angels (267) and Seattle Mariners (260) all exceeded the old mark of 258 from the 2016 Cincinnati Reds.
The average fly ball flew 3 feet farther than last year
Through all of this, you might ask yourself: “Wait, what if the ball isn’t juiced? What if players are just hitting it in the air more?”
That’s a fair question, given how much has been made about the launch angle revolution. However, MLB’s own ballpark data indicates the balls are simply flying farther. Three feet farther, compared to last season’s Statcast data, and eight feet farther compared to 2015.
As with most seemingly incremental changes in gargantuan data sets, three feet doesn’t sound like much. However, consider how many fly balls you’ve seen reach the warning track and be hauled in.
Now imagine if you added more than a full arm’s length to each fly ball’s path. Catchable fly balls reach the fence, and previously borderline home runs can no longer be caught by the Lorenzo Cains of the world.
7 teams got more than half their runs from HRs
Meet the “Guillen Number,” coined by stats writer Joe Sheehan. Named after former Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, the Guillen Number is the percentage of runs that teams got from the long ball.
In 2011, Guillen’s last season with the White Sox, the highest Guillen Number was the Yankees with 42.8. That number would have ranked ... 22nd this year.
This year, seven teams in total — the Toronto Blue Jays (53.2), Brewers (51.3), Yankees (51.1), Twins (51.0), Cubs (50.4), Astros (50.3) and Dodgers (50.2) — saw more than half of their runs come via home run. Again, that is all four 100-win teams this year barely needing small ball to succeed.
Triple-A teams saw a 57 percent HR spike
If there was a smoking gun that something had been done to the MLB ball that caused it to explode off the bat, it wasn’t in the majors. It was at Triple-A, where home runs increased by 57.4 percent this year.
Think about that. Last year, there were 3,652 homers. This year, there were 5,749. Same players. Same bats. Same rules. The only big difference: Triple-A leagues started using an MLB ball.
The environment is so broken in the Pacific Coast League — which was already known for Coors Field levels of pitcher unfriendliness — that one MLB executive with an affiliate told The Athletic’s Jayson Stark that his team had ceased sending legitimate prospects to its PCL team.
The Marlins ranked last in homers with 146; In 2010, that would have ranked 19th
We knew the Miami Marlins would be terrible going into this season and we know they’ll probably be terrible going into next season. In a year of record home run balls, the Marlins only managed to hit 146, less than half the total of the Twins and Yankees.
And yet, that number wouldn’t have even been in the bottom 10 at the start of the decade. 146 home runs would have ranked 19th in 2010, when the Jose Bautista Blue Jays were No. 1 with a then-impressive 257, the Red Sox were second with 211 and the Mariners were last with ... 101.
It only took 2 months for MLB to admit something was off
Of any number in this article, this one might most demonstrate just how surreal the game has become: the league actually admitted there was something wrong with its product.
On June 20, with questions and record home runs paces overflowing, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s office admitted that the league’s balls had less drag than past versions due to something wrong in the pill of the ball.
That explanation itself inspired questions due to the interesting fact that MLB had purchased ball manufacturer Rawlings only a year ago with the stated purpose of, wait for it, taking more control over the baseball production process. Buying a ball manufacturer then immediately seeing the balls leave the park at unprecedented rates ... yeah, you can’t blame the conspiracy theorists — Cy Young frontrunner Justin Verlander among them — for thinking MLB wanted this home run spike.
Manfred has said the change was not intentional, but we we’ll see if the league actually reverses the changes that led to this power surge. If home runs continue to abound next year, this might just be our new normal.
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