We’ve Reached the Point of “Too Many Homers”

The lingering suspense over whether the Yankees could break the major league record for consecutive games with a home run, which they had tied at 27 on Monday night, lasted until Tuesday night’s sixth pitch from Blue Jays starter Clayton Richard to Yankees leadoff hitter DJ LeMahieu. Boom!

In the brief interval that it took this scribe to tweet about that record — admittedly, while juggling a beer and a scorebook in section 422 of Yankee Stadium — Aaron Judge homered as well. In fact, solo home runs accounted for the Yankees’ entire output in their 4-3 victory, with Gleyber Torres and Edwin Encarnacion joining the party, too. The latter even broke out the parrot against his old team for just the second time since departing in the winter of 2016-17, that while a hawk literally watched his dinger from atop the right field foul pole.

Here’s the Yankees’ new perch after Wednesday, when Didi Gregorius’ second-inning home run off Toronto’s Trent Thornton further extended the streak (LeMahieu added another one in the Yankees’ come-from-behind win as well):

Most Consecutive Games With a Home Run
Rk Team Start End Games
1 Yankees 5/26/2019 6/26/2019* 29
2 Rangers 8/11/2002 9/9/2002 27
3T Yankees 6/1/1941 6/29/1941 25
3T Tigers 5/25/1994 6/19/1994 25
3T Braves 4/18/1998 5/13/1998 25
3T Padres 6/28/2016 7/27/2016 25
3T Cardinals 8/9/2016 9/6/2016 25
8 Dodgers 6/18/1953 7/10/1953 24
9T Athletics 7/2/1996 7/27/1996 23
9T Blue Jays 5/31/2000 6/25/2000 23
9T Braves 6/25/2006 7/24/2006 23
9T Mariners 6/20/2013 7/19/2013 23
9T Dodgers 8/21/2018 9/15/2018 23
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
* = active

It doesn’t take the eyesight of a hawk to note that 11 of those 13 seasons are from the post-1992 expansion era, which has featured at least one home run per team per game — a level previously topped only in 1987 — in all but five seasons (1993, and every year from 2010-14 except for ’12). Four of those seasons, including three of the top seven, are from the 2016-19 period, which, as I noted on Monday in relation to Justin Verlander’s performance, is the first four-year stretch with at least 1.1 home runs per team per game. This year’s 1.36 per game is the all-time high, 0.1 ahead of the previous high set just two seasons ago, an increase of 8.7%. It’s 0.21 home runs per game (18.8%) higher than last year, and 0.5 homers per game (58.4% higher) than in 2014, the year of the post-1992 low:

If we factor in the ever-increasing strikeout rates, the rise is even sharper. This year’s rate of home runs per batted ball — that is, HR/(AB-SO+SF) — is 5.31%, 0.49 points (10.1%) higher than the previous high in 2017, 0.86 points (19.3%) higher than last year, and 2.08 points (64.2%) higher than 2014.

I’ll get back to that momentarily, but it’s worth noting that when the Yankees’ streak began in late May, only three of the seven players who contributed the most home runs to last year’s record-setting total of 267 were active, namely Aaron Hicks (who tied for second on the team with 27 homers), the sixth-ranked Torres (24), and seventh-ranked Gary Sanchez (18). Since then, the 1-2 punch of Giancarlo Stanton (38) and Judge (27) has returned from lengthy stints on the injured list, and Gregorius (27) has returned from off-season Tommy John surgery. Miguel Andujar (27) is out for the remainder of the season due to surgery to repair a torn labrum, but on June 16, the team traded for Encarnacion, who currently leads the league in homers (24, including three as a Yankee).

All of which is to say that it’s been a mix of A- and B-list players who have not only propelled this particular Yankee streak but have helped the team out-homer all but three other teams, namely the Twins (149), Mariners (145), and Brewers (138):

Home Runs by 2019 Yankees
Player Streak Season
Gary Sanchez 8 23
DJ LeMahieu 8 12
Gleyber Torres 7 19
Luke Voit 4 17
Brett Gardner 4 11
Giovanny Urshela 4 6
Cameron Maybin 4 5
Aaron Hicks 4 5
Edwin Encarnacion 3 3
Clint Frazier 2 11
Didi Gregorius 2 2
Aaron Judge 1 6
Austin Romine 1 2
Giancarlo Stanton 1 1
Mike Tauchman 0 4
Thairo Estrada 0 3
Troy Tulowitzki 0 1
Mike Ford 0 1
Greg Bird 0 1
Kendrys Morales 0 1
Total 53 134
Per Game 1.83 1.68

Such are the Yankees’ power reserves that the acquisition of Encarnacion led to Frazier, who has hit a robust .283/.330/.513 (117 wRC+), being optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and remaining on the farm even as Stanton went back to the IL with a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, the result of a baserunning mishap early in Tuesday night’s game. He’ll miss the upcoming London series against the Red Sox, and will be out for longer than the 10-day minimum. With or without Stanton, who has played just nine games this season, it’s not hard to imagine a more complete Yankees lineup overtaking the Twins in the home run department. But even if they don’t, the rather patchwork lineup has kept them on pace to eclipse last year’s total, which is a hint that the homer situation is simply getting silly.

League-wide, no individual is on pace to challenge Barry Bonds‘ single-season home run record of 73; Christian Yelich, who leads the majors with 29 homers, would finish with 62 if he were to keep hitting them at the same pace over the Brewers’ final 82 games as he has over his first 73 (he’s missed seven games with assorted aches and pains). However, with only five teams past the halfway point in their schedules heading into Thursday (the Mariners have played 84 games, the other four of those teams 82), a total of 56 players had reached the 15 homer plateau, meaning that they were on pace for 30 homers. The league-wide record for such players is 47, set in 2000. Four of the top five totals hail from the 1996-2001 stretch, with the fifth coming in 2017, when 41 players reached it. Similarly, 18 players have reached 20 homers, and are on pace for at least 40. The record for players with 40-homer seasons is 17, set in 1996, and we haven’t seen more than nine players do it in any Statcast-era season; there were nine in 2015, but just three last year. Yelich, Pete Alonso (27 homers through the Mets’ 81 games) and Cody Bellinger (26 homers through the Dodgers’ 82 games, including one on Wednesday) are on pace for at least 50 homers. Only in 1998 and 2001 did more than two players reach that plateau, with four apiece in both of those years, including the single-season record breakers, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds.

Meanwhile, 14 of the majors’ 30 teams are on pace to set franchise records, with the top four surpassing last year’s Yankees:

Team Home Run Paces and Single-Season Records
Rk Team G HR Pace Record Year Record
1 Twins 79 149 306 225 1963 Y
2 Mariners 84 145 280 264 1997 Y
3 Brewers 80 138 279 231 2007 Y
4 Yankees 80 134 271 267 2018 Y
5 Astros 81 131 262 249 2000 Y
6 Dodgers 82 131 259 235 2018 Y
7 Braves 81 126 252 235 2003 Y
8 Cubs 80 124 251 235 2004 Y
9 Athletics 82 126 249 243 1996 Y
10 Padres 80 121 245 189 2017 Y
11 Diamondbacks 82 120 237 220 2017 Y
12 Angels 81 117 234 236 2000 N
13 Mets 81 117 234 224 2017 Y
14 Rangers 80 113 229 260 2005 N
15 Red Sox 82 115 227 238 2003 N
16 Reds 78 108 224 222 2005 Y
17 Nationals 79 109 224 215 2017 Y
18 Blue Jays 81 107 214 257 2010 N
19 Rockies 80 104 211 239 1997 N
20 Indians 80 104 211 221 2000 N
21 Rays 80 101 205 228 2017 N
22 Phillies 80 100 203 224 2009 N
23 Cardinals 79 95 195 235 2000 N
24 Orioles 80 94 190 257 1996 N
25 White Sox 78 90 187 242 2004 N
26 Pirates 78 79 164 171 1999 N
27 Royals 81 81 162 193 2017 N
28 Giants 79 72 148 235 2001 N
29 Tigers 76 66 141 225 1987 N
30 Marlins 78 60 125 208 2008 N
SOURCE: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/recbooks/rb_hr7.shtml

All but three of the 30 teams are averaging at least one homer per game. Twenty-two teams are on pace for 200 homers, one fewer than in all of baseball prior to the 1994 players’ strike. Only in 2017, when 17 teams reached that plateau, have there even been as many as a dozen teams to do so. Eight teams are on pace for 250 homers, a level reached by just six teams ever prior to this year. The mind reels at these numbers.

While one can point to the general trend of batters making greater efforts to elevate the ball — whether to hit it over shifted infielders or not — it’s more accurate to call that an adaptation to the new reality. The scientific evidence again points to the ball itself as being the driving factor. Earlier this week at The Athletic, Dr. Meredith Wills published a follow-up to last year’s breakthrough article, which itself was a follow-up to MLB’s Home Run Committee report. That committee, led by Dr. Alan Nathan, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Illinois, had found that the recent home run spike was caused by a decrease in the ball’s aerodynamic drag, but found no physical difference in the balls that would explain the change.

Conducting her own measurements using digital calipers and disassembled baseballs, Wills concluded that post-2015 balls’ laces, which were an average of nine percent thicker than balls from the 2010-14 period, were producing less bulging at the seams, yielding a more spherically symmetric ball with less aerodynamic drag — thus allowing them to fly further.

For her latest study, Wills examined 39 balls from this season, which she found differed from the 2015-18 balls and even earlier ones. Most notably, she found “demonstrably lower” seams, only 54.6 percent ± 15.0 percent as high as those on balls from previous seasons. By measuring the coefficient of static friction, she also found that the leather on this year’s balls is relatively smoother, concluding, “the static friction for the 2019 balls is 27.6 percent lower, a statistically significant result demonstrating the leather covers are genuinely smoother.” She measured the bulging of the seams and found, “Not only were the 2019 balls virtually round, what bulging they did show was slightly negative, suggesting the seams might be slightly ‘nestled’ into the leather.” The significantly rounder balls, which have thinner laces than last year’s (more in line with 2000-14 samples) produce even less drag than before, and thus even more carry. Wills noted that both the seam and smoothness issues jibe with anecdotal reports from pitchers about difficulties in gripping this year’s balls, as voiced by players such as Sean Doolittle, Jon Lester, and Noah Syndergaard.

As for commissioner Rob Manfred’s recent suggestion that a better-centered pill (the core of the ball) is a factor in creating less drag, Wills was largely dismissive, writing, “[T]his is the most difficult result to produce without significant manufacturing changes, since existing techniques make it hard to keep the pill from being centered to begin with… Therefore, it seems unlikely that pill-centering would explain a sudden change in drag; at the very least, we would be remiss not to also examine other possible sources.”

All of Wills’ articles on the topic, which are behind a paywall, are worth reading, but it should suffice to say that there’s ample scientific evidence that the ball is carrying this. And how. Check out these numbers, which combine Statcast’s average distance measurements with those from our stat pages:

Fly Balls in the Statcast Era
Year Avg FB Dist FB% HR/FB HR/Gm HR/CON
2015 315 33.8% 11.4% 1.01 3.80%
2016 318 34.6% 12.8% 1.16 4.39%
2017 320 35.5% 13.7% 1.26 4.82%
2018 319 35.4% 12.7% 1.15 4.45%
2019 323 35.7% 15.0% 1.36 5.31%
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Fly balls are carrying an average of four feet further than last year, and eight feet further than in 2015. Add to that a general increase in fly ball rates and you have a recipe for significantly more homers. Perhaps too many homers. Combine that trend with the aforementioned strikeout trend and lower batting averages — though this year’s .251 is three points higher than last year, it’s in a virtual tie with 2014 for the second-lowest mark of the DH era, which began in 1973 — and the result is a greater percentage of runs being scored via homer than ever before. Here’s an historic look at what Joe Sheehan christened “the Guillen Number” a decade ago at Baseball Prospectus:

For a period of over two decades, from 1994-2014 — two decades that saw record home run rates, PED scandals, expansion, new ballparks galore — the rate of runs scored via homers was remarkably stable around 35%, never deviating more than two points in either direction. It hit 37.3% in 2015, and has climbed at a rate of about two points per year since, to heights previously unseen, and now, both statistically and aesthetically, the situation sticks out like a sore thumb. Ken Rosenthal called it “Bludgeon Ball” earlier this month, and I think the description fits. This is brute force baseball, and while it doesn’t lack for a certain amount of excitement, it’s very lacking in subtlety. When nearly half the league is on pace to set home run records, and the vast majority of teams are set to exceed totals that were once very rare, we’ve gone too far.

It’s time for MLB and Rawlings (which the league bought last year) to fix this. Wills noted that while Manfred has maintained that Rawlings hasn’t changed its manufacturing process or materials “in any meaningful way,” this may be an issue of semantics:

The Home Run Committee found that Rawlings regularly implements production improvements, including changes to the yarn (February 2014), the pill (March 2014, May 2015), the leather (June 2014, February 2017, August 2017) and the drying process (March 2016, February 2018). The Committee described these changes as “largely technical in nature and very unlikely to be in any way related to the (2017) home run increase.” That being the case, things like enhancing leather smoothness or drying baseballs more efficiently might not be considered “meaningful” to manufacturing.

While this may have been a reasonable attitude in the past, such enhancements now appear to have compounded, producing a more aerodynamic ball.

Wills recommended another committee report with the goal of using the information to tighten specifications, improve quality control and “determine further production improvements.” To these eyes — and I know I’m not alone — such improvement would include the restoration of some normalcy. When a player’s 40-homer season, or a team’s mountain of 200 homers, is no longer worthy of celebration, is as common as a garden weed, we’ve lost something. It’s worth searching for how to get that special something back.

We hoped you liked reading We’ve Reached the Point of “Too Many Homers” by Jay Jaffe!

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Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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Bobby Ayala
Member

I guess we’ve also reached the point of too many 100+ mph hurlers.

In Ozzie Smith’s day we also reached the point of too many spectacular bare-handed defensive plays.

Randy Johnson pushed me over the edge on too many sub-3-ERA 300+ K seasons.

Too many diving catches in the outfield too, these athletes are just too good these days.

How did this Bleacher Report article accidentally get posted on FG?

Brad
Member
Brad

I think the difference is that there is a clear, non physical reason this is happening (cough – the ball).

Bobby Ayala
Member

Check that sample size and recap how this article talks about launch angle, pitch velocity, and changes in hitting strategy. Oh wait it doesn’t.

And anyway, an article talking about how there are too many homers sounds a lot like get-off-my-lawn announcers complaining about bat flips. Oh no the game has too much excitement and scoring? Gimme a break.

eckmuhl
Member
eckmuhl

Maybe you find the inordinate number of strikeouts exciting; I, however, do not. And when home runs have become such a common occurrence that I let out a yawn, there is a problem. To me the game is starting to become akin to fast pitch home run derby.

I do agree that the reasons behind the power spike almost certainly go well beyond just physical changes to the ball, and that there will be probably be no magic bullet solution to bring the numbers back down. But even if the ball is only one component of the increases, it is at least the easiest to adjust.

Bobby Ayala
Member

I’m sorry eckmuhl, just sounds like you don’t like the game of baseball.

eckmuhl
Member
eckmuhl

I’ve been a fan for 35 years, and this, IMO, is the least entertaining version of ML baseball across that time. Your mileage may vary.

Wonderful Terrific Monds
Member
Wonderful Terrific Monds

Isn’t that his point – that one’s mmv?

This article/argument is just about personal preference in watching baseball. And the commenter’s point (as I read it) is that such articles are better left for other outlets.

An article explaining how or why the HR rate is at an all-time high is one thing. An article saying “the author would prefer a version of baseball with fewer homers” is another.

endymion
Member
endymion

And that’s really the point—YOU and this author don’t like the home runs. If millions of other fans DO like the home runs, then calling them a problem is just navel-gazing.

If the author had established all the home runs were having a negative impact on attendance or popularity or something along those lines, he (and you) might have a point.

Did you see any such argument?

All I saw was “there are lots more HRs than there used to be, probably b/c of the ball, and I don’t like this so it’s a problem.”

Definitely the stuff you see from the Bleacher Report=Skip Bayless-Stephen Smith crowd.

TerryMc
Member
TerryMc

There are many aspects of this that are a chicken or the egg scenario. Ball that travels further = reward for fly ball hitters that swing hard. Hitters swinging hard = more strikeouts.
Tough to say if deadening the ball would result in rewarding spray type singles hitters (i.e. ones that can beat the shift) or if fly ball hitters would just have to swing harder. The game of baseball has changed at a very rapid rate over the last decade and the three true outcomes is the new norm and regardless of your esthetic opinion of these changes to the game, the “new” ball is hastening/reinforcing that outcome.

The Guru
Member
The Guru

its because 10 guys a game throw 100mph it seems like, where just 20 years ago only maybe one or 2 in entire mlb did. pitchers adjusted, therefore hitters did too.

endymion
Member
endymion

That still doesn’t explain why “too many home runs” is a problem. Nor does “b/c there used to be a lot less.”

Which is why the OP is correct and this is just click-bait garbage with a heavy statistical veneer.

Unless there is some danger to the players/audience or the vast majority of observers reject them, new developments are not problems simply b/c this writer or that fan dislikes them.

If you’re gonna write an article with this title, then you better establish there are, in fact, too many homers.

The author didn’t. He might’ve been screaming about statistics, but he was still screaming at clouds.

sbf21
Member
Member
sbf21

Top many home runs is a problem because its boring. Too many of anything devalues that thing. Three true outcomes baseball is boring baseball.

I’ve been a Yankees fan for 50 years. I loved Aaron Judge when he hit 52 HR in 2017. I still love him. You know who my favorite Yankee is this year (and the team’s MVP)? DJ Le Mahieu. Make contact, put balls into play. That is fun, exciting baseball.

GoNYGoNYGoGo
Member
Member
GoNYGoNYGoGo

Matter of sample size Bobby Ayala. If everyone made barehanded plays, the specialness of Ozzie would have been diminished.

If everyone had sub-3-ERA and 300+ K seasons, the specialness of Randy Johnson would have been diminished.

When Babe Ruth was hitting his first 54- HR season, and out-homering the league, it was special. When half a dozen steroid-induced major leaguers were doing that in the late 90s, it was no longer special.

If only the Yankees were hitting 200 homers as a team, it would be special. Now, it’s no big deal.

evo34
Member
evo34

“If only the Yankees were hitting 200 homers as a team, it would be”…

mostly the product of having an absurd stadium and payroll.

Tulkas
Member
Tulkas

I think the point is that Ozzie Smith and Randy Johnson were singularly unique accomplishments, unlike today’s HR milestones which are becoming a dime a dozen.

This is exactly why deGrom’s absurd ERA was more impressive last year than Scherzer’s 300 strikeouts–strikeouts are rising across the league and the once gaudy number of 300 is simply less impressive than before.

The other things you list are still rare phenomenons. If everyone could throw like Ramon Laureano or catch like Kevin Pillar then it would get less interesting to watch those standout plays and it would be frustrating to find that no matter how well a ball is hit, any time it goes to CF it’s an automatic out.

This game is great because it has a great mixture of offense and defense and various performances on all facets of the game can be played at a high level without completely suffocating the game. deGrom had a historic quality start streak in an era where starters are pitching less and less. Yet you also had Mookie Betts putting up a season for the ages, challenging The Spirit of Baseball Past Mike Trout in a season for the ages.

And I think we all recognize that home runs in moderation are exciting and dramatic, but home runs in abundance get old. A rally pulled off with excellent situational hitting and exciting baserunning is so much more satisfying than yet another solo homer. Triples are one of my favorite baseball plays, and a good bases-clearing double is almost as good. The game is just less interesting, less volatile, and less exciting with everyone and their mother setting home run records.

Hank G.
Member
Member
Hank G.

But events like that are still rare. Take strikeouts. Strikeouts are up across the board, but pitchers there have only been seven seasons of 300 or more strikeouts since 2000, and three of those were Randy Johnson.

Similarly, home runs are up across the board, but there have only been 16 players with 50 or more home runs since 2000, and only four since 2010. No one has hit more than 60 since 2001.

The problem may be the ball. It probably is the ball. But in an era with more and more pitchers approaching 100 mph fastballs, increased fielding skills, along with shifts, maybe it’s just the logical thing for batters to swing harder, even with two strikes, and try to increase their launch rate.

Mike
Member
Member
Mike

I think the better question is “how did this Bleacher Report reader accidentally find himself on FG?”

D-Wiz
Member
Member
D-Wiz

None of your examples are actually even remotely similar to the increase in home runs – each of your four examples are still celebrated just as much (probably more so) than they have been in the past. The vast majority of baseball highlights – the ones that get GIFed and shared to oblivion – are of spectacular athletes making spectacular defensive plays. 100 mph fastballs are still relatively rare and those who throw them are regarded as dominant, physical marvels. Home runs, and the individual and teamwide accomplishments noted in the article, used to be in the same category as that other stuff. Now they are commonplace. I mean, sure, if you think that is fun then more power to you. But just read the last sentence for the author’s thesis – “It’s worth searching for how to get that special something back.” To him, and many others I’m sure, home runs used to be one of the most celebrated, exciting events in a baseball game, in large part because of their rarity. Now if just any old Quad-A player can come along and hit 20 or 30 or 40 dingers, then what’s really so great about Aaron Judge hitting 52 his rookie year? Or Pete Alonso chasing 30 before the all-star break in his? It’s just unfortunate that the joy has been sucked out of something that used be so special, and in doing so made the game of baseball so special, because of forces outside of any player’s control.