There is nothing more exciting in baseball than a homerun. Especially one that is the go-ahead run. Baseball fans alike love the long ball. However, in 2021, there might be fewer this year than in past years. Wednesday morning, The Athletic‘s Eno Sarris and Ken Rosenthal broke the news that the MLB is planning on making changes to the baseball.
Baseball is deadening the ball, likely to be fewer homers this year: https://t.co/TMJTBiiEER
— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) February 9, 2021
Home Runs Galore: A Look at Previous Seasons
According to the Baseball Almanac, there were 4909 home runs in 2015. This was the year Chris Davis led the league with 47 home runs. In 2019, there were 6,776 home runs. That is a difference of 1,867 home runs. In 2019, 58 players had at least 30 home runs. Players were breaking records, but they almost felt cheap. Last year the A’s and Astros combined for 26 home runs in a five-game series. They played this series in Dodger Stadium, a stadium known to be pitcher-friendly. While we can all agree home runs are a good thing, there have been some consequences of a “juiced ball.” There has been a heavy focus on the “three true outcomes. When a batter steps to the plate, he is either walking, striking out, or hitting a home run. Gone are the days of putting the ball in play. Joey Gallo has hit 120 home runs over the past six years but has had an average of .208. Former Brewer Khris Davis has launched 158 home runs while playing in Oakland. His average was only .240. Home runs have gone up, but so have strikeouts. According to The Baseball Almanac, batters struck out 5,377 more times in 2019 than in 2015. Home runs are exciting, but if you are a fan of small ball then 2021 may be the year for you.
Time for a Change
It looks like MLB is looking to deaden the ball entering the 2021 season. According to MLB’s Mark Feinsand, “balls will fly one to two feet shorter on balls hit over 375 feet. So what can we expect? We have an excellent example of this in the Korean Baseball Organization. According to Fan Graphs, when the KBO deaden their baseball, home runs were reduced by a third. In 2021, MLB fans should expect to see fewer home runs hit and slugging to go down. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Expect to see the ball put in play more. There will still be home runs. The power hitters will continue to launch dingers. However, there will be a greater emphasis on players who can make contact. Homeruns are great, but you would rather have a contact hitter at the plate when there is a player in scoring position. This is especially true when the playoffs start and the pitching tightens up. Teams will need to find ways to get on base and grind in a run.
“Can He Get On Base?”
This is the question that was made famous by Brad Pitt in Money Ball. Looking at the Brewers lineup, they have players who can get on base. 2020 was an odd year. With covid and a shortened season, I tend to overlook those stats. In 2019, Christian Yelich had the second-best OBP in the league. His .429 OBP was only second to Trout. Keston Hiura also got on base with an OBP of .368. In 2019, the Brewers were fifth in the NL in OBP but dropped to twelfth in 2020. The addition of Kolten Wong will positively impact the team’s ability to get on base. In 2019 and 2020, his OBP was .361 and .350, respectively. Playing Wong at second will also allow Keston Hiura to move to first. This move enables his bat and on-base skills to stay in the lineup and leaves Vogelbach with his low OBP as the odd man out. It will be interesting to see how much the ball changes and how teams and players adjust. Even though there will be fewer of them, we still dig the longball.