This season is different. The offense is down across the board and we’re seeing hitters having a lot of trouble hitting for power. These aren’t unprecedented times, but we’ve gotten so used to the juiced-ball-homer-happy era that going back to the days of the early 2010s feels very odd.
Certainly some of the low numbers on offense can be attributed to the early months of the season, the cold weather and short spring training. But it seems most of the blame goes to baseball’s structure and the presence of humidors in all 30 stadiums.
Well, these humidors don’t have the same impact all year round. Their effect depends on the humidity in the stadium – if I understand correctly, they can even help the offensive a little in some situations. We could end up getting pretty close to last year’s numbers again, but for now it seems performance numbers are going to be harder to come by.
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Performance statistics for 2022
At this point, the league is only cutting .234/.307/.376 with a home run every 38.8 plate appearances. In 2021, it was .244/.317/.411 with a homer every 30.6 plate appearances. So it takes eight extra plate appearances to expect to hit a home run now, a significant change. If we zoom in, we find that most of the differences are in flyballs. Here are some flyball performance numbers compared to last season.
So we know that flyball performance has dropped and we can be pretty confident that it will remain low compared to recent seasons. Now let’s find out who this affects the most. I’ve done a few checks on the data to see what we can find.
Expected wOBA on Fly Balls
This is a pretty rough first cut, but it’s interesting to see. I looked at xwOBA on Flyballs and compared 2021 to 2022. We still have some guys with very few flyballs hit this year and I’ve only narrowed this down to players who hit at least 10 flyballs this year so we’re certainly still dealing with a lot of variance here. Here is the leaderboard.
You can sort these columns or search there for the player you want. Every data point you see here, especially the 2022 markers, could be the result of things other than baseball. Perhaps these players were simply hitting more flyballs at angles beyond optimal range than they were a year ago. It would be irresponsible to say that just because a hitter has a much lower xwOBA on flyballs this year compared to last year, it’s definitely a result of the new baseball and humidors hurting him – that’s what I’m trying to do here to say.
Now let’s keep that in mind and move on to the next metric.
Home runs per flyball
Now let’s do the same thing but compare each player’s home run rate per flyball. As we saw at the beginning, last year about 17% of flyballs went for home runs, and in 2022 it’s less than 14%. 15% seems like a good benchmark for what is “normal,” but of course not every hitter has that expectation – guys who hit the ball harder will have the ability to see more of their fly balls flying over a fence. Here are the dates.
Once again, we don’t know right away what explains the big differences we’re seeing here just based on what I’ve shown so far. This would be easily explained by a batsman just hitting the ball a lot less hard in 2022, which wouldn’t really account for changes in baseball. I’m not making any statements with this data, we’ll get to it!
Same starting attributes, worse results
Next, I found players whose fly balls look like this:
- Similar average exit velocity
- Similar average launch angle
- Much worse results
I’m no physicist, but I’m pretty confident that the changes in baseball won’t make much of a difference until the ball is put in play.
“A moving object will tend to keep moving unless acted upon by Rob Manfred and/or a humidor” – JonPGH Newton
What this means to me is that if we isolate players who fly about the same amount right off the bat but see much worse results, then we could probably blame more of the environmental changes. So I did that, let’s see some results.
We didn’t get many results here because I added so many parameters. I only looked for hitters that had speed differences of two miles per hour or less and angle differences of three degrees or less (in either direction).
We see a mix of hitter “types” here. Seth Brown and Rhys Hoskins top the list and they’re some heavy swingers. I didn’t think baseball would have a huge impact on their power given the raw swing speed they possess. What seems to be the case there is that these two guys were throwing their flyballs really high in the air. The average flyball is hit at about 37 degrees, these two are both averaging 39 degrees on flyballs this season. Not vastly above average (the highest values we’ve seen for average flyball angle are 42-44), but certainly above.
We also see the more suspicious players here like Trea Turner, Yuli Gurriel, Dylan Carlson and Harrison Bader. People who don’t hit balls over 110 mph with much frequency rely heavily on line drives for their home runs. Let’s expand on these two things a little.
Angular Range Analysis
I looked at all the home runs made in 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2022 and looked at the details of their starting angle distribution. Here is the table:
These numbers are all angles measured in degrees.
What you can see here is that in 2022, the range of angles at which home runs are hit has narrowed. The minimum angle is the highest of any year and the maximum is the lowest. Well, both of those things could very well be caused by the fact that we’re only five weeks old and haven’t seen nearly as many home runs, there’s going to be a lot more opportunity to set new minis and maxes this year.
The most important number here is the standard deviation. The standard deviation is a measure of how spread out a set of numbers is. The lower the standard deviation, the narrower the data range. This number is derived from the entire data set, not just the minimum and maximum – so it tells us much more.
We see that the standard deviation in 2019 and 2021 was much, much higher than in 2018 and 2022. This means there is less room for error here, clubs will want to be very close to that optimal angle (about 25 -30 degrees). for a chance at a homer.
There are currently 13 hitters who have hit 20 or more flyballs with an average angle greater than 40 degrees this year. They are:
Yasmani Grandal, Mitch Garver, Eduardo Escobar, Alex Bregman, JT Realmuto, Hunter Dozier, Carlos Santana, Salvador Perez, Bobby Dalbec, Byron Buxton, Nolan Arenado, Adam Duvall, Yuli Gurriel
Launch angle isn’t a very “sticky” stat, meaning these numbers are prone to randomness and can change quickly, but right now this list of players are hitting their flyballs well above the optimal angle range.
performance of the line drive
Here are the percentages of line trips that have gone for home runs in the last three [full] seasons:
So we’re on the other side of the angle range now and another major difference in 2022. It was a lot harder to get a cord drive over the fence. Here are your line drive rate guides so far for 2022. These hitters can certainly be counted on for extra base hits and batting average (line drives are the best-battered ball type for this), but they homer less than in see if these quotas remain as they are over the past few years.
I realize there isn’t a lot of actionable advice here. But I think we continued to demonstrate the idea that it’s a lot harder to hit a home run this year. So after the guys who hit flyballs really, really hard, we should be extra aggressive. Conversely, don’t expect a lot of home runs to come from the easier swinging line drive types, even from previously reliable power sources like Trea Turner and Marcus Semien.
I would definitely be willing to pay a little more than normal for a Rowdy Tellez (cheap) or Giancarlo Stanton (expensive) type player who isn’t badly affected by the changing circumstances. I also think there’s a lot less use for a guy like, say, Jorge Polanco – who won’t steal a lot of bases for you and probably won’t do much home runs this year.
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