Home runs are down and so is scoring after the first quarter of the Major League Baseball season. Is this a trend that we will continue to observe all summer, or are these initial numbers an aberration?
There are a few things that are different this MLB season. The baseballs appear to once again be changed. Yet the biggest complaints appear to be coming from pitchers who are finding more of the baseballs with indented laces that make the ball harder to grip. That would seem to benefit the hitters.
All 30 stadiums have installed humidors this season, up from the ten stadiums that had humidors last year. Humidors are climate-controlled chambers where the baseballs are stored to prevent them from drying out. A dryer baseball has more bounce off the bat, so baseballs that have been stored at average humidity helps the pitchers.
The wild card this season was the abbreviated three-week spring training that became necessary to play a complete 162-game season after the start of the season was delayed by the labor lockout. The shorter preparation time would appear to negatively impact pitchers’ usual development and progress in getting to their full velocity. Yet perhaps the hitters were hurt by fewer at-bats in the spring?
The hitting numbers are clearly down. Teams are averaging 4.18 runs per game (through May 22nd, courtesy of Todd Zola from ESPN for all the seasonal data in this article). That is a six-year low, with the scoring average peaking in 2019 during that span with a 4.63 runs per game average. There are 0.97 home runs per game, another six-year low after peaking in 2019 with 1.33 home runs per game on average. The league-wide batting average of .236 is a six-year low as well after 2016 and 2017 had league-wide batting averages of .251.
The humidors seem to be having their intended effect. The average flyball distance this season is 314.4 feet, down from 318.6 feet last year. The six-year high took place in 2019 when the average fly ball traveled 323.5 feet. The average exit velocity for fly balls is 92.1 miles per hour this season after the previous three years had average exit velocities of 92.3 mph, 92.3 mph, and 92.5 mph last year.
Yet there is evidence that these lower-scoring trends are turning around. When comparing the April 7th opening day to April 30th data to the May 1st through May 22nd numbers, the hitting numbers are up. Home runs are up 15.6% this month, the largest increase from April in the last six years. Batting averages are up 4.2% this month, the second-biggest jump in May in the last six seasons behind last year’s 5.4% improvement in May. Runs are up 7.3% this month, the second-highest increase behind last year’s 10.3% rise in scoring in May.
These numbers are important for us when considering over/unders in baseball. VSiN reports that the Under is 362-321-38 through May 30th this season. While that 53% percentage to the under is consistent with the lower hitting numbers this season, it is interesting to note that the under was hitting at a 60% clip a month ago. As the May hitting numbers improved, more overs were coming in.
Given these recent improvements in hitting numbers, bettors should beware of playing unders exclusively because of the negative impact of the league-wide humidors. Perhaps the hitters were farther behind than the pitchers after all after the three-week spring training, yet the batters have finally caught up.
Good luck - TDG.