Tuesday, 9 Aug, 2022

So You Just Crushed A Baseball. Sorry, Your Odds Of A Home Run Are Worse This Year.

MLB So You Just Crushed A Baseball. Sorry, Your Odds Of A Home Run Are Worse This Year. By Neil..

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So You Just Crushed A Baseball. Sorry, Your Odds Of A Home Run Are Worse This Year.

The balls just aren’t the same this year.

Nuccio DiNuzzo / Getty Images

If home run numbers are chief among baseball’s vital signs, you can understand why onlookers are worried about the game early this season. After an unprecedented five-year power surge, MLB-wide homers per game are down by more than 20 percent from last season and by more than 30 percent from their all-time high in 2019. While we haven’t yet wrapped up the month of May — and power numbers tend to increase as the temperature rises in summer months — it’s clear even now that we are looking at a significantly downgraded season for the long ball in 2022.

And as usual in recent MLB history, the baseball itself is probably to blame. Before the 2021 season, it was reported that the league planned to make “subtle” changes to the ball, deadening it in response to the home run barrage of the previous few seasons. The league also began phasing in a plan for every team to store game balls in humidors, which regulate the amount of moisture maintained in the ball itself. Though these measures were supposedly meant to standardize the baseball across every team and playing environment, cracks in that theory emerged last fall when Insider’s Bradford William Davis reported that MLB used multiple versions of the ball within the 2021 season. In typical fashion, nobody had any idea what to expect from the ball going into 2022.

So far, it seems that MLB’s changes, whatever they may be, have had significant effects on how the ball behaves. As Jim Albert and Alan Nathan wrote at FanGraphs earlier this month, the 2022 baseball appears to have a much higher drag coefficient than in previous years. This value, imputed from MLB’s own Statcast measurements of exit velocity and launch angle, quantifies how efficiently (or inefficiently) the ball moves through the air in an aerodynamic sense — so a ball with more drag would face more air resistance and ultimately carry a shorter distance, all else being equal.

In other words, the greater the drag, the fewer the home runs.

We can see this in stark terms just by looking at a fly ball’s probability of becoming a home run based on how hard it is hit. Generally speaking, fly balls hit with an exit velocity of 114 miles per hour or higher almost always leave the yard, no matter what strange tweaks Rob Manfred has made to the baseball. And fly balls hit with an exit velo under 90 mph practically never go out, with few exceptions in the eight years Statcast has been tracking this data. But within the range in between, there are some very interesting differences in home run probability for this season’s early results versus previous years.

Balls are being hit hard — but they’re not leaving the yard

Probability of a fly ball becoming a home run by exit velocity through May 22, 2022, versus the same date range in the 2017-21 seasons

2022 season 2017-21 seasons*
Exit Velocity (mph) Fly Balls HR HR% Fly Balls HR HR%
110 or higher 116 108 93.1% 513 492 95.9%
105-110 551 405 73.5 2,301 1,854 80.6
100-105 1,284 434 33.8 5,132 2,330 45.4
95-100 1,544 140 9.1 6,535 874 13.4
90-95 1,459 14 1.0 6,180 124 2.0
85-90 1,165 1 0.1 4,836 9 0.2
Under 85 1,825 0 0.0 7,446 0 0.0

*Does not include 2020 (when no April or May games were played).

Source: Baseball Savant

For instance, in April and most of May1 during the 2017-21 seasons (excluding 2020 because no games were played those months), a fly ball hit between 100 and 105 mph had a 45 percent chance of leaving the ballpark, peaking at 52 percent in 2017. Now? That rate is down to just 34 percent. The same was true for every grouping of 5-mph increments in the table above — balls hit with the same amount of power according to Statcast have a smaller chance of turning into home runs, sometimes significantly so.

If we zoom in on even more specific ranges (bucketing exit velocities in increments of 2 mph), we can see a major dip in home run odds specifically for balls hit with what had previously been around 50-50 homer potential. From 2017 through 2021, a fly ball struck with an exit velocity between 104 and 106 mph had a 69 percent chance of leaving the yard; now that rate is down to 57 percent. A similar difference is seen for balls hit between 102 and 104 mph (down from 52 percent to 41 percent) and balls hit between 100 and 102 mph (down from 33 percent to just 21 percent).

Overall, balls with an exit velo between 100 and 106 mph have gone from a 48.7 percent chance of leaving the yard to a mere 37.3 percent chance. Essentially, the 2022 baseball has taken borderline home runs and nerfed them into being harmless flyouts more often than not.

Previously borderline HRs are now staying in the ballpark

Difference in probability of a fly ball becoming a home run by exit velocity through May 22, 2022, versus the same date range in the 2017-21 seasons

HR probability
Exit Velocity (mph) 2022 2017-21* Diff.
114 or higher 100.0% 100.0% 0.0%
112-114 89.3 97.4 -8.2
110-112 93.5 94.6 -1.1
108-110 87.0 90.5 -3.5
106-108 73.5 79.2 -5.7
104-106 57.0 68.8 -11.9
102-104 41.2 51.6 -10.4
100-102 20.7 33.3 -12.5
98-100 15.0 19.0 -4.0
96-98 6.7 11.6 -4.9
94-96 1.9 5.3 -3.5
92-94 1.0 1.7 -0.7
90-92 0.7 1.1 -0.3
Under 90 0.0 0.1 0.0

*Does not include 2020 (when no April or May games were played).

Source: Baseball Savant

This backs up what players — especially batters (for reasons that should be obvious) — have been saying all season long.

“The ball ain’t the same as it used to be,” Milwaukee Brewers designated hitter Andrew McCutchen told ESPN in early May. “I used to be 165 pounds soaking wet here, flicking balls out. [Now] I’ve hit some that don’t continue to keep going. Then we’re having conversations like, ‘How did this guy have an exit velo of 96 with a launch angle of 31, and his ball went out, and I had an exit velo of 100 and 28 launch angle and mine didn’t go out?’ … Baseball players aren’t getting any weaker.”

Among the people whose livelihoods depend on the baseball, MLB’s constant tinkering (and the maddening lack of transparency over the changes being made) has created a ripe environment for conspiratorial thinking — like when New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso said the league manipulates the ball’s properties to suppress free-agent salaries, or when his teammates suggested that primetime national-TV games get a ball that travels further. It doesn’t help that previous theories, like the idea of a dejuiced ball being used in the 2019 postseason after a record-setting regular season for home runs, ended up being true. (If not necessarily intentional.) The more MLB messes with the ball, the more problems it seems to create.

Of course, there is a long history of juiced-ball conspiracies to be bandied about in baseball history. Though MLB officially denies it, the end of the original dead-ball era in the late 1910s may have come about with the introduction of a livelier baseball, and the ball has been singled out as bouncier at various different times ever since (perhaps most notably during the “rabbit-ball” summer of 1987). There is even evidence that changes to the ball may have played a surprisingly large role in the 1990s-era power spikes that are generally attributed to steroid use instead. If baseball has a baseball problem right now, in many ways that would simply be par for the course throughout the sport’s long history.

But that does little to assuage concerns about the effects of a deadened ball in 2022. Whether done intentionally, accidentally or a little of both — since we know small changes to the ball can have outsized (and often unintended) consequences — it’s clear that this year’s baseball is carrying less on the same quality of contact, and it’s turning into a lot fewer home runs as a result.

Check out our latest MLB predictions.

By: Neil Paine
Title: So You Just Crushed A Baseball. Sorry, Your Odds Of A Home Run Are Worse This Year.
Sourced From: fivethirtyeight.com/features/so-you-just-crushed-a-baseball-sorry-your-odds-of-a-home-run-are-worse-this-year/
Published Date: Tue, 24 May 2022 14:00:00 +0000

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