Home Runs and Strikeouts

There has been a lot of talk in the baseball world about the abundance of both home runs and strikeouts. The former seems to come from the “juiced” ball this year as well as increasing effort by players to focus on “hitting it outta the park.”

That effort also appears responsible for the increase in strikeouts — which obviously can’t be blamed on the ball. Some think the increased focus on high-tech stats, the ability to record “launch angle” and “exit velocity” (not to mention distance), is responsible. Players are chasing the “long ball.”

So I thought I’d make some charts and see for myself.

The bottom line is that the last hundred (and nineteen) years have absolutely seen a striking rise in both home runs and strikeouts.

The charts speak for themselves (click for big).

First the home runs:

And then the strikeouts:

Some of this is due to improvements in player training and skill. Some of the rise may be due to the use of steroids or other performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).

The use of PEDs goes far back into baseball history, but seems to have become more prevalent starting around 1990. And, sure enough, there seems a notable rise from that time.

The leveling off around 2000 may be due to increased efforts on the part of Major League Baseball to eliminate their use. The most recent rise may involve high-tech steroids that manage to fly under the radar. (There is an arms race between steroid detection and undetectable steroids.)

In any event, home runs are definitely at an all-time high.

§

My Minnesota Twins have been a big part of the home run festival.

In fact, with 261 HR on the season, they’re currently number one of the 30 teams in the MLB. The number two team, our nemesis, the New York Yankees, has just 250.

Pretty good for a team that’s mostly sucked balls since 2010.

The last time they hit a lot of HR was in 1963, when they hit 225. (The very next year, 1964, they hit 221.)

What sweetens the deal considerably is that, despite the increase in strikeouts, the Twins rank seventh in least number of strikeouts (1091). They rank fourth in strikeout rate (20.76%).

FWIW, their HR rate is 4.97% — also the highest in the MLB.

(Rates are per Plate Appearance.)

§

My Twins have had a pretty good season — certainly a far better season than they’ve had since I started following them seriously in 2010.

Many of the intervening years are some of their worst seasons in franchise history. (2016 was their worst year ever.) So this has been very nice to see.

There’s a good chance they’ll win the Division title, although Cleveland is breathing down their necks.

If they do take the title, they’ll likely face either (or both) the Houston Astros and/or the New York Yankees, the current clear leaders (by a lot) in their Divisions.

So I don’t have high hopes for making to the World Series, but you never know. They gone (and won!) with worse records than they currently have (a .525 win percentage in 1987 and .586 in 1991 — they’re currently at .617 and looking good).

That said, they slumped a bit in the middle third of the season and, while they look better in the last third, they’re still not back to where they were in the first third. (I figure they over-performed then, slumped in the middle, and may now be playing at roughly their true level.)

For the record, their win percentages for the thirds: .685, .537, and .591 (so far — 29 games remain to be played in the last third).

§

That mid-season slump, along with some other perceived weaknesses, caused me to never quite buy in to the idea of “going all the way.”

One conventional wisdom is to not buy in until the All-Star Game break in early July. If your team is still really strong then, you can believe. The Twins were in mid-slump then, so I held off believing.

And, sure enough, Cleveland is nipping at our heels.

They got ahead of us briefly in early August, but the Twins regained their lead, which is (as of today) 3.5 games.

So,… maybe?

I wouldn’t be surprised to win the Division. How far they go from their remains to be seen. But who knows! Baseball is funny that way.

Stay slugging, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

8 responses to “Home Runs and Strikeouts

  • Wyrd Smythe

    You might well ask: “How do the Minnesota Twins fare compared to the rest of the MLB?

    Here’s the answer on home runs:

    [MLB-Min-SO]

    And on strikeouts:

    [MLB-Min-SO]

    Note how the Twins (blue line) are above the MLB (this year) on home runs and below on strikeouts!

    (I whipped these two charts up quickly and forgot to change the Y-axis. The data isn’t number-per-game but percentage-by-plate-appearance. The latter is, to my mind, a far better stat.)

    • Wyrd Smythe

      One thing about that blue line… the Twins weren’t the Twins until 1961. Prior to that, they were the Washington (D.C.) Senators.

      Who, as you can see, kinda sucked. The team got a lot better once they moved to Minnesota

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Looking at those graphs, you have to wonder where the saturation point will be.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I know, right? Especially the strikeouts recently.

      There is a limit: 100%. Alternately, with three outs per inning (and nine innings), there could only be a max of 27 strikeouts per game. (Which would be a “perfect game” for the pitcher — a major accomplishment!)

      However there is no limit on home runs! Fortunately they’re still a lot harder to pull off — the average is still under two per game. I suspect they’ll fix the ball next year (they’ve proven now that, for reasons that aren’t clear, the balls this season have much less drag… maybe something to do with the stitching).

      Saturation would be ridiculous and mutually exclusive; batters can’t both always strikeout and always hit a HR. I suppose it could rise to 50/50 or 33/66 or something.

      Personally, I really hate the modern trend — it’s oriented towards the casual fan that just wants to see homers. I miss “small ball” — base hits to get runners on and then to move them along for runs. For a real fan, that’s the real game.

      Home runs are momentary excitement, but actually kind of boring in the long run. As it stands, nearly one-in-four batters is striking out, which just isn’t that fun to watch.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Thanks. I thought there might be a zero sum dynamic here, with increasing stats in one category meaning that stats in another had to be lower.

        It seems like the ones we’re seeing increase represent an optimization of both pitchers and batters. The batters get better, so that when they connect, the chance of a home run situation is higher, but the pitcher getting better means it’s much more difficult to connect.

        I can see why you’d hate this trend. It seems like it leads to nothing much happening for long stretches, punctuated by the occasional exciting event. I’m not a sports watcher, but I do find football easier to watch because stuff is usually happening on a regular basis. (For American football at least. I find soccer immensely boring.) Baseball might be better served if they could find a way to make the average play more significant.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        In baseball there is what is known as the three true outcomes — hitting a HR, striking out, or walking. The idea is that these outcomes do not put the ball in play. Attraction to this idea is one factor in the rise of HRs and Ks (K=striKeout).

        Some of it is, as you say, due to improvements in training as well as in approach. The ability to track launch angle and exit velocity enables batters to work on improving those. Slow motion photography, and video in general, allows both pitchers and batters to focus on improving.

        I think Major League pitching and batting is probably close to what humans are capable of, and we may see diminishing returns at some point. A fastball goes from pitcher to batter in about 0.4 seconds, the very limit of human perception I think. Batters need to identify the pitch and decide to swing in less time then that (maybe about 0.2 seconds).

        “I can see why you’d hate this trend. It seems like it leads to nothing much happening for long stretches, punctuated by the occasional exciting event.”

        Exactly. Although it can be fun to watch a good pitcher work.

        I’m not an American football fan for many reasons, but there definitely is more action, although in football there’s all that time between downs. The soccer-like sports (basketball, hockey, lacrosse, and soccer itself) are all action, which I find enervating. All that activity just makes me numb.

        The thing about baseball is that you can have a conversation during the game and fully enjoy both the conversation and the game. There is also a lot more strategy to a baseball game — the sport is actually extremely subtle.

        (In fact, I’ve come to believe that the outcome of any single game is almost entirely a matter of chance. That’s why a baseball season is 162 games long. It takes that many games for the better teams to stand out.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        That is one thing I like about baseball. If it ever does come down to one game, it means the two teams were probably about evenly matched. American football often does come down to one game, and chance is a major factor, but the players’ bodies can’t stand more than once a week, so often the one game can be heavily influenced by chance events.

        Of course, a lot of fans see that as a plus. And the drama is probably part of what makes football more popular.

        I’m with you on being numbed by basketball, hockey, or soccer. There’s constant action, but you have to wait a long time before a significant event happens. (In the case of soccer, it might only happen two or three times in a whole game.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “If it ever does come down to one game, it means the two teams were probably about evenly matched.”

        Such as, for instance, the seventh game of the World Series. Or any series, really. Usually teams play three-game series during the season, although there are two-game and four-game series.

        Many fans dislike the Wildcard games, since those are one-game winner take all. (I think it’s best to view them as a tie-breaking game #163 — something that happens when two teams tie in a Division.)

        As I understand it, the American football season is just 16 games and teams play each other just once during the season. In contrast, we’ve played the White Sox 16 times this season with comparable numbers for other teams in our Division. We play all the other American League teams about six times. And play a few National League teams four times — usually a pair of two-game series, one in each team’s ballpark.

        It does make for a long season, and after the World Series, I’m ready for no baseball for several months. But come February, I start missing it and begin looking forward to the new season. Watching a baseball game, for me, is almost a form of meditation.

        “(In the case of soccer, it might only happen two or three times in a whole game.)”

        Heh, yeah. To the point it’s become something of a standing joke!

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