You just don’t see contact hitters like that anymore. It’s all about launch angle now. The game is different.
If you follow baseball, you have likely heard phrases similar to these uttered by the TV commentators or your fellow fans.
It is common for baseball junkies to reference the changing times in the Major Leagues, noting that steals totals are dwindling or that strikeout rates are on the rise.
This season being the 50th anniversary of the mound lowering, I think it is appropriate to discuss baseball’s transformation. Home runs, strikeouts, walks, steals, etc. – what types of changes have occurred over the past 10 years? 25 years? 50 years?
Over the next several days I hope to explore several of the ways the game of baseball has evolved. I’m saving the best for first – home runs! Let’s dive into some numbers.
Most Home Runs League Wide in one Season: 6,105 (2017)
Fewest Home Runs League Wide in one Season*: 2,235 (1976)
Most Single-Season Home Runs by one Player: 73 (Barry Bonds, 2001)
This is the first stat that everyone brings up when talking about the “new baseball”. It is for good reason. Home runs are prevalent these days, to say the least.
Back in 1968, the Year of the Pitcher, hitters struggled. To make things more difficult for the pitchers and increase offense, the league decided to lower the mound before the 1969 season. The asterisk next to the “Fewest Home Runs …” indicates that this is the fewest cumulative homers post-1968.
Offensive numbers saw a small resurgence and were then helped again by the addition of the designated hitter to the American League in 1973. Even with these two drastic boosts to offense, home run numbers were quite low throughout the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s – with roughly half the number of homers that we are used to seeing in today’s game.
Then came the Steroid Era. With a large number of hitters believed to be juicing in the 90s and early 2000s, fans were treated to the greatest individual displays of power in hardball history.
Prior to the mound being lowered, only 2 players in history had ever hit 60 home runs in one season: Yankee greats Roger Maris (61 in 1961) and Babe Ruth (60 in 1927).
Because of the mound alteration, dingers were supposed to pick back up in 1969 but they did not. Only once was the 50-homer plateau reached in the 1970s. This was when the Reds George Foster hit 52 in an MVP 1977 season.
Fans sitting beyond the outfield fences in the 1980s felt even safer, as no player was able to mash 50 bombs in a season that decade. The 1980s was the first decade in which there were no 50-home run seasons since the 1910s.
When 1990 rolled around, there had been just one 50-homer season in the past two-and-a-half decades.
Cecil Fielder ushered in the new decade with 51 roundtrippers in 1990. It would take a while before Fielder’s performance was matched, but Mark McGwire finally hit 52 in 1996.
Then the dam burst.
McGwire was joined by the Orioles Brady Anderson in 1996 who hit 50 himself. This began a streak of 4 straight seasons with multiple 50-home run hitters and 7 straight seasons with at least one.
Maris’ record of 61 homers had stood for 37 years before being shattered on 6 separate occasions in a 3-year span. Here is what the current list of single-season home run leaders looks like.
Poor Roger. Steroids or not, the trio of Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa did a number on the record books. Maris’ 1961 season quickly dropped from 1st to the 7th-best home run performance.
2019 Home Run Outlook
More and more hitters are swinging for the fences these days. I’ll talk about this more in the future, but 2018 was the first season in MLB history in which there were more strikeouts than hits.
All of these swings from the heels are producing more bombs. Here are the top-5 MLB seasons in cumulative home runs.
The key takeaway from this table is that the top-5 home run seasons were all from 1999 to the present. In fact, the top 22 home run seasons occurred in either the 1990s, 2000s, or 2010s.
If you do some simple math, you will find the HR/PA (home runs per plate appearance) for the record 2017 season was .033 homers per appearance.
Guess what it is for the first portion of 2019 … .034 homers per appearance.
So yes, you read that correctly. We are on pace for another record setting home run season.
Singles are worthless now. Stolen bases are going out of style, as are .300 hitters.
Like it or not, dingers are king, boppers.