Whether it’s good for the game at large is a matter for debate, but the juiced baseballs seem to be helping this edition of the Atlanta Braves.
I’m just going to make a declaration here: the 2019 baseballs are juiced.. and the Atlanta Braves are taking advantage of that.
What’s interesting is that the baseball has probably been juiced for the past 3 seasons as well, but until this year it hadn’t gotten as much notice.
Allow, please, Exhibit A: number of batters hitting 20+ homers in a season.
- 2009 – 87
- 2010 – 77
- 2011 – 68
- 2012 – 79
- 2013 – 70
- 2014 – 57
- 2015 – 64
- 2016 – 111
- 2017 – 117
- 2018 – 100
As for 2019, please allow a conservative projection:
At this point in the 2019 season, several teams have played their 70th games. Many more 69 or fewer. So let’s use the ’70’ mark and declare that the season is 43.2% complete.
For a hitter to be on pace to hit 20 homers, then, he should already be at 8.64 dingers… except that this is impossible, of course, so once again, let’s be conservative and suggest that only those hitters with 9+ homers are on pace to reach 20 for the year.
Courtesy of baseball-reference’s play index, I can tell you that there are already 131 of them.
That would obliterate the prior record of 117 by 12%… and yes: those were conservatively projected figures.
You can argue on the merits of this trend all you want – I’m not here to suggest that this is a good thing. In fact, I might argue that a line drive is a much better indicator of a good hitter than is someone who hits a pop fly that somehow ends up in the outfield seats.
But the reason I wanted to check on this topic came from an ex-player… and his view is worthy of pondering for a bit:
Well, there is an easy (though superficial) answer to Kevin Youkilis: PED’s allow a single player to cheat, which creates a private advantage. “PEB’s” (I like that term) give the advantage to everyone… and that at least keeps the playing field level for everyone.
The Braves’ Advantage
There are some anomalies on this subject that apply specifically to the Atlanta Braves:
- Austin Riley would hit homers out of any park no matter how hard the ball is. Heck, he could probably whack the rosin bag far enough for Sam Holbrook to eliminate ‘Infield Fly Rule’ from his vocabulary.
- Dansby Swanson was surgically repaired in the off-season. That alone is making him a much better hitter. That said, I don’t know how many of use would have tabbed him for 13 homers on the entire season… much less that he already has that total right now.
If was are to accept that “131” figure from above and then distribute the homer-hitters equally, then every team of the 30 would expect to have 4 hitters with 9+ homers right now… nearly half of the clubs getting a 5th such hitter to fill out the extra 11 left over.
In fact, the only (current) regular starter – other than the platooned catchers – that isn’t in this group is Nick Markakis: he has “just” 6 dingers thus far.
This is a potent lineup because there are bats available that are taking advantage of this juiced baseball.
I will double-down on that statement in this way: in 2019, it pays to have an extra ‘bat’ in the order precisely because of the power potential that virtually everyone has.
That certainly includes Riley, who’s hitting homers at triple the pace of Freddie Freeman (leading the club with 19). But it also includes Josh Donaldson, who has 10 of them despite hitting only .235.
Atlanta’s team homer record (since arriving in the deep South) is 235, set by the 2003 Braves. That group of prodigious pounders of pelotas included:
- Javy Lopez (43)
- Gary Sheffield (39)
- Andruw Jones (36)
- Chipper Jones (27)
- Vinny Castilla (22)
- Marcus Giles (21)
There it is …. 6 players with 20 or more homers that season out of just 86 for all of major league baseball.
At this time, the 2019 edition of the Braves has hit 103. In projecting the remaining 56.8% of the season… that team record is in danger.
The Braves are now on a pace to hit 238.4 homers… and note that Austin Riley wasn’t even called up until after the first month!
I don’t know how the season will progress from here, but as suggested, the Braves seem well-positioned to take advantage of this situation… and by all means: they should.
Meanwhile: don’t be so hard on the pitchers that give up these bombs. They may not actually be able to help it!