It is official. The league has pulled the plug on power. With slightly less than 20% of the season completed, the question everybody is asking is "Where are the homeruns?"
A comprehensive analysis by San Antonio Ken Adadry notes that average home run production is down 30% over last year and roughly 36% over the years before. Projected statistics of all major batting categories show no no change year over year in AVG or OBP, nor average total hits, walks or strikeouts, doubles or triples. The impression is that home runs are simply turning into singles. Average SLG and by turn OPS, have dropped as a direct result of the lower numbers of homeruns being hit.
A different analyst presents a different interpretation, although the overall lack of power is confirmed across the league. According to Seth Zooba of the Iowa City Baseball Insider, the numbers do show a decrease in overall power, but it is not as clear that homers have simply turned into singles. "We have seen big hitters barely hitting it out of the infield, never mind out of the park. The "across the board" decrease in power probably reflects that homers are turning into doubles, previous doubles into singles... while sharply hit singles are still singles. If you look at a guy like Parker McIntire, a guy that will likely give you 650 at bats - in the past he has hit 50+ HRs and 20-25 doubles. This year, his avg is typically Parkeresque (.347), but he is on pace to hit 15-20 HRs and 35-40 doubles. I think by season's end, we will see things stabilize to resemble last season, when a roughly 20% decrease in homeruns was seen... but the era of guys hitting 70+ homeruns is gone. This season's lack of power has been incredible."
The trend is reminiscent of the drop in triples seen between seasons 2 and 3. Baseball was played differently back then - aggresive base running and poor defense amounted to lots of triples in the league for the first two seasons, averaging >100 triples per team. Amphetamine use was reportedly rampant across the league, but by season 3, teams were averaging 20-25 triples per team.
"It's as if overnight, the gods of baseball collided to take away offensive advantages and rearrange the way the game is played - we see different leaders in the leader boards, different standings and very likely, a different amount of value placed on a player's attributes", Zooba said.
Why this sudden drop in power (slugging and OPS) is seen across the league is unknown, but some cite stricter testing for performance enhancing drugs, the standardized use of humidors for storing baseballs in all major league ballparks, better pitching across the league and significantly more experienced owner and GMs putting together teams with improved pitching... or then again, it is just too early to tell and it will all even out by season's end.