Hey. Offense is up, Giancarlo Stanton is smashing dingers, and balls are flying over the fence with abandon like the previous five years did not even happen. At 12.9 percent, the current league-wide HR/FB is at its highest since, well, ever.
I'll say that again – for as long as FanGraphs has batted ball data, there has never been a full-season HR/FB this high.
Hard contact is also at an all-time high, so it doesn't seem to be a fluke. The interesting thing is that HR/FB rate has not come with more popups; the IFFB rate is holding steady compared to the last few years. It has brought an increasing strikeout rate, which is over 20 percent league-wide now.
A few teams, like the Royals, are really feeling the pain in this run environment. The Royals are built to allow lots of fly balls in a spacious stadium that get gobbled up by an outfield defense that covers everything; unfortunately, Chris Young has allowed around 189 home runs. Ian Kennedy has also allowed a bunch of dingers. The Royals rotation is barely holding together – an elite outfield defense can't rocket jump to snag dingers from the air.
The Dodgers, on the other hand, are doing just fine. Despite a huge drop in ground-ball rate among their starters, their overall home run rate has not really suffered. Indeed, they stand apart from the rest of MLB. The following visual shows the difference between this year's and last year's HR/FB and GB% among starters by team plotted on a scatterplot.
There are a couple things here. First, only five teams have seen a decrease in HR/FB, whereas the GB rate change is more variable. Second, the Dodgers! They've seen a 9.1 percentage point decrease in ground-ball rate and a one percentage point decrease in HR/FB rate. The second-closest decrease in ground-ball rate belongs to the Pirates at four percent, but their HR/FB has increased by 5.1 percentage points. Allowing more fly balls and allowing more of them to fly over the fence is a recipe for lots of runs.
The Dodgers accomplished this change in a few ways. Clayton Kershaw's HR/FB is down a bit from 10.1 percent to 7.4 percent. Brett Anderson threw 180.1 innings in 31 starts last year. He had a 66.3 percent ground-ball rate and 17.0 percent HR/FB. Anderson has thrown zero innings this year. The innings of Zack Greinke, who leaned ground ball and limited dingers, and Anderson have been replaced by Kenta Maeda and Scott Kazmir. Maeda and Kazmir's HR/FB in aggregate is roughly similar to Anderson and Greinke's, but the former pair are much, much more fly ball than the latter.
Alex Wood's GB rate and HR/FB rate are both down a bit. Mike Bolsinger and Carlos Frias, whose ground-ball rates were well above 50 percent, gave way to Julio Urias and Ross Stripling, whose ground-ball rates and HR/FB are lower.
Somehow, the Dodgers found a way to increase the denominator but not the numerator, relatively speaking. That could change in the upcoming weeks; Brandon McCarthy has returned from TJS. His last two significant seasons by innings pitched contained lots of grounders and a high-ish HR/FB. The Dodgers also traded for Bud Norris, who had difficulty with the long ball last year. However, Norris this year has been shifting more toward ground balls and has a more normal HR/FB.
The small shifts have worked very well despite the patchwork nature of the rotation. The Dodgers currently lead MLB starters in fWAR, though a significant portion of that belongs to the injured Kershaw. Their ERA- sits at 95, 8th best in MLB, but their xFIP- is at 85, number one in the league. The performance of the Dodgers rotation is not due to any luck with home runs. They've legitimately earned their place; in fact, one could say they've been a bit unlucky. Their 82 FIP- is tied for first in MLB with the Mets and is much lower than their ERA-.
And remember, this doesn't even count Kenley Jansen, whose been dominant with a 30.4 ground ball rate and miniscule 2.3 percent HR/FB. A cursory glance at the Dodgers relievers shows something similar. Out of the top eight fellows in innings pitched (20+ innings) in the Dodgers bullpen, only two, J.P. Howell and Pedro Baez, generate ground balls at a high frequency.
The Dodgers have found a way to allow more fly balls but have dodged the league-wide increase in dingers... welp, good thing this article is over.
Kevin Ruprecht is the Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. He also writes at Royals Review.
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