In September, Major League Baseball passed the all-time record for home runs in a season. Devin Fink outlined the specifics in an article that day, pointing out that the heaviest of hitters dominated the 2000 season. Over the course of the last ten years however, the home run rate had been raised for every position and player, espiecally in the last two years.
Going back only ten years, the average player hit 19.5 home runs. In 2017, that number exploded to 25.1, an increase of nearly a third!
The trend is clear, and it’s obvious that all the recent home runs are being spread around to every position. With the exception of the designated hitter spot, every position is at or very close to their peak for home runs. Considering there are only 15 DH’s, the blip is easily explained by big-time-slugger retirements — David Ortiz, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez — combined with a slowdown in production by some aging sluggers who tend to inhabit the position. Consider Mark Trumbo, for example, who went from 47 homers in 2016 to 28 this year.
The biggest surprise is the change in second basemen long-ball production since 2014.
Before 2015, second basemen had averaged around 16 homers per season. Then suddenly, that jumped to around 23 home runs per hitter. That alone counts for an increase in 210 home runs over the course of a yea — and that’s only for one position. If I asked you to name the second basemen home run leaders over the last three seasons, you’d probably throw out names like: Jose Altuve, Daniel Murphy, and Jason Kipnis. None of those three are in the top five, furthering the point that this is a widespread phenomena. The second basemen who have hit the most home runs since 2015 are Brian Dozier (who ran away with it at 104 homers), Robinson Cano (83), Rougned Odor (79), Jonathan Schoop (72) and Jedd Gyorko (66).
Similarly, with the advent of the home run-hitting shortstop (think Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, and Corey Seager), the trends match similarly with second base, with a move from 15.1 homers per player to nearly 20.
The trend in the majors is one that likely will continue unless there’s a fundamental change in the game, like changing the height or the mound or getting rid of a clearly juiced ball. The late 1990s and early 2000s are fondly (or not) remembered for home run chases, high-scoring games, and shootouts the likes of which had never been seen previously. It looks like the twenty-teens is going to overtake that from a numbers perspective, even if we don’t have the same home run chase narrative. For people who love home runs, middle infielders just became a lot more interesting.