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The power suppressing division

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Brian Dozier said that the AL Central is the hardest division in which power is displayed. Is he right?

MLB: Minnesota Twins at San Francisco Giants John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Dozier broke out last season, hitting an impressive 42 home runs after never topping more than 30. At the onset of the 2017 season, PECOTA was not impressed and set Dozier’s 90th percentile HR mark at 20, marking 2016 as just a fluke unlikely to be repeated.

On Tuesday, Eno Sarris published an interesting interview with Dozier, asking him where his homers have gone. Dozier’s take was pretty cheeky: “Welcome to the AL Central”. He further commented that players’ swings are molded based on the park in which they play . Having played most of his games in the AL Central, it would be normal that power be sapped by the largest parts of the field.

These comments lit up our Slack channel - OK, I lit it up - with comments on whether home runs were more difficult to come by in the AL Central than in any other league.

I first did some basic math: A player will play [approximately] 19 games against each of his division rivals, 6 games against the other 10 teams in the league, and 6 games against 5 teams of one of the divisions in the other league. This gives us about 166 games.*

Of these games, 76 will be in the same division (38 in the player’s home ballpark). Add another 43 from games against the rest of the league and the division in the other league and you get 119 games within the player’s division’s ballparks.**

*The result is 166 because MLB adjusts the schedule sometimes scheduling 2-game series, or 4-game series which makes the math not work out on a macro scale.

**Again the math is a bit wonky - you may give or take a couple of games - but bear with me.

Brian Dozier - HR per Division

Year AL West AL Central AL East NL West NL Central NL East
Year AL West AL Central AL East NL West NL Central NL East
2012 0 3 2 0 1 0
2013 2 14 2 0 0 0
2014 1 17 2 2 1 0
2015 4 20 3 0 1 0
2016 2 37 2 0 0 1
2017 1 8 1 1 0 0
Total 10 99 12 3 3 1
HR per Division 2012 - 17 Data from MLB Gameday

And this is Brian Dozier’s home runs per plate appearance per division:

Brian Dozier - PA/HR per Division

Year AL West AL Central AL East NL West NL Central NL East
Year AL West AL Central AL East NL West NL Central NL East
2012 - 99.33 16.50 - 45.00 -
2013 37.50 33.86 49.50 - - -
2014 76.00 31.00 46.50 18.50 12.00 -
2015 15.75 27.65 29.33 - 49.00 -
2016 35.50 14.59 43.50 - - 52.00
2017 48.00 25.50 15.00 14.00 - -
Total 34.60 26.22 34.58 17.00 45.67 93.00
PA/HR per Division Data from MLB Gameday

Obviously Dozier has hit most of his homers in AL Central parks (72 percent). No surprise due a small sample size and playing over 600 divisional games. But what if we look at the divisions on a macroscopic level. Would the AL Central really be the hardest division in which to hit a homer?

To answer this, I replicated the same tables I used for Dozier but considering the entire league over the past five-years. Additionally, because of the presence of the DH in the AL, I controlled for pitchers so we are comparing 18 batters in the American League to 16 batters in the National League. Here are the results:

HR per Division

Year AL West AL Central AL East NL West NL Central NL East
Year AL West AL Central AL East NL West NL Central NL East
2012 744 1,008 1,106 842 1,184 871
2013 1,012 940 1,088 859 927 885
2014 832 800 893 843 825 701
2015 1,000 915 1,099 872 946 841
2016 1,119 1,128 1,203 1,055 1,075 961
2017 441 378 403 380 414 388
Total 5,148 5,169 5,792 4,851 5,371 4,647
HR per Division 2012 - 2017 Data from MLB Gameday

And just to make the comparison complete, here’s how many plate appearances there are between home runs per division:

MLB - PA/HR per Division

Year AL West AL Central AL East NL West NL Central NL East
Year AL West AL Central AL East NL West NL Central NL East
2012 37.80 36.95 33.80 41.70 35.40 40.43
2013 37.33 39.44 34.94 41.34 38.76 40.06
2014 43.19 44.27 40.41 41.24 41.66 48.28
2015 35.81 39.69 32.90 39.80 36.84 40.96
2016 32.13 31.86 30.01 33.93 32.40 35.88
2017 27.85 30.59 30.04 31.01 30.53 29.07
Total 36.11 37.45 33.81 38.69 36.22 39.75
MLB PA/HR per Division 2012-2017 Data from MLB Gameday

Some additional caveats before I continue: in 2012, the AL West consisted of four teams, as the Astros didn’t move to the AL West until the start of the 2013 season. Second, the Atlanta Braves started playing at Sun Trust Park in 2017, so the numbers are heavily skewed towards their time playing in Turner Field.

Now we can continue.

According to Dozier, the hardest place to hit home runs is the AL Central. Granted he has played most of his games in the AL Central and thus, the majority of his dingers are hit in this division. Consequently, to no one’s surprise, his lowest plate appearances per home run also comes in his division. But, as I stated earlier, this is due to sample size. We can’t take Dozier’s word because of this and his bias.

Instead, when we look at the entire league, we find that the AL Central is not the division most deprived of home runs. That title goes to the NL East, where Marlins Park, Nationals Stadium, and the now unused Turner Field, reduce the number of home runs hit, with a PA/HR rate of 39.75 or 1.36 home runs per game.

The most home run heavy division is, on the other hand, the AL East, where Yankee Stadium II, Camden Yards, and the Rodgers Centre serve as the division’s launching pads. They also own the lowest plate appearances per home run at 33.93, which is about 1.60 home runs per game.

What about the AL Central? It’s the fourth hardest division in which to hit a home run, coming in at 37.45 PA/HR - or 1.44 home runs per game. The AL Central may be a hard place to hit it out of the ball park, but it’s not impossible and it doesn’t sap power as much as Dozier thinks.

Dozier’s home run decline may be due to pitchers having adjusted to him and him failing to counter-adjustment. Or, as you can see from the clips that Eno added to his post, it may be due to luck. If he were in the NL East, his explanation becomes more acceptable. But, from what I could find, it is unlikely that his power sap is caused by him playing in the AL Central.

Stats current through games of June 14th, 2017

Martin Alonso writes for Beyond the Box Score and BP Bronx and is contantly geeking out over baseball and Star Wars. You can find him on Twitter at @martnar.