MLB’s less lively baseball is seeing its home hit rate drop this season.

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As the home run rate in 2005 saw its biggest drop in 17 years, scouts had a favorite line for why some sluggers weren’t hitting as many home runs: “Congress got it.” The inference was that testing steroids with penalties, which resulted from pressure from lawmakers, was a game-changer. Sports Illustrated titled one cover story I wrote that year, “Baseball’s incredible shrink hitter.

This season, the home run rate has seen its biggest drop in 34 years, from 2.44 per game to 2.00. And the preferred explanation this time around is, “Baseball got it.”

By design, the baseball does not carry as far due to more uniform manufacturing specifications. (It was introduced last year, but this is the first season with 100% less-busy baseball usage.) Add the use of humidifiers across all 30 ballparks for more consistent storage protocols, and you get the end of a Rabbit Ball era from 2016 to ’21. The “Launch Angle Revolution” was driven by the mantra “Slug is in the air”. Batters always want to get the ball off the ground. It’s just that with this baseball the rewards aren’t as good.

A baseball thrown this year travels about six feet less than last year. Batting average on flyballs went from .281 to .256 and slugging percentage on flyballs dropped from .877 to .761.

This season’s signature look is the Head Shake. Night after night, the batters return to the dugout shaking their heads after what they thought was a home run turned out to be a flyout.

Here are the hitters who have suffered the biggest slugging drops this year (entering Sunday). Seven of the 10 worst drops belong to former All-Stars. The four biggest drops are veteran stars in their thirties:

Biggest drop in slugging percentage, 2022 from 2021

*Former All-Star

Player Age Decline

1. Yasmani Grandal, White Sox*

33

-.294

2. Joey Votto, Reds*

38

-.290

3. Marcus Semien, Rangers*

31

-.269

4. Max Muncy, Dodgers*

31

-.264

5. Tyler O’Neill, Cardinals

26

-.263

6. Jesse Winker, Sailors*

28

-.261

7. Mike Zunino, Rays*

31

-.250

8. Franmil Reyes, Goalkeepers

26

-.244

9. Bobby Dalbec, Red Sox

26

-.229

10. Adam Duvall, Braves*

33

-.222

The next 10 are also full of established veterans: Brandon Belt, AJ Pollock, Avisail Garcia, Javy Baez, Robbie Grossman, Brandon Crawford, Nick Castellanos, Trent Grisham, Shohei Ohtani and Nelson Cruz. All but Grisham and Grossman have been All-Star players.

Here’s one way to measure all those Head Shakes: The batting average on flyballs smashed at 100 mph or more has dropped by 80 points, and those monster hits are much less likely to be home runs:

Batting Average on Flyballs Hit 100+ MPH

2019

.762

2020

.711

2021

.700

2022

.620

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Flyballs Hit 100+ MPH

No. HOUR PCT.

2019

6,842

4,631

67.7%

2020

2,347

1,501

64.0%

2021

7,598

4,461

58.7%

2022

2,213

1,088

49.2%

In 2005, Jason Giambi was the subject of the cover story of “Baseball’s Incredible Shrinking Slugger”. If you need a face to this homerun downturn, you can’t go wrong with the Yankees’ Joey Gallo. No one has made more outings on flyballs hit at 100mph or more than Gallo:

Most Flyball outings reach 100 MPH

1. Joey Gallo, Yankees

ten

2. Matt Chapman, Blue Jays

9

3. Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals

8

Nelson Cruz, Nationals

8

Marcell Ozuna, Braves

8

Jorge Polanco, twins

8

Gallo is on course for 34 such losses this year. Nobody had more than 27 last year (Sal Perez). In 2019, no one had more than 19 (Castellanos).

Last year, two-thirds of Gallo’s flyballs over 100 mph were home runs. This year, only about a quarter of them come out:

Gallo Flyballs reach over 100 MPH

No. HOUR PCT.

2019

30

19

63.3%

2020

15

9

60.0%

2021

52

35

67.3%

2022

15

4

26.7%

Let’s say that using last year’s rate, Gallo’s other six flyballs are homers instead of outs. This would mean Gallo would hit .224 instead of .172, hit .517 instead of .310, and post an OPS of .840 instead of .589, all closer to his career standards.

Lest you think fewer circuits are bad for the game, think again. Strikeouts and walks are down. Stolen bases, singles and in-play runs are up. Batters show signs of adaptation; batting average in May of this year (.245) is up 13 points from April and is higher than it was last May (.239).

This is just the start to changing the game for the better. The pitch clock, banning shifts, and further limiting pitchers on an active roster will also push the game towards a more balanced build. And remember, declining home run rates don’t create another Deadball era; it moves away from the Rabbit Ball era and reestablishes the standards of nearly a decade ago.

For example, you don’t see as many hitters at the bottom of the lineup homer to the opposite pitch, if at all. Big guys always hit home runs. (Hello, Aaron Judge.) Little guys, not so much. The home run rate for batters hitting 7–9 in the batting order declined much more (35%) than for guys who hit 3–6 (24%).

Welcome to the new normal, hitters. The proof is there with this baseball: adapt or keep shaking your head.

More MLB coverage:

• Brett Phillips is MLB’s master of fun
• Mike Trout, baseball’s best hitter (again)
• Adley Rutschman gives the Orioles hope for a brighter future

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